How do you turn something boring into something exciting? Turning something “cold” into something “warm”, as he describes it, is the fundamental challenge that PensionBee CMO Jasper Martens has faced in his career not only in pensions but in previous roles in business insurance.
“When you start a business you’re not thinking, ‘woohoo – business insurance!’ When you’re starting your working life you’re not thinking, ‘woohoo – pensions!’ It’s one of those things that you have to get sorted.
“You’re not buying a Ferrari, so how do you turn it into something cool and exciting?”
PensionBee’s roots lie in reducing complexity and solving a specific problem in the sector. CEO Romi Savova founded the company in 2014 after facing issues moving her pension pot to a new provider when changing jobs.
The company now offers its service, which allows customers to consolidate all of their pension pots into one which they can manage online, to 81,000 customers (with £1.65 billion AUA).
Jasper has been with the company since the start. As well as focusing on the remaining “massive market” of people who want to consolidate pensions, the company is now in a position to diversify its products.
Recent additions have included a flexible pension for the self-employed, a fossil fuel-free investment plan. Customers aged 55 or older are also set to be a key target market.
“We’re at the alpha stage of some really exciting developments.”
Jasper says that once customers are engaged, “they really get into it” and want to know where their money is invested.
The customer engagement and feedback has helped PensionBee formulate its new products. The company uses both quantitative and qualitative feedback, the former including asking customers for general feedback and NPS scores. If people give negative feedback PensionBee will follow up with them.
Jasper also highlights how customer service agents, called Beekeepers, categorise and label all incoming enquiries, feeding these back into the product creation and user experience. PensionBee also has a group of loyal “super-users” who help it test features.
Customers are also deployed directly in advertising, which Jasper calls the “not-so-hidden” secret of the financial services industry – “using customers at every stage of the product and acquisitions.
“There’s no point in us telling you we’re amazing,” Jasper says, but a customer talking about a positive experience can be very compelling.
What the pensions sector is getting wrong
Compared to Jasper’s former industry insurance, the pensions sector faces an additional challenge. As he highlights insurance has natural moments which prompt people to think about it, such as when a policy is up for renewal.
“Pensions – that can wait until you’re 65.”
While as Jasper says, everyone agrees they want to be on top of their pensions, they tend to put it off.
“You can sort this anytime – so why now? How do you turn that inertia into people want to take control and take action?”
One of Jasper’s tasks early on at PensionBee was hence to identify moments in time where people are more open to change. These can include the start of the year, people changing jobs.
Another step was raising awareness through somewhat unexpected channels.
“A lot of customers didn’t know you could do this. Although pension consolidation isn’t new, they were surprised it was actually quite easy. Especially these days, workplace pensions are quite similar between providers.”
He points out that nobody was actively searching for pension consolidation.
“What did work was showing them what we offered when they were on their commute.
“Facebook and Instagram – those were our biggest acquisition channels, the last place you’d expect as a financial services brand.”
Jasper thinks the successful brands in the sector are those which are focusing on solving a problem for a specific group of customers.
“For example, focusing on the younger audience, helping them get on the housing ladder or open a lifetime ISA, getting people interested in saving earlier.”
He thinks that some of the big incumbents “don’t know who they do it for – it’s very difficult to understand what type of customer they are trying to serve.
“There is generally not a lot of product innovation and they’re seen as old-fashioned and dusty,” says Jasper, calling these firms “steam-powered pension providers”.
He thinks they will increasingly struggle as customers take more control of their financial futures.
In addition, in investment more widely, he laments a lack of focus on the “mass market” who neither use platforms such as Fidelity nor financial advisors, who are “not poor but not super-wealthy enough to work with financial advisors and who might not be that interested in investing.”
The other tactic the industry needs to abandon, he says, is “project fear”, criticising the idea of castigating people for not saving enough.
“It’s important that we make financial products simple and engaging,” he adds, questioning why some providers include 12 pages of disclaimers.
“That would scare the hell out of me!” Jasper says.
This is part of PensionBee’s unique positioning in the sector.
“How does PensionBee make you feel? It’s a weight lifted off your shoulders – in our messaging you will find what we do oozes positivity.
“We make people feel happy and confident they are finally on top of their pensions.”
Unifying marketing with experience
PensionBee’s ability to avoid these pitfalls and focus relentlessly on the customer comes in part from its organisational structure. Communicating a marketing message around warmth and ease of use will only succeed if backed up by user experience and customer service.
“I can’t sell a bad product [as a marketer],” says Jasper. “When I offer something, I need to keep up the promise I’ve made in my ads.”
He says working together is key. The company forms horizontal project teams bringing together people in the organisation from different disciplines; these focus on priority tasks.
For example, there is a growth team bringing together a product manager, acquisition manager, software engineers and user experience designers. There are also teams focused on existing experience and automation respectively.
“That is the way companies should be working – but it often doesn’t happen.”