Business

Kenya’s Pesa Zetu entangled in a bitter feud with former employees over unpaid wages

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Kenya’s Pesa Zetu, a peer-to-peer lending startup is reportedly entangled in a bitter feud with former employees over unpaid wages and expenses they incurred in the line of duty according to court documents obtained by TechMoran.

The ex-employees who spoke to TechMoran on condition of anonymity say they were responsible for the firm’s operations in the country including working with all partners, training and recruiting staff and part-time field officers as well as attending meetings to ensure Pesa Zetu took off successfully.

”I also became responsible for the payment of suppliers and consultants as the directors did not have a local bank account and at times, such payments were made from the Joint Account I hold with my spouse. They had me paying almost all the bills and more,” one of the former employees told TechMoran.

According to the employees, they were at times even responsible for paying for the director, Samir Satchu’s, transport and on several occasions, used their personal Uber apps or other private taxi services to pay for his transport when he was in the country. Efforts to reach the accused, Satchu, proved futile apart from email exchanges and a call promise to secure time for a meeting.

The former employees argue that they also lent money to the platform during its pilot phase, reportedly to kick-start the platform and encourage both investors and borrowers to come on board.

”I also incurred several other expenses while undertaking the official business of Pesa Zetu and it was agreed that what I expended out of my pocket for Pesa Zetu would be reimbursed timely,’’’ one of the employees told TechMoran. Unfortunately, after working for Pesa Zetu for over a year, its management did not reimburse any of the amounts; so making a sane decision, on 26th February, 2016 they decided to resign.

After Samir Satchu failed to talk the employees out of resignation. On 26th February, 2016 William Keliehor sent an e-mail asking them to rethink their decisions. The director and principal director Samir Satchu indicated that their unpaid wages and all the monies they had spent while in the line of duty including their bonuses would be paid as agreed whether they stayed or resigned.

But it seems that agreement was not followed through by Samir Satchu and William Keliehor, at all.

After refusing to withdraw their resignation, the firm shifted the cost it had incurred to pay for the Work Permit and Visa to the employee it had processed for.

“From that point on there was an exchange of e-mails between Samir Satchu and I. Satchu bullied me and attempted to push me into accepting his terms of separation of our employment relationship. As a result, he continued and has continued to withhold all the monies owed to me including the amounts he does not dispute are owed to me,’’ the former employee states.

The now former employee is demanding that the firm refunds any personal monies used to pay suppliers and consultants and bonuses according to their agreement.

In a claim letter dated April 13th, 2016 addressed to Satchu and copied to Mr Keliehor, one of the former employees claimed to have unpaid wages from January 2016 to February 2016 amounting to US$ 5,000; unpaid bonus which was confirmed by Samir via email amounting to US$ 7,500. Principal amount contributed to Pesa Zetu during the pilot period from September 2015 to December 2015 totaling to US$ 9,730 exclusive of interest repayments; and work related expenses (supplier payments, consultant salaries, office space, miscellaneous costs for the pilot and other work related expenses from January 2015 to February 2016 totaling to US$ 4,650.
Other work related expenses incurred on behalf of Samir Satchu from June 2015 to November 2015 totaling to US$ 250 bringing the whole sum to US$ 27,130.

According to the former employee, all efforts to mediate and have the refunds have failed. The firm has taken a u-turn claiming the payment of the bonus was discretionary in an event of resignation. The former employee said previously, Mr. Satchu had agreed to honor the bonus along with other expenses whether or not the employee chooses to stay or go.

Though the employee in question says the agreed upon wages and other work-related expenses incurred on behalf of Pesa Zetu and the directors are still unfairly and unlawfully withheld, the country manager begs to differ from these claims.

Hilda Moraa, who joined the company as a consultant on the recommendation of one of complainants; then hired as country manager and offered stake in company says Pesa Zetu and Samir Satchu have been willing to sit down and discuss the former employee’s claims. She adds that the firm has always been willing to pay the former employee in question all the monies in full.

Moraa says she loved working with the said employee and would love to the complainant back at the company. However, she respects anyone’s decision to resign and wishes them well in their endeavors. She adds that as a startup, Pesa Zetu might have had cash flow issues but there is always goodwill and intention to settle any claims. The only problem is the disputed figure ought to be less than $20,000.

