PayMongo announced Monday that its CEO and cofounder Francis Plaza is stepping away from the Philippine fintech startup for at least a week amid a company investigation into a sexual harassment allegation against the 29-year-old. Plaza denies the allegation.
The company’s board of directors, chaired by cofounder and former chief commercial officer Luis Sia, approved Plaza’s voluntary leave of absence for the duration of the investigation. The complaint, filed by a former employee on August 11, is being processed by an independent committee. In the interim, COO Isabel Ridad will serve as acting CEO.
“The Company has taken active steps to address the complaint filed by a former employee against Francis Plaza,” PayMongo said in a statement to Forbes Asia on Monday. “Our Committee on Decorum and Investigation is in the middle of its inquiry into the matter, and ensures that it will be credible, independent, and fair to all concerned.”
PayMongo’s statement comes almost a week after news outlet Tech in Asia reported that the company is investigating a sexual harassment claim against Plaza. “I cannot comment on the specifics while the investigation is ongoing, unfortunately, but what I can say right now is that I steadfastly deny many of the baseless and false claims that were made against me,” Plaza says in a video interview on Tuesday. “What the claims have done is they unduly cast aspersions not just on me, but also the processes and procedures of the company.”
According to the Tech in Asia report, citing an anonymous source, Plaza confessed his romantic feelings for a younger male employee and offered him a promotion to “head of people,” provided the two enter a romantic relationship. The offer was rescinded after Plaza’s affections were spurned, and the employee left PayMongo in February, Tech in Asia reported.
In his first interview since the publication of the Tech in Asia article, Plaza says the company investigation “will lead to the truth” and expects the process to last until the end of the month. “I look forward to resuming my job as CEO,” he says.
“I don’t see this as just a job for me,” Plaza adds. “More importantly, I am a shareholder of the company…I will always think of what’s best for the company beyond any personality, including myself.”
Plaza cofounded PayMongo with Sia, Jamie Hing III and Edwin Lacierda. Sia left the company in March, but remains chairman of the board. Plaza denied Tech in Asia’s report that Sia’s departure was related to the sexual harassment allegation. Lacierda, who served as PayMongo’s chief commercial officer, left the company in mid-2021. Plaza told Tech in Asia that Lacierda, a former cabinet secretary and presidential spokesperson under late President Benigno Aquino III, left PayMongo to focus on public service.
Backed by the likes of PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel, Stripe and Y Combinator, PayMongo enables sellers to send payment links to customers, who can pay using a range of options including credit cards and e-wallets.
The startup raised $31 million in a series B round in February, bringing its total funding to about $46 million. After its $12 million in a series A round led by Stripe in 2020, PayMongo said it tripled its merchant base to over 10,000 businesses and quadrupled monthly transaction volumes.
Recent high-level departures were not limited to cofounders. Jay Olos, PayMongo’s former CFO, left the company in May. According to the Tech in Asia report, Olos was ousted after allegations of sexual harassment were levelled by two employees against him. Plaza told Tech in Asia that an internal audit also found financial irregularities by Olos.
Olos rejected the claim in a LinkedIn post on Monday. “There are no financial irregularities,” he said in the post. “It’s just that some don’t understand accounting fully, the scope of work, entitlement, and obligations of the CFO ultimately to the shareholders. In my 17 years as a finance professional, I never stole from any company that I worked for because I value integrity so much.”
In response to the sexual harassment claims, Olos wrote: “If you know me personally and we’re close, you know that I am a conversationalist. I talk a lot and can be tactless at times. I ask a lot of questions, give lots of inputs and insights, and jokes and makes fun of myself (particularly about my siopao face, height and receding hairline). Sometimes, included in those jokes are green jokes or adult jokes that I only blurt for those people whom I think I am close to. It’s my way to build rapport in a remote work setting and to show the human side of me (as a finance guy, I am tough they say). Unfortunately, I learned that some female colleagues found it not funny particularly in a WFH set-up when calls and chats are subject to interpretation. A lesson learned for me, and I take responsibility for it. I apologize to those people whom I have offended. Rest assured that I continue to work on improving myself on that area.”
Plaza says the employees who filed harassment complaints against Olos remained at PayMongo and “appreciated the swift steps taken.”