5 min read

HR and cupcakes. Anisa Aksar

Geoff Whitehouse

In the first of a new series we’re talking to our brilliant 11s to get to know them a little bit more. From the consultants building new digital propositions and the research team using cultural insights to inform them, through to the engineers bringing those services to market, the operations team that keeps the lights on, and everyone else in between.

11:FS isn’t really one entity, it’s a group of complementary services united behind a common goal: to change the fabric of financial services. Behind the mission that means designing, building and delivering truly digital financial services all over the world.

With so many moving parts, so many diverse skill sets and requirements, you need a kick-ass HR person at the helm. Someone who understands the importance of making the onboarding processes as smooth as possible, who makes it their mission to ensure employees' welfare is looked after, all while also building and delivering an attractive benefits package.

It takes a special kind of person. At 11:FS we’re fortunate to have that in the wonderful Anisa Aksar who is our Senior HR Business Partner.

We're fortunate not just because of her role and the impact she’s had, but because of her enthusiasm for everyone at the firm and looking after their wellbeing.

Her love of baking is also legendary, as you’ll discover...

How do you explain to your mom what you do?

I support our people throughout their journey at 11:FS to do the best work of their careers, while making them feel supported, encouraged and valued.

This isn’t a trick question, but if someone asks you to describe 11:FS, what do you say?

11:FS builds digital banks to make banking easier.

What do you consider to be the most important thing you’ve learnt since joining 11:FS?

HR doesn’t stand still, it is constantly evolving. The people support you provide this year will differ to the support they need the following year. There will always be more to do.

Developing a new function and supporting a headcount of 100+ is like growing numerous different plants at the same time.

There is no one right way to be a ‘good HR’ and there isn’t a textbook step by step process to follow. You have to listen and understand what people need and support accordingly.

What’s the proudest moment in your career?

Building an entire HR function from scratch at 11:FS. I joined 11:FS in a standalone role where HR as a sole function hadn’t existed before, so conquering that imposter syndrome and delivering real people support is my greatest achievement!

Now, we have to ask. Your Twitter handle is HR&Cupcakes...be honest, which is your real passion?

Supporting people, with cupcakes?

Can’t argue with that, I mean who doesn’t love cupcakes? You’re also Head of Cake. I don’t recall seeing that in the org chart, so what does that entail?

What can I say? We’re a progressive company, it’s a thing!

Head of Cake entails having a supply of cake available, encouraging discussions about cake, sharing knowledge and experiences with cake, providing advice on cake recipes and staying up to date with the latest cake trends. *Sings quietly to self Rihanna Cake Cake Cake*

Okay enough chat about baked goods. You’ve made some big changes at 11:FS Can you tell us a little bit about that - what you tackled, what you’ve learned and any hurdles you encountered on the way…

It was exciting yet anxiety-inducing working with a completely blank slate but the executive team, managers, and team provided me with the support and encouragement I needed.

Since joining I’ve implemented over 15 people practices, a whole host of real employee benefits, wellbeing support, a new performance review process, a pre-onboarding and onboarding strategy, enhanced maternity and paternity, and hired my brilliant team!

HR doesn’t stand still, it is constantly evolving.

Learnings? Well...developing a new function and supporting a headcount of 100+ is like growing numerous different plants at the same time. Some things need a little more love and attention at certain times but you want to make sure they are all well looked after so they can continue to grow and flourish.

Diversity - in all its forms - and inclusion are topics that deserve more than a single blog post can possibly discuss. But broadly, how are you tackling it at 11:FS?

There isn’t one right way. Our approach to diversity and inclusion has been organic.

It started with enhanced maternity, paternity and adoption leave to encourage a new approach to a historically stigmatised subject. As the world evolved, we adapted to flexible, parental leave, part time working and entitlement to additional unpaid leave for everyone.

As with all things People, it’s never really done. We are just getting started and it will be interesting to see the shift post-covid.

We’re in week 328 of fully-remote working. How has your role, and your teams’, changed in the current situation?

My role still remains a balance between fire fighting and value adding but with wellbeing and communication always at the forefront. In some ways, being remotely based has stripped it back to the basics; support and communication.

Honestly, the team has adapted and thrived during this time. We have our daily catch ups in the morning to discuss priorities for the day, interesting reads and what’s for lunch. Our group slack is constantly in use to ask questions, share documents, encourage each other to stay active or just to provide general updates. On Wednesday’s we’ve started to do live cooking / baking on Zoom (we share a recipe beforehand and all make it at the same time).

This time has really allowed the team to work together on all those things that were on our ‘to do list’ such as setting up guides, enhancing current practices and streamlining our ways of working.

In some ways, being remotely based has stripped it back to the basics; support and communication.

Employee wellbeing in general, but particularly during this period is crucial. But it’s a phrase that gets thrown around a lot but what does it mean to you? How do you think about it?

First wellbeing, for me, is all states; physical, mental and emotional. I personally don’t see it as something separate, it’s what makes you, you.

I try to remind myself and encourage my team and colleagues that it’s ok and very normal to have good days and bad days. Covid and the lockdown is completely new territory for us all. I saw a tweet at the beginning of the lockdown that has become my mantra; you are not working from home, you are at your home during a crisis trying to work.

I believe that the leaders and HR’s response to wellbeing is crucial in a business as it is the gauge for the rest of the business and paves the way for open conversations.

Humble brag time you’ve been nominated for an award too, tell us about that.

Yes! I’ve been nominated and made the shortlist for the top 10 female rising stars in HR in 2020. As cheesy as it sounds, I’ve over the moon to have made the shortlist, that’s a win in itself!

And finally, the hardest Q we’ve got...hope you’re prepped. What is the best cupcake flavour?

I’m a strong believer in diversity. Soz.


For further thoughts on all things HR, baking and more, you can follow Anisa over on Twitter.

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 Geoff Whitehouse
About the author

Geoff Whitehouse

Geoff oversees the team that creates written content including the blog, website and our newsletter Fintech in Five.

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