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FinTech Interviews

A series of interviews with the leading lights in FinTech

FinTech Interview Series: Henry Tapper of AgeWage


Today we speak to pensions guru Henry Tapper. Henry straddles the world of traditional finance and FinTech  and is an active entrepreneur who helps people make good pension decisions. He founded AgeWage and the Pension PlayPen to map the pensions genome and ensure everyone gets data driven information on value for money. Today we talk London regulations and Punk!

Tell us about yourself.

I'm a 57 year old entrepreneur fascinated by the problems of providing people with a wage for life once they've stopped working. It shouldn't be as hard as it is so I've started a couple of FinTechs to deal with problems like how bosses can choose workplace pensions for their staff and how people work out if their pension pots are working for them or for the people who manage their pension pots.

Tell us about AgeWage

AgeWage is an app that we'll be launching in a few weeks. It tells people the value they've got for their money based on what's happened to their money. We tell that story with a single number, people can make what they want of the number but we'll also help them understand if the score's good or bad and what to do next. Most people don't get this kind of relevant help. We're raising a couple of million pounds to scale up as the big pension companies seem keen to work with us and that means a fair bit of work and a bit of infrastructure. Luckily I've got some experienced people from the pensions world as well as some cool kids from Bangalore and a couple of youngsters here in London who make me want to be young again.

How do you see Digital processes changing the asset management and pensions industry?

It'll be a process of attrition, talk to the people who run the insurers and fund managers and it's "Lord make me digital but not yet". Look at the pensions dashboard, a classic opportunity for the pensions industry to adopt open banking standards and instead they insist on a central procurement process, a state sponsored monopoly and governance controls that will ensure we move at the pace of the slowest.

You are focussed on the UK right now - do you think that your model will transfer internationally?

The pension saving model in the UK is essentially the same as that of the US, Australia , Canada and a whole load of countries keen to throw as much risk at the consumer as possible. Putting savers first is important but even where you'd think the consumer was king there are huge problems; the two biggest pension saving systems - 401K in the US and Super in Australia - have both been recently exposed to the same scrutiny as is happening in the UK. Digital technology drives a more transparent approach to looking at what's going on - wherever you look you see why the funds and pension industry are doing so well and why most people don't get what they expect in later life.

How have you used technology to create value?

We've used APIs to get data, we've used common data standards to keep things simple and sweet. We like simple things like algorithms that point people in the right direction and we love social media platforms to talk to crowds of people we don't know

How has the sector changed since you started?

I started out in 1983 - before the fax. When we first got email, people thought it unsafe and demanded letters confirming what they'd just read. There has been a relentless movement over the last 35 years towards accepting digital technology as business as usual. I fully expect we'll be joshing about people who couldn't get smart ledgers in ten years or so.

Is FinTech actually different?

We've always been consumers and developers of technology in financial services. Nothing is different if you look at things from the bottom up. I'm sitting in a WeWork using communal wifi and listening to kids sorting out business problems like they always have, they just have a lot of fancy new tools. We may be a little more productive because of technology but we're not fundamentally changing the way