Flutterwave CEO Olugbenga Agboola has, for the first time, addressed financial and personal misconduct claims leveled against him and the company this month, according to an email to employees obtained by TechCrunch.
“I’m writing today because I want you to know how concerned I am about the impact that reading the false allegations against our company has had on you all," he wrote.
"The fact that the allegations of financial impropriety, conflict of interest and sexual harassment have been proved false or have already been reported, investigated and addressed by management matters less to me than the reality that these claims may have shaken your confidence in the company. As founder and CEO, it is my responsibility to address the concerns you may have, and this will be a priority for me moving forward."
These are the first comments by the chief executive since a report by West Africa Weekly, a Substack newsletter written by journalist David Hundeyin, revealed several allegations against the startup and Agboola ranging from fraud and perjury to insider trading and sexual harassment.
The report came days after Clara Wanjiku Odero — an ex-employee and current CEO of Credrails — published a Medium post and a series of tweets on April 4 accusing Flutterwave and Agboola of bullying her in the past.
It's been a week since the allegations from West Africa Weekly came to light. At some point, it was believed that Flutterwave wouldn't address them publicly. For most, the delayed response was a terrible look and spoke to a weak company culture that might lead to more tea spilled.
But three days ago, TechCabal, a publication focused on African tech, in an interview with ex-CEO Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, said it received a statement from Flutterwave's management that read: “The blog post in question is based on recycled and previously addressed claims and several others that are false.” Agboola's email to his employees carries a similar characterization.
Has @theflutterwave still not responded to the allegations? It’s been a full week.
— Rebecca Enonchong (@africatechie) April 19, 2022
Allegations and Agboola's response
One of the allegations against the CEO was his involvement with his previous employer, Access Bank, while working on Flutterwave in its early days. According to the report, Agboola didn't let his previous employers know he was working on the startup and accused the CEO of taking advantage of his position and resources to build Flutterwave.
Agboola, in the email, responded to this by saying: “The allegations about how I started the company are untrue. I shared with you during the retreat that a former boss helped us close one of our enterprise clients. I am thankful for the learning and mentorship I received at the numerous employers I worked at before starting Flutterwave.”
On insider trading accusations, the report said Agboola created an investment vehicle that cashed in on share prices sold below the company's valuation to employees who had stock options, especially before a fundraising round.
But according to Agboola, neither he nor Flutterwave has engaged in insider trading and mentioned that ex-employees sold shares they owned to outside parties at some points.
“We followed all legal processes and procedures, including obtaining board approval when needed, when approving the sale of shares,” he wrote. “In addition, we work closely with our outside law firms to stay in compliance with all applicable regulations.”
Addressing issues related to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Agboola further backed the account provided by Aboyeji to TechCabal on the matter, stating that in 2017, the SEC had an inquiry with which Flutterwave fully complied, and he's unaware of any ongoing SEC investigation into the company's activities.
Aboyeji, in his interview, said that the SEC case was related to concerns about Flutterwave having some unaccredited investors under U.S. law and was not an indictment on the CEO's insider trading accusations stated in West Africa Weekly's article.
The SEC didn't confirm or deny any investigation when Hundeyin, the newsletter's author, reached out, citing privacy conditions.
The newsletter also disclosed several emails accusing Agboola and CCO Ifeoluwa Orioke of having sexual relations with several female employees and harassing some. On this issue, Agboola wrote;
"We have previously investigated employee sexual harassment allegations (including those made against me, and of which I was cleared) and terminated employees who have been inappropriate towards team members. We have had independent third party reviews which gave birth to the We Hear You and whistleblowing policies that you all know of today. We have always had a zero-tolerance policy [to] sexual harassment and we will continue to take action when necessary. No exceptions."
What Flutterwave and Agboola didn't address
The West Africa Weekly's report accused Agboola of creating a fictitious co-founder and CTO identity called "Greg" to allocate more shares to himself (even though he was the major shareholder) in the company's early days. And though Aboyeji, who was Flutterwave's first CEO, reitereated this allegation in his interview, Agboola didn't specifically address this in his email to Flutterwave's staff.
The chief executive didn't also respond to the accusations that Flutterwave performed fraudulent activities -- with investors' knowledge -- against its clients.
Lastly, there was no word on the ongoing court cases it's facing from Odero and another employee, who, according to the West Africa Weekly, is suing Flutterwave for not offering her stock options after almost three years working at the company in a senior role.
Here is the fintech's response to Odero's allegation. On the latter, TechCrunch reached out for a comment regarding the allegations, including its relationship with Banwo & Ighodalo (B&I), the said ex-employee's former legal counsel that dropped her case despite showing initial interest in going up against the unicorn.
"As a general policy, we do not comment on specific employee matters of this nature or pending litigation even when they may involve false, recycled, or previously addressed claims," Flutterwave said in an email to TechCrunch. B&I didn't respond to TechCrunch's request for comment.
Meanwhile, a source told TechCrunch that Agboola has since made an out-of-court settlement offer to this ex-employee through an intermediary. The source also said the ex-employee rejected the proposal, which was significantly lower than the current value of her 40,000 shares signed off by Aboyeji during his time as CEO.
Aboyeji didn't comment on the number of shares or its current value when TechCrunch reached out, but here's what he said on the issue:
“When I was at the helm of Flutterwave, it was very important to me that all our staff were rewarded for their incredible sacrifice in helping us build an amazing company," he said. "I helped design the stock options program of the company and had drawn up with my co-founders, early employees and advisors who will be rewarded with stock options [including the ex-employee] but couldn’t fully implement before I resigned.”
Why Flutterwave didn’t proceed to implement the agreement, particularly hers, is unclear, even to the then-CEO.
“I was made aware afterward that the founders decided to do things differently and some of the people on that list weren’t issued stock options after I left, but I don’t know why,” he added.
Flutterwave wants to fix up with its CEO still at the helm
In the email to his employees, Agboola outlined actions the company would carry out to improve its culture, which looks tainted at the moment in the eyes of the public.
These measures include improving its HR policies while working closely with audit and advisory firms, taking a survey of employees -- particularly female employees -- to get feedback on their experiences in the company, an "inclusive workplace training," increasing mental health resources, and providing more transparency.
"We have made some significant changes to how we communicate transparently in the organization on compensation, promotions, etc.," the CEO wrote. "In addition, all members of the executive leadership team will hold monthly open hours for staff at all levels. This will be a time for us to hear directly from all of you and what we can be doing to be continuously improving."
On the one hand, it's understandable that Flutterwave wants to restore the image it had just months ago as the darling of Africa's tech ecosystem. Still, some may question why the company is making these changes if these claims are false.
Speaking about changes and contrary to what tech stakeholders might have thought would happen, it appears Agboola will not be stepping down as CEO; there was no mention of that in the email.
Alongside the leadership team, Agboola said he plans to visit every Flutterwave office on the continent to have "one-on-one" chats with employees by the end of the year.
The rest of the email reiterates this:
"I know this is a lot to take in! We will have more conversations to discuss all this in greater detail. I want to hear from you all and answer any questions you have.
I'll end by saying that when we started the company in 2016, our mission was to simplify payments for endless possibilities for businesses, consumers, and especially our customers. That remains our mission, of which all of you are a crucial part in making a reality.
I will always put Flutterwave first. And Flutterwave is all of you. Like I always say our people are the secret sauce of Flutterwave and I mean that.
...Thank you for reminding me that to whom much is give, much is required. I will live up to your expectations of me."