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Earnd HR Heroes Podcast: How TSA Group is navigating COVID-19

COVID-19 Employee Engagement People
COVID-19 Employee Engagement People

Earnd HR Heroes Podcast Episode 1

TSA Group Executives Zahra Peggs and Blaine Slater chat to Earnd founder Josh Vernon to discuss how TSA are navigating COVID-19 to support our people and grow our business.


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Josh: Hello, guys. I guess I’ll kick-off. Zahra, Blaine, thank you so much for joining today. It is a pleasure to be chatting with you guys. It might be worthwhile kicking off with a round of introductions just so everybody knows who everyone else is. Blaine, Would you be comfortable kicking off?

Blaine: Absolutely. Thanks for having us today, Josh. Really thrilled to be a part of this. And my name’s Blaine. I’m the Group Executive for New Business at TSA Group.

Zahra: Thanks, Josh, I’m a podcast rookie. So thanks for giving me an opportunity to Test –

Josh: It’s alright Zahra, so am I

Zahra: My name’s Zahra Pegg’s. I’m the Group Executive for People and Corporate Affairs at TSA Group, and I’m also a big advocate for the work that you guys do over at Earnd.

Josh: You’re too kind. I’ll also give a quick introduction for myself, my name’s Josh and I helped found the Earnd business and had been fortunate enough to work with the TSA crew for probably just over six months Now if I’m not mistaken.

Zahra: A little bit longer than that, if you can believe. I think we first started connecting back in October last year, but time has flown and also lost all meaning almost as we’ve gone through 2020.

Josh: It has indeed. And I think that that might bring us onto the topic of this conversation to understand from a people and business perspective how TSA has been travelling through what’s been a fairly tumultuous period. But it might be worthwhile just for everybody listening to get an understanding of what TSA does as a business to kick us off with.

Blaine: Yeah, absolutely. We’re a CX services business, and we’ve been around for 23 years. We are Australian based, privately-owned company, and we are really the brand behind the brand. So we represent some of Australia’s most recognisable businesses and a range of different sectors. And, you know, traditionally that’s been through contact centre and outsourcing and support in that area and more recently, more around customer experience design and helping more on the technology front as things have digitised and started to move towards more automation. In terms of size and scale, we have around about two and a half thousand people within our business. We operate across Australia with four contact centres in Perth, Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne. And we also have an international hub up in the Philippines, in Manila as well. So we like to think of ourselves as a 23-year-old startup business. We still retain a very entrepreneurial edge to our business, but certainly operate with some size and scale as well.

Josh: Love it. And I am I right in saying you started your career at TSA, as a contact centre worker as well?

Blaine: Absolutely. So I moved to Australia 15 years ago, and the first job that I got was in the contact centre, an outbound sales role. And I’ve been here ever since. I’m a part of the furniture now moved up through the business in various roles. And now I look after TSA’a growth and engagement of new clients.

Josh: Well, I think that more than anything points to the team’s culture that we’ve been fortunate enough to see. That’s awesome. Zahra, on that, is there anything to add from your perspective or a people side in terms of the business.

Zahra: Yeah, it’s interesting, as Blaine said, where a 23-year-old startup. And what we’ve really tried to do as we’ve grown our business and become more sophisticated is retain those really human and personal touches that made us such a great place to work when we were a small business. We’re really conscious of making sure that we still provide those opportunities that both Blaine and I have had to climb through the ranks and give that aspiration to all of the people we now have coming through our doors. So that’s a really important part of TSA’s DNA and something that Blaine and I and the rest of the executive team guard really fiercely as we do continue on our growth trajectory.

Josh: And you mentioned Blaine and yourself, I’m not sure I’m familiar with the story of how you first came to TSA. What’s that like?

Zahra: Well, I came to TSA, and it was my very first job, actually, Josh. And so almost my only job. Yeah, I was a first-year university student, and my parents insisted that I finally start to take care of myself. And so I had an opportunity to join TSA in its very infancy. And it was a really different business back then. It was sort of five years into this crazy ride that we’ve been on, and the work that we did was face-to-face doorknocking. So my job back then was in the back office, such as it was. And I don’t know if you’ve ever seen on that duplicate, or triplicate paperwork there’s that office use only section. I was the office basically. So what I used to do is contact customers. I’ve been visited by one of our face-to-face team members and confirm that they were happy with their products and services, I’d sign the office use only section and we’d send that off to our clients to process it. So there was a fax machine involved, there were those Telstra old touch phones everyone had in the 90s, and that was as sophisticated as it was. No computers, no nothing, just depend on the phone and some triplicate paperwork. And ever since then, I’ve been really fortunate that as I’ve progressed in my career, TSA has provided amazing opportunities to keep me interested along the way. So I’m very fortunate.

