I met with Jamie Fiveash, the CEO of the Smart master trust yesterday. Smart have gone places, specifically to their own Smart building at 136 George Street, overlooking the busy Edgware Road. When I arrived to have a look around, filming was going on – Andrew Evans the global CEO filled me in on Smart’s global expansion and the Series D funding that arrived over the summer from Chrysalis. There’s is a smart building , built for the future, net-zero from day one.
Jamie was in confident mood. Smart will soon be announcing its master trust has over one million members and £2.5bn in assets. It is gearing for future expansion by making itself more transparent, it will be unbundling its AMC so that members can see what they are paying Smart and what they are paying fund managers. Smart are committed to not making a turn on their investments, what you pay for investments is what Smart pays.
We discussed the cost of living crisis. Smart are considering reintroducing a “pause button” that they have previously trialled , allowing members to set how long they want to take a “pension holiday”. This sounds a good way for members who can’t afford their pensions today to set a target for a return to saving – without waiting for re-enrolment. It also allows the “pause” to be aligned to employer’s practices on readmission to pensions (and gateway benefit forsaken – such as death in service).
Smart are pressing ahead with trialling “member exchange”. It’s a system where members with small pots with Smart would find their small pot transferred to their new master trust in exchange for members with small pots elsewhere, consolidating with Smart. We talked about consolidation in general and how, rather than making it hard for savers to transfer pots – we can make it easy. Smart have been helping people find their pensions using Pension Lab and we discussed how value for money metrics could be used to help people decide whether pots should transfer, and if so – to where!
Smart have been a leading light in the efforts to improve the financial wellbeing of their lower earners, were they regulated by the FCA , this would undoubtedly fall under its consumer duty, let’s hope that those large insurers actively engaged with low earners, take note.
Although they operate a “net-pay” scheme, Smart have been active in lobbying the Treasury as part of NPAG to sort the net pay anomaly. We discussed lobbying further to get a relief payment for those currently over-paying pensions into people’s pockets this financial year.
And Smart have been at the forefront in working with the DWP to promote the take up of pension credit to its members at or past pension age. They will be hosting the next meeting and showing the way to some of their peers.
When talking of Smart’s rivals , Jamie is respectful but firm. “Nest should be mutualised” for the benefit of the tax-payer customers and its own staff. Cushon needs to get on with integrating its disparate schemes.
It sounds that after nearly five years at Smart, Jamie is ready to play a more public role. That would be good!
If this sounds an eulogy – well it is. Smart have got on with building one of the most populous master trusts even though they only started in 2015. They have grown through acquisition , but those acquisitions have been integrated into the scheme so that all members now see the same range of funds and engage with Smart using the same tools.
Smart globally is more than a master trust, it is a technology platform which can be used as easily in Australia and America as in Britain and Europe. A properly funded fintech , it is now in a position to drive change and in conversations with Andrew and Jamie, it is clear that the Smart Master Trust, will benefit from that change.
When AgeWage analyses Smart data, we find it amongst the cleanest of any scheme. Considering it comes from a multiplicity of small employers, that is a great compliment to their processes , technology and attention to detail.
Its investment governance is strong, under the leadership of Nikesh Patel who chairs the Trustee’s investment committee. Its Trustee Board is well led by Andy Cheseldine.
Smart has come a long way since 2015 and much of its success has been achieved through the work of people who are now applying their knowledge elsewhere. Claire (Clara) Altman is now building the retirement division of Phoenix, Darren Philp is building a new career as a policy expert and Paul Budgen leaves this week to study theology at Cambridge prior to taking the cloth.
As I walked around the Smart building, I wondered that so much can be achieved in such a short time. For that, hats off to the entrepreneurial drive and vision of Andrew Evans and Will Wynne. There’s much to be done, but Smart are delivering right now and setting standards in a way I never thought they could or would!