Recognized as one of Canada's Top Small & Medium Employers (2016)
By Richard Yerema and Kristina Leung, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Mar 28, 2016)
Here are some of the reasons why First Access Funding Corp. was selected as one of Canada's Top Small & Medium Employers (2016):
- Edmonton-based First Access Funding continues to grow at an exceptional pace, adding 12 new full-time positions in the past year, a total workforce increase of 60%
- First Access Funding encourages all employees to adopt an ownership mentality through a share purchase plan and lets everyone share in the company's success with a profit-sharing plan
- Through First Access Funding's "Atta Person" recognition program, employees can nominate colleagues on a weekly basis for outstanding performance
Growing as a family at First Access
In the summer of 2015, David Ballantine sensed that there were tensions building among his staff at Edmonton-based First Access Funding Corp. and decided he had to do something to lower the temperature in the office. "Cliques were forming and there were signs of infighting, so we called a staff meeting," says Ballantine, who is President of First Access. "We said, we can be a normal company - or we can try to be something different."
They opted for "something different" by bringing everyone together to eliminate the strains and create an open, positive atmosphere. The problems arose, in part, because First Access has grown so quickly. First Access is a non-bank auto financing firm. It lends to individuals who are purchasing automobiles but can't get loans from banks. In some cases, the borrowers have poor credit ratings. In others, they are new to the country and need to establish a track record.
The company was founded in 2012 and the staff doubled in size between 2014 and 2015. That rapid growth is likely to continue. First Access currently finances vehicle purchases in the four western provinces, but plans to make its service available to Ontario buyers this year. Ballantine says he expects to be operating nationally in the not too distant future.
"We're growing so fast that there's tons of stress," says Ballantine. "You get so focused on the business that it's hard to focus on other things, especially the people side of the business. The key is communication - making sure the senior management is approachable."
To that end, First Access maintains an open concept office. All the senior managers, including Ballantine, sit with the staff. "Everyone knows everyone," says Omar Shalaby, Assistant Manager in the accounting department. "I love it here. When I worked somewhere else there wasn't much connection with your fellow employees or senior management."
First Access is just the opposite. The company sponsors a co-ed softball team in a summer recreational league and a floor hockey team in the winter. Ballantine plays softball with his staff and makes 80 per cent of the games despite a heavy travel schedule. The staff also organize a number of social events, such as monthly bowling nights, movie nights and potluck dinners, and managers are encouraged to participate.
First Access gives employees the opportunity to participate in the growth of the company through a stock option plan, which is a big motivator, says Shalaby. "Everyone here is working to maximize the potential of their shares," he says. "Everyone knows they hold stock that will have value in the future when we go public."
Employees also have the opportunity to grow professionally with the company. Ballantine says that First Access covers the cost of business or management courses offered through the University of Alberta's continuing education programs. And he is a big proponent of promoting from within. In fact, all the company's managers started within the ranks, but have moved up to managerial positions.
For his part, Shalaby joined First Access in 2014 when it was a start-up company. He left briefly to pursue a certified professional accounting degree and returned in the summer of 2015. "It feels great to be back," he says. "I don't have a family in Edmonton, but working here has become my family. I've never worked in a place that makes me feel like that."
That is, apparently, a common sentiment among First Access staffers. "One of our female employees came up to me during the Christmas party," recalls Ballantine. "She said 'I love working here. It's like family and I've never experienced that in the workplace before.'"