Josh: Phenomenal. I would love to say I can relate to a first work experience with fax machines, but unfortunately, I can’t because this is also my first job in only three years into it.

Blaine: Basically, we’ve always been a very high tech organisation is what I read into that.

Zahra:  I think I’ve also unfortunately just carbon-dated myself on this podcast.

Josh: I love it. I love it. That’s phenomenal. I did see you guys have been working more closely with Daisee recently from a technology perspective to improve, I guess the CX, you’re providing to both the team and the clients, that technology point is true.

Blaine: Absolutely. I think from our perspective, we work with a lot of different providers. We’ve been doing a lot of great work with Amazon Web Services and Daisee, and we love that business. It’s an Australian startup. And certainly, in terms of their mission and what they are trying to achieve, it’s very aligned to TSA.

Blaine: I think what we are looking at is how do we continually enhance the experience we provide to our clients and quality assurance coverage and speech analytics is something that’s going to give a lot more comfort, especially in, if you think about sectors like financial services, where there’s been a lot of scrutiny over the last few years through the royal commission, being able to give peace of mind, that we can provide coverage and access to all of the calls that are made and taken and received is certainly really valuable. And we aim to pass that capability on to our clients via the partners that we work with.

Josh: Love it. And when you were talking before about the knocking on doors and how the business used to be structured with door-to-door sales, I can’t even imagine how that would be impacted by the environment we’re in today. How has the new sort of TSA been impacted by COVID and the world we experience now?

Zahra: Yeah, I mean, I don’t think it’s unique to say that it’s been a pretty surreal experience for all of us. But the interesting thing about it has been that it’s presented at least as many opportunities for us as it has challenges. Like many businesses, we found that some of the barriers to achieving change that we wanted to see in our business were basically purely mental. So we managed to do in hours and days what we otherwise would have taken weeks or months to do. So that overarching sense of purpose to deliver for our clients and our customers when they need us most, and also importantly, to protect the lives and livelihoods of our own team members that that’s given our team, I guess, the extra reserves of energy. We’ve all needed to move those mountains and push through the uncertainty and difficulties. So, you know, while it’s a situation that I can absolutely say I’d be glad never again to have to confront in my lifetime, it’s certainly enabled us to bond as a team and to prove the power of working together and create that momentum that’s needed to build on what we’ve achieved over the period. So there’s definitely not going to be a going back to the old ways of doing things. This is very much how we’ll be operating into the future.

Josh: I agree. I’ve gotten used to in the last few weeks wearing nothing but elastic waistband pants, so I can’t imagine going back into an office environment with any speed. I think the whole world is getting a little bit more comfortable with what’s going on at the moment. And has TSA had to ramp up or down their workforce in any way throughout this period?

Blaine: The response that we’ve had to make is typically dictated by our client’s needs. So the impacts that we’ve experienced, each sector that we represent, we’ve ramped up for some clients, we’ve down for others. But one of the most encouraging things that I’ve seen is that there has been a lot of demand from a local Australian perspective on bringing work back to Australia. And that’s certainly been driven by, you know, closures and impacts that have been felt offshore in countries like the Philippines and India. And really from that perspective, that’s good, because we are experiencing and face into is a local economy, a lot of people who may be looking for work or jobs or their industries have been impacted by COVID shutdown or movements. And so I’m really positive about the fact that we had actually a business that’s at this point in time able to keep all of our existing employees, where possible, gainfully employed and then also look at other opportunities to try and grow into new sectors and to Zahra’s point. There’s definitely a lot of opportunity out there at the moment as businesses are starting to grapple with how they adapt to the new environment. And one of the things that’s been really interesting from my perspective, given that I’m in a business development role, is I was interested to see how it would play out around things like face-to-face meetings. And from my perspective, I’ve really relied on the ability to go and meet new clients and new prospects as part of my job. But I’ve been really surprised by how quickly people have embraced video conferencing technology for that. And in actual fact, I don’t recall a period of time where people have been more open to making new business connections, which has been great because they’ve been more vulnerable and transparent about the issues, which makes it easier for us to help them and build solutions that meet their needs.