”She should not take things personal. This is business. She resigned because I negotiated for a better deal than she did. I have experience in fintech and exited my company successfully. She should not compare herself to others but just focus on the tasks ahead,’’ Moraa said.

With experience running and exiting Weza Tele, and a bulk of both local and international networks, Moraa believes her CV speaks for itself. To be picked as country manager and shareholder over anyone else is out of question.

However, the former employee insists she is right, “This wasn’t personal, this was business, and I was unfairly treated after successfully launching the company to where it was before I left it. I successfully brought it to pilot stage within months of the company’s birth, something rare in this market,’’ the complainant said.

Officially registered in February 2015 with Samir Satchu and his wife Mitali Atal as the directors, Pesa Zetu initially had only two principals, Samir Satchu and William Keliehor until the said employee joined them mid January 2015.

‘’I was also the only employee in Kenya at that time so this was no easy feat. Further to that, I was the one who brought Ms. Moraa into this company and suggested Samir Satchu to hire her. There was never an issue between Ms. Moraa and myself, this is an issue where directors of this company are not respectfully and honorably doing their business,’’ the complainant said.

‘’I hold my values to high regard therefore I could no longer be a part of a company that holds little value of their employees and partners. It is unacceptable the way they conduct their business and it is evident I am not the only one who has felt this pain,’’ she added.

As peer-to-peer lending platform, the marketplace aims to connect responsible Kenyans who need to borrow with Kenyans prepared to lend money.

Kenyans have been lending money to each other for as far back as anyone can remember, friends lending money to friends, family, or through a chama. Pesa Zetu (which means “our money” in Swahili) seeks to expand what already happens in social or physical circles in order to connect Kenyans especially responsible and hardworking Kenyans to those at the base of the pyramid who need to borrow to build their business, pay medical bills, pay school fees, or take care of short term expenses.
Speaking to TechMoran in August 2016, the former employee said Pesa Zetu is domestic, Kenyan to Kenyan, and return driven believing that Kenyans can lend to other Kenyans online to earn more than they do with a bank. However, cracks started early at the firm.

”The agreement with Capital Markets Authority and the Central Bank of Kenya was that since they do not hold funds they are not to be regulated. It kept in close contact with CBK however, it is very evident that the Pesa Zetu platform holds funds. When a loan is repaid it remains in the lender’s “wallet” until the lender lends it out again,’’ another source stated.

The source claims that Pesa Zetu sugarcoated this fact and never went into the specifics, unfortunately the CBK was not very aggressive in learning how the platform works so the firm is getting away with it as  a lending platform and not a marketplace.

At the pressure of Samir Satchu, the former employee says she asked her spouse’s colleagues to help. They put a significant amount of money into the platform so actual borrowers from low income communities could get loans in September 2015. It’s estimated that over Ksh 1 million was loaned out by the time the employee left in March 2016. Pesa Zetu had close to 18 lenders. But when it was time to repay those lenders, it took Samir Satchu several weeks and lots of emails to him from those lenders.

‘’It was very embarrassing for me when my spouse’s boss told me they were refusing to pay the interest they had agreed to pay the lenders their monies plus interest whenever they request it. It took a lot of pushing from those lenders to receive their money. It was very embarrassing,” they told TechMoran.

Most of this monies have since been refunded back to the original lenders except one person-the complainant’s spouse who was one of the friendly lenders during the pilot stage.

Another source added that the firm was kicked out of the Green House mall where it was previously renting space because it could not pay rent on time or at all.

 

The source added that Mr. Satchu engages in violent behaviour with partners when things do not go his way. “He will pound the wall, throw things and scream at them. It is very scary and unprofessional. If he hold this kind of behavior with partners, you can only imagine how he treats his employees.”

Even with some positives about the company, some of the employees are still livid how the company handles business and its employees unethically.

In August, one of the former employees told TechMoran they were running out of patience. They said they had tried for weeks since their resignation to handle this situation quietly and respectfully. They wanted to walk away and go on with their lives.However, they said that the director resorted to bullying and intimidating them instead of just paying their dues. One of them left the country and left everything to be handled by a law firm with little success.

