At BharatPe, chaos, fear, uncertainty galore amidst infighting

The employees of troubled fintech unicorn BharatPe are caught in the crosshairs of an unenviable brawl between the company’s management and its adversarial co-founder, Ashneer Grover. As the ongoing governance audit — investigating Grover and his wife’s malfeasance — is yet to be concluded, chaos is said to reign at the Delhi-based unicorn. Resumes of BharatPe employees are floating in the industry, as anxious employees across sectors such as business, finance and technology are lining up for an exodus, disillusioned by the myriad of controversies the company is grappling with, and its brass, who were oblivious to the transgressions BharatPe is accused of. As many as 400 employees are eyeing for an exit, by some estimates.

BharatPe, which has been dousing the flames ever since the press started to unearth more behind-the-scenes information, continued to do so. In an official statement, the company said, “BharatPe continues to be an attractive destination for career growth. Our attrition levels are below industry standards and any reports or rumours around increasing attrition rates in recent weeks are baseless and untrue. The company continues to induct new talent. Our employee base has continued to grow month-on-month over the past two months. BharatPe strongly objects to unsubstantiated rumours being used to spread misinformation about the company.” The in-fighting that has ensued in the board has cast a shadow on a company which recently got the approval from the RBI to use Punjab and Maharashtra Cooperative Bank (PMC)’s licence and was hopeful to file for an IPO.

Suhail Sameer, BharatPe’s CEO, reportedly reached out to the fintech company’s consternated employees on February 11, assuring them that the company has enough corpus to persevere. “In terms of fuel, we have huge amounts of cash in the bank to keep building from here. We have $500 million in the bank (including $100 million that we have invested in Unity Small Finance Bank). To put this in context, we have only spent $130 million to build what we have built so far at BharatPe. In a nutshell, we have 4x (four-times) the money in the bank than what we have spent so far to build BharatPe in the last three years,” Sameer wrote in the internal memo which was made privy to publications.

Sameer also stated that BharatPe is “under constant scrutiny and spotlight” and snubbed the bad press the company was getting. “What is being written is nothing but unsubstantiated rumours,” the memo read, expounding that the ongoing audit ensued after internal complaints, and “there are a couple of more serious allegations, which the review is still substantiating.” Meanwhile, Sameer implores the employees to keep their trust on the company’s board. “Whatever the board decides will be beyond doubt, in the best interests of our employees, merchants and consumers.”

The imminent exodus is in stark contrast with the company’s fortunes in July 2021. The company tried to gain an upper hand in the “talent wars” — trying to lure talent with a flurry of opulent incentives, including BMW superbikes, flashy gadgets including AirPods, Galaxy Watch, along with a “work-ation” in Dubai for the T20 World Cup—which was held in the Arabian peninsula last year. Now when the company’s image is bludgeoned amidst the increasingly murkier investigation, even stock options aren’t enough to avert employees from exiting the company, for the ESOPs will not hold the value it had in its halcyon days.

Employees anonymously have also alleged that the company has a toxic work culture, where stringent norms akin to a “school” were maintained, and people were coerced into coming to office when the pandemic was raging. Grover, however, dismissed these claims. In an interview, he called these allegations “stupid stories”. “I completely deny this. I have a simple culture of simplicity, performance, high pay, high ESOPs. I can promise you, there is not a single person in my company who in his previous employment would have made more money than at BharatPe,” he was quoted saying.

Additionally, Grover said that he is unapologetic towards his employees. “I am sorry for nothing, because I have the best of intentions, I go about my business in a very professional manner. People who know me understand the substance behind the person. So, I am sorry but not sorry to anyone,” he said. However, Grover, who rarely minces words, alluded that he places company’s growth above its culture, which is open to interpretation whether he is nonchalant towards a healthy work environment. “If you expect that someone will create a $6 billion dollar business in less than four years and want everything to be perfect including culture, sorry just not going to happen. Neither from me, nor anyone else. Fast growth will come at some cost, no,” were his words.

The fintech company has been the location of controversy and scandal ever since Grover’s expletive call was leaked on social media, which has taken the lid off a legion of governance, due diligence issues that were clandestinely carried out by Grover and his family. Amidst the allegations of fraudulent transactions and irregularities, Grover, who went on a hiatus amicably, has openly revealed that CEO Sameer colluded with BharatPe’s investors and manipulated him into taking a hiatus. He went on to write to the company, seeking his removal from the company. Grover has also said laconically that he will exit from BharatPe if he’s paid ₹4,000 crore for his 9.5% stake, and is reportedly in talks to sell the stake to an investor.

Although the board has thrown its weight behind Sameer, Grover is not going to concede without being paid. If the altercation is not put to bed among the adversaries, Grover — who has hired Karanjawala, a New-Delhi-based firm — will take the matter to court, ensuing an internecine legal battle which could put the fintech unicorn in a situation where putting this controversy behind would become an improbable task.

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