Josh: Yep, that’s very, very true. And on that, I guess it jumps to the point of flexibility. And I remember when we were initially engaging with TSA, one of the I guess the key reasons why we gelled so well as an organisation was the incredible focus you guys have on flexibility. Zahra, I actually remember before we first chatted, I was scrolling through TSA’s Instagram page. And I remember very clearly seeing masseuses coming into the office as an employee benefit. I was shocked, shocked and jealous in some way. But how has flexibility and I guess the wellbeing of the staff played a role in the last few weeks or months?

Zahra: Yeah, it’s been critical, as you’ve identified, Josh, especially when you think about the types of calls we’re now managing on behalf of our clients. You know, a lot of the calls that we’re receiving are really emotionally taxing calls. We’ve got a huge cohort of people across Australia who are in desperate, hardship situations now. And for many of them, it’s the first time they’ve been in that situation. So as a business, it’s so important that, you know, in terms of helping customers who are dealing with hardship, we’re also bolstering the support we’ve got around our team members to enable them to achieve that in a safe way and also in a meaningful way. And that’s part of where Earnd comes in for us. It’s a really critical part of the flexibility offering that we’ve got for our team members and flexibility and that sense of control, giving people that sense of control is so important at the moment where there is so much ambiguity and uncertainty in the in the broader world. So whether that’s in terms of working hours where people work from or how they’re accessing their pay, it’s been so important to what we’ve been able to do. And as you mentioned, yeah, we do still do those kinds of things around holistic wellbeing, but just strict safety, but really holistic wellbeing. And that that is things like meditation sessions. It’s things like masseuses, it’s things like focus on mental health awareness, healthy habits, exercise, and then also through our employee assistance program, making sure that people have access to a whole range of counselling services at their fingertips if they need it. So it’s very much about caring for the whole employee in a holistic way.

Josh: Yeah, and I also just before this, I was doing some shameless LinkedIn scrolling and noticed you guys built a new Victorian headquarters in the last few months. Is that being used at all or is the entire organisation currently at home?

Blaine: This is an interesting one around Victoria because that’s really been a watching brief as it’s unfolded over the last couple of days. But one of the most impressive things that we’ve done as an organisation is have the flexibility to respond and adapt to the changing environment.

Blaine: And Victoria, at the moment, we have a range of activities which are conducted now fully work from home, but we also still have the office location open and an active. And what we’ve done there is make sure that the environment is safe for staff members. So, you know, from our perspective, again, it’s sometimes driven by what clients will allow us to do because there’s security and sensitivity with some of the programs that we manage. But where possible. We like to give our employees flexibility. And so I think work from home is something that we’ll strongly be encouraging that will remain as part of our employee value proposition. The early signs are that from a business perspective, we’re seeing less turnover of staff, we’re seeing less unplanned absences. So for a business like ours, those are really strong indications that there’s been a positive response from the team members, whether that’s, you know, the result of the effects of COVID and the impacts currently or whether that’s something that’s more related to work from home. We’ll have to assess that over the next coming months to see. But certainly, from my perspective, we really hope that work from home and that flexibility can retain as part of our service offering and an employee value proposition as well.

Josh: Yep, and I have to ask from a biased perspective because I think the flexibility that Earnd as an organisation set out to try to embed within cultures and organisations was aimed at achieving the same thing in terms of wellbeing and reductions in attrition rates and absenteeism. Are you seeing the same impact from the Earnd product at TSA that flexibility is having a positive impact on individuals?

Zahra: It really is Josh, and it’s been interesting, the different use cases for it that have emerged as we’ve gone through our partnership. One of the things that it’s been really important for is the new team members that we’ve onboarded really rapidly since March to obviously help our clients with their BCP responses and things like that. You know, there were often people who had been in safe and stable jobs up until that point, and they were cut loose suddenly. And so being able to give them a service like Earnd, where they can take control of their finances again and choose how they budget and go through that process has been so critical. And we’ve had some really brilliant feedback from them around that about what a relief it was to allow them to do things like paying their rent, to get the groceries, and just relieve some of that really crazy stress that they’ve been going through. And it certainly made their onboarding experience far simpler and more straightforward with that weight off their shoulders. They really felt that they were able to focus on serving the customers that needed their assistance as well. So it’s been absolutely critical to what we’ve done over this period.