”The lawyers have also tried to mediate and settle this matter quietly but he would continuously lie and not show up to meetings or phone calls that were agreed upon. Ever since April 2016, we have been trying and we will now proceed to file with the industrial and labour courts to settle this matter. Since our lawyers notified him we will be filing a suit, he again resorted to bullying them and fabricating some story about defamation. I actually fear for my safety and the fact that I might never receive the money rightfully owed to me. The same money that Samir Satchu stated over and over on the phone and via email he would refund, but now out of vendetta for my resignation he refuses to payback,” the complainant said.

Though the sum might not be so significant. The complainant adds that Satchu and Keliehor knew a large percentage of her salary was donated to kids in slum communities to help pay their school fees and withholding this amount has now put the organization at risk of closing its doors and putting over 40 kids out of school.

”They have made my life a living hell by withholding my money and threatening me with other lawsuits. I just wanted my money so I can move on with my life. The whole thing has caused an immeasurable amount of pain and distress in our lives. I never imagined I’d be here with these individuals. I thought they were moral and ethical people who would do the right thing, we were one big Pesa Zetu family. We weren’t just colleagues, I had welcomed them into my home as my home doubled as the office for several months, they had dinner with my family in my home many times. My family in the USA has even taken William Keliehor’s family out and welcomed them into their lives. We trusted them. When they asked us to put all that money in we did because we had trust and agreements,” the complainant added.

”I’m not a millionaire with surplus of money. Using that money put a strain on our personal finances and even my marriage. Samir Satchu knows all this. The fact that they have treated us this way is so disrespectful. I am afraid to talk to anyone about this. I have been forced to stay quiet but it is unfair and I don’t want one more person to get hurt by these individuals. I’m sure they will come after me with threats like they have in the past but the truth must be told. Telling the truth is not a crime. Unlawfully withholding money is.’’ the former employee states, wondering what happened to the man who once seem to have so much passion at helping others.

Another former employee, who also chose to remain anonymous says he was hired as a senior developer on 14th March 2016 but only managed to work for the firm until 14th July 2016.

According to him, Samir and Moraa called him to their offices at Grameen Foundation where he was told of a vacancy of a senior technical role. Then later, after email and telephone conversations, he was offered the position over a telephone call by Samir who was then in Dubai.

”I reported to work on 14th March, 2016 and as a term of my contract I was under probation for a period of three months. My immediate tasks were to work on a lot of documentation and prototyping on some statement extraction service,’’ the developer claims.
Though he was happy he had nailed a job so fast, his doubts started immediately. His salary was always sent to him through Money Gram and in installments spread out through the following month and not as indicated in the contract.

Out of fear that the late and inconsistent payments of his salary might escalate, on 4th May 2016, he had a telephone chat with Hilda Moraa while she was abroad seeking her help into the matter.

Though TechMoran is yet to establish if this was an honest request or an angry outburst, the developer was sent a termination warning the following day on WhatsApp.

‘’I believe that the reason for the purported termination of my contract was because I had confronted Ms Moraa about the non-performance by Pesa Zetu of the key obligations of my contract,’’ he said.

Because he had been fired without notice, the developer said the firm owed him a three month’s salary in lieu of notice but he was hastily asked to inform the team that there was a misunderstanding and that he was returning as a full time staff.

However, after a few months at the firm, with the same late and inconsistent payments, the employee opted to quit. All he wanted was to ensure that Pesa Zetu cleared his salary arrears and remit taxes from 14th March, 2016 upto 14th July, 2016.

‘’I was disgruntled by the willful non-payment of my dues but at the same time I was too frustrated by the conduct of Pesa Zetu and Samir Satchu towards my demands to be paid in full and on time.’’

He said his experience working for the firm is that the company is neither run professionally nor does it comply with government regulations because while statutory deductions were made from his gross salary every month the same were never been remitted to the relevant government agencies.

TechMoran reached out to Samir Satchu on October 6 but a meeting is yet to take place but whatever happens, this might be Pesa Zetu’s break or make moment.

Update: Zegetech had a smooth agreement with PesaZetu and doesnt want to be associated with the present dispute. The story has been updated to reflect that.

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