· Features

Putting the spark back into Travelex

Following administration in the pandemic, Beau Jackson finds out how the foreign exchange business is bouncing back through its line managers and rewards.

The organisation

For many, foreign exchange company Travelex is synonymous with those last-minute currency changes at the airport. Its first branch was opened in central London in 1976, with a store at Heathrow Terminal 4 opening a decade later in 1986.

Now the company has premises in over 20 countries, providing the bureaus and ATMs it is best known for, as well as prepaid credit cards and global money transfers.

More on employee experience:

Why the time is right to re-think employee experience

Employee experience trends for 2023

How to build a successful employee experience programme

The problem

In 2020 the travel sector was at a complete standstill to limit the spread of coronavirus.

For Travelex, which had been targeted by a cyber-attack in December 2019, the effect was catastrophic.

In August 2020, the company collapsed into administration. More than 1,000 jobs were cut, but administrators managed to save 1,802 roles in the UK and 3,635 worldwide.

Then head of HR, commercial, Clare Burns was one of the team members responsible for guiding Travelex through one of the most challenging periods in its history.

Now group HR director, she reflects: “Being here during that time and being one of the people that had to make some of those really tough decisions was awful.

“All we could do in that process is make sure that we did the right thing for our colleagues and made sure that we were making the right decision for the business.”

Since then, Burns and the rest of the leadership team have had their work cut out for them reinforcing the employer brand and restoring faith in the business.

“We had a big job to do around PR at our company, because we’d gone into administration,” she adds.

This proved especially challenging when seeking to attract new recruits.

“We were losing and churning people, when they were leaving and being poached from us,” Burns says. “We were also seeing people accept roles with us, and then in their notice period either be countered by their current organisation or being offered other roles and leaving us with our vacancies.”

The team had refreshed job descriptions and assessed benchmarking for roles, but they realised there was another part missing from the process.

Burns says: “The problem was, sometimes managers thought that it was somebody else’s job to keep their people engaged.”

Following a recruitment ethos delivered by new CEO Richard Wazacz, Burns adds: “We said our talent acquisition team, our HR team can’t do this for you guys, you need to really step up and do that.”

The method

Burns and the HR team at Travelex tackled the issue by overhauling the company’s employee value proposition (EVP) under an initiative called Project Spark in 2022. Project Spark is a checklist of measures to help reinforce relationships between line managers and their colleagues, as well as improve the overall employee experience.

Simple steps were taken to ensure managers understood the vital role they play in bringing people into the business. The HR team also enlisted managers to help them outline the exciting parts of a role to go beyond basic job descriptions.

Burns says: “The first thing was to tell them what their responsibility was and give them guidance on such things like when you have a vacancy, you need to be not just sharing it but writing ‘Come join my team, it’s fantastic because…’”

Unable to afford large learning and development (L&D) projects, the team turned to more internal resources that managers and other colleagues could pick up at their leisure. This includes signposting content relating to business needs, for example, goal setting for a successful year ahead.

“What our colleagues feed back is they really like them because they can enter into them when they’ve got time and capacity to be able to do it,” says Burns. “They’re not committing to a year-long programme but they feel like they’re getting continued professional development.”

Based on feedback from a staff survey, the company has reintroduced some of the benefits cut during coronavirus as part of the project, such as its Cycle to Work scheme, flu jabs and medicals.

It has also reinstated its service awards due to employee demand, but with some welcome additions.

“We brought that back and we changed it to give annual leave as well as money,” says Burns.

“Our frontline work through the milestones; so they start at a year because of these days a year tenure is actually quite a lot.” There are awards for one, three and five years’ of service, then it moves to five-year increments.

Committing to building line manager relationships at the one-year mark, rather than offering money, Burns adds: “We flipped it and made it they go out for a coffee and a cake with their manager, again putting the ownership on the manager to talk to their colleagues.”

The added benefits are on top of a company-wide pay rise the company announced in January this year.

Burns adds: “Whereas previously you could increase pay and you’d x all your problems, some people aren’t motivated by pay and it’s more around the flexibility that we have around hybrid working or our flexibility in our frontline stores. For some people it’s not pay or flexibility, it’s about our DE&I agenda and how we’re working through that.”


The result

Many elements of Project Spark are still ongoing but since its inception the company has already seen an uptick in employee sentiment.

“Colleagues have told us how the recruiter and manager support guide we produced has optimised the recruitment process, making it more streamlined,” Burns says.

“The reintroduction of the long service awards means colleagues feel better acknowledged for their length of service; and bonuses and pay rises have been particularly well received, especially in the current context of the ongoing cost of living crisis.”

At the end of 2022, Travelex reported a global attrition rate of 28%. In February 2023 this dropped to around 18%, and in April attrition was at 20.8%. Burns says: “Obviously it’s ever moving and ever changing, but we’re hoping this is going to be a trajectory that continues for the rest of the year.”

This piece appeared in the July/August 2023 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.