Josh: I’m hearing that. I’m not sure if Blaine, you’ve seen it, but Zahra, I’m pretty sure we would have and would have passed your desk. But we had a video testimonial from someone at TSA and a week or two ago now who had a baby delivered early and didn’t have the sort of funds to buy diapers and used Earnd and I’ve shown it to our whole team. It stirred up a few tears. So it’s, I guess, a gesture of appreciation from our end for allowing this partnership to move forward and have those impacts on people.

Blaine: That’s awesome. One of the things that we talked about at the start was Zahra, and I have worked at all levels in this business. So we know what it’s like to be in the front line and you know the demands when you’re in that role. And so if there was a product like that that was available to me when I was in a contact centre role, it would have been fantastic. It would have been a game-changer, really, in terms of some of the decisions that you would make and the flexibility afforded you. So now I can completely understand why our employees have responded really strongly to that. But it’s not only that for us, it’s kind of twofold. Zarha’s nailed the impact on people, but from a business perspective, our client value proposition is around us being cutting edge and providing CX services that, you know, combine sophisticated technology with amazing people. So to ensure we’ve got the best people, we need to be able to have the best-supporting infrastructure. And so for me, Earnd is a huge part of demonstrating our commitment to staff and giving them access to their hard-earned cash sooner when they need it, is critical.

Josh: That should become our new slogan. Love it. That’s awesome. And can I ask from, I guess, both sitting on the exec team, what is the biggest challenge of the next few months for you guys? What does that look like as a business?

Blaine: Wow, big question. I think there’s many I don’t think it just boils down to one. But certainly, the number one priority is making sure that we have our operations safe and stable for our people. And then also equal to that is making sure we continue to deliver what our clients need from us. Beyond that, we start to look at other business partnerships that we could potentially work with. But certainly, our firm focus at the moment is on making sure we deliver for the existing people and the existing clients that we have.

Zahra: Yeah, I think if I can put a bit of a people spin on that for me, it boils down to two things. Just it’s lives and livelihoods. So it’s about making our workplaces safe and doing all that we can to ensure that that remains the case. And then it’s about, as Blaine said, continuing to deliver for our clients so that we can continue to have all these great people work for us to ride through this wave of ambiguity and come out the end a better business for it. So, yeah, it’s pretty straightforward from my perspective.

Josh: Awesome, I think that lives and livelihoods reminded me of Scomo’s speeches over the last few months, the lives and livelihoods piece.

Zahra: And I think it’s direct and it’s to the point it is the crux of what we’re dealing with here and appreciate at a national level. It’s a fine balance, I think.

Josh: TSA is Just as important.

Zahra: Well, we like to think so, but it’s certainly something we take just as seriously as the prime minister does.

Josh: Yep, agreed, awesome. And I guess last one, last question, but is there anything I guess you guys see in the future as a possibility or anything in terms of the Earnd and TSA relationship that you want to see from us? And I guess a comment more broadly to HR professionals out there, what more we can be doing about supporting our people?

Zahra: Look, I mean, if I could sum up how I see our future with Earnd, I just use the word enduring. As you know, Josh, we’ve been true believers from the outset, and we’ve really valued being involved in such an innovative way of providing our team members with more control over their finances within the demographic that we’ve got here. Our core group at TSA, we know there’s a real interest amongst people to learn more about financial matters, improve their financial literacy. And I think the situation that we’re in now with COVID-19 is really sharpened the focus on that. So we know our team members are keen to get ahead through smart planning around their finances. Savings as well is really critical at this point in time. So we’re really keen to see the release of new functionality from Earnd to support that, both in terms of new tools and in terms of new service offerings as well.

Josh: Awesome, and I do, not to make this a love fest between us too much, but I do probably just have to sign off by giving a very heartfelt appreciation for you guys have done in our relationship, but also to the team that not many organisations that we get the pleasure of working with, which treat the people with the level of respect and dignity and care that you guys do. So it’s been nothing but a pleasure working together.

Blaine: Appreciate the kind comments, Josh, it’s always nice to hear, but, yeah, right back at you.

Josh: I told you it turned into a love fest. Anyway, guys, thank you so much for taking the time today and look forward to the next one. And I think it was a decent rookie podcast session.

Zahra: Thanks, Josh. That’s very comforting to hear.

Blaine: Thanks, Josh.



TSA are Australia’s market leading specialists in CX consultancy and services. We are passionate about revolutionising the way brands connect with Australians. How? By combining our local expertise with the most sophisticated customer experience technology on earth, and delivering with an expert team of customer service consultants who know exactly how to help brands care for their customers.

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