We speak to Romi Savova, founder of PensionBee, about what motivated her to start the pensions company and how she is managing in the current crisis.
workingmums.co.uk talk to Romi Savova, CEO of online pension provider PensionBee, about how she started the business and the challenges she has faced along the way, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Romi Savova: I decided to start PensionBee in 2014, after a negative experience trying to move my pension when I changed jobs. Despite working in traditional investment banking roles at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, and thinking I knew how the system worked, I found the whole process really difficult. I tried seeking advice, but nobody wanted to take my call – apparently my pension wasn’t big enough to cover an IFA’s fees! I realised that if I, someone who perhaps should have known better, could get tripped up by complex processes and extortionate fees, attempting to transfer a pension could cause real problems for consumers.
To validate the idea I started asking my friends and family about their experiences and quickly learned that virtually everyone has a pension horror story, and that the industry doesn’t make it easy for consumers to manage their money. I knew there had to be a way to make pensions simple and I was confident that I could use technology to solve the problem and drag the old legacy providers into the 21st century. I conducted market research, spoke to potential customers, business partners and investors. Once I was confident that the idea had enough traction, I took the plunge and launched PensionBee the following year.
RS: When I was a child I wanted to be a human rights or criminal lawyer, but ended up embarking on a career in financial services instead. Since starting PensionBee it’s turned out that I’m actually doing that job in the pensions industry, campaigning for the rights of customers and calling out injustices.
Throughout my career I’ve always tried to pursue roles that have a purpose – roles where I can learn and be engaged. I discovered that I was only truly happy when I pursued the roles that also make a difference to the lives of others. I set up PensionBee to revolutionise the pensions industry and help as many people as possible save for a happy retirement.
RS: PensionBee was created to solve a real consumer problem: to make pensions simple and give savers complete control over their retirement money. We use technology to help savers consolidate their old pensions quickly and simply. It takes around five minutes to sign up online, then we transfer and combine their old pension pots within a matter of weeks. From there customers can manage their pension like they manage their bank account – with 24/7 access from our web and mobile apps.
Listening to the needs of the customer (whether that is ourselves or our 75,000 strong user base) is what has helped us grow into a successful company. It’s my experience that as long as you always do what is best for the consumer you’ll be successful. Therefore, at PensionBee our customers are at the centre of everything we do and we’ve designed all of our processes to channel their feedback into what we offer. We never try to guess what they want, we constantly ask them, which is why our entire product roadmap is driven by customer feedback.
We’re committed to giving our customers a highly personalised experience. Therefore each receives a dedicated BeeKeeper (Customer Success Manager) to guide them on their PensionBee journey. This is a level of customer service never seen before in the pensions industry and is a real point of difference for our customers. In addition to wowing them with technology, we also treat them like human beings and they will never be just a number to us. These are just a few of the things that have helped us gain a loyal customer base and continue to help us grow year after year.
RS: The exciting thing about my role as CEO is that it’s constantly changing: some months I’m fundraising, other months I’m sourcing new partnerships, finding a new office or simply chatting with our BeeKeepers and customers to get their feedback on what we could be doing better as a business. Nothing beats hearing how our product has changed the lives of people saving for retirement!
Constant change means constant learning and that’s very exciting. Being on the right side of change, particularly in financial services, is also very motivating. I’m immensely proud of my team who are forever fighting for financial inclusion and the rights of all pension savers. I’m also proud of the level of diversity we’ve achieved within PensionBee, something that’s not usually seen within the financial services industry. Half of our team consists of women and we have around 40% BME representation. There’s a myth that working in pension requires you to be a numbers geek, but, of course, this isn’t true. We’re proving that pensions can be a good career for anyone looking to be on the cutting-edge of product development and innovation, while challenging the perceptions of what people in pensions should be.
RS: Since starting PensionBee I’ve become a mum to a little boy named Ari who’s three and a girl named Gia who’s one. Running a company while raising a family has been exceptionally demanding and there’s never any spare time, but I could never imagine my life without either of them.
I’ve learned that mummy guilt doesn’t go away no matter how much you do and that, ultimately, happy children need happy mummies. Personally, I would be a mother who went crazy if I couldn’t work. So if I were unhappy, I have no doubt that this would manifest itself in a serious lack of patience with my children. My goal now is to aim for quality time so just as I’m not looking after my children at work, my children deserve for me to disconnect and give them my undivided attention when I’m at home.
RS: One challenge we regularly face is people’s perception of pensions. We know that they’re one of the least interesting products to engage with and they can be unnecessarily complex, which is why it’s our mission to make them simple. We work hard to ensure that our product is as engaging as possible, providing information that’s easy to understand and ultimately encouraging consumers to save more money and watch their pensions grow.
The biggest challenge is thankfully behind us. In our first couple of years of trading some of the old legacy providers made it very difficult for us. They questioned our legitimacy, refused to send electronic transfers, which dramatically speed up the transfer process, and generally made life harder for our customers. Sometimes I wonder how much of that early resistance was based on our innovative product disrupting the status quo, or if it was because I was at the helm, a woman in her early thirties, who was trying to change the industry for the better.
RS: I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and each of the experiences we have as individuals changes who we are for the better. One regret I have is that I struggle to spend enough time with my small children and balancing the demands of running a business with being a parent is incredibly challenging.
RS: As a digital business we were more prepared than most and quickly moved to ensure that as many of our team could work from home as possible in line with government advice. We still have a critical team in the office to provide resilience and take care of the tasks that just can’t be done from home, such as processing post and scanning policy documents.
If you’re a PensionBee customer it’s unlikely you’ll have noticed any changes to our service as we’re consistently picking up over 90% of incoming calls and live chats and responding to emails in our normal timeframes. Unfortunately, we’re the exception rather than the rule, with many of the old legacy providers struggling to adapt fast enough and some even having to close their phone lines to customers for several days.
One lovely thing to come from the current situation is that our team has become even closer, with everyone supporting their colleagues and checking in regularly. We have five Mental Health First Aiders whose job is to help look after and care for the wellbeing of staff, while our management team is ensuring everyone is well equipped and happy with their new home offices. Whatever is happening in the outside world, we remain united and focused on our goal of delivering the UK’s best pension product. Our plans for the future are the same – to keep serving our customers and growing the business while also benefiting from the forward movement of digitisation.