German digital bank N26 is facing outcry from its staff over management

Valentin Stalf, founder and CEO of N26, speaks on stage at the Digital Life Design innovation conference.

Lino Mirgeler | picture alliance via Getty Images

German digital bank N26 is grappling with discontent from some of its employees, who are trying to organize a works council to express their concerns with management.

Staff at the Berlin-headquartered fintech company are due to hold votes on Thursday and Friday to elect a board for the works council, which aims to represent workers in meetings with employers.

This move was met with fierce opposition from N26’s management, with the company filing a court order to prevent their meetings from happening. But on Thursday, the employees organizing the works council said their elections would still take place after German labor union ver.di offered to chair the meeting.

“Trust and confidence in the management of N26 ensuring the wellbeing of the workforce as a whole is at an all time low,” the N26 workers claimed in a statement on their website. “We have seen that our management is aware of the discontent of employees.”

“The next step now is to elect the members of the Works Council. N26 GmbH will select an electoral board on 14 August 2020 and N26 Operations GmbH will select an electoral board on 13 August 2020,” the statement continued. “After this initial meeting the process will begin to elect candidates to a Works Council.”

N26’s co-founders Valentin Stalf and Maximilian Tayenthal have argued for an alternative, saying they believe the traditional German works council excludes international employees. The company claims it filed an injunction against the employee gathering due to concerns over safety amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“The alternative to the Works Council should have a representation of employees who are not only based in Germany, but also all other countries, including Brazil and the United States,” N26 told CNBC in an emailed statement Thursday, adding this alternative should also allow for digital voting and decision making.

“There could also be a shorter term for members of the global employee representation board to ensure that new employees don’t have to wait for several years until they get to elect their representatives. We believe that this will take employee representation to the next, international and inclusive, level.”

But, the company added: “That said, if the N26 team feels that they want to organize the feedback culture in Germany differently via a works council, N26 will of course respect and support this, as well as any step in the formation of an electoral board.”

The workers argue that their right to convene the meeting chaired by ver.di is in accordance with German law, and that attendance and travel to the meeting should count as working time.

News of the friction between N26 and its staff was first reported by German fintech news outlet Finance Forward. Among the concerns raised by employees was a lack of transparency when it comes to salaries and high work pressure, according to Finance Forward.

N26 is one of Europe’s leading mobile app-based challenger banks, having attracted millions of users and raised a total of $770 million from investors including PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing, Chinese tech giant Tencent and Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC. Other start-ups in the so-called “neobank” space include Britain’s Monzo and Revolut, Brazil’s Nubank and U.S.-based Chime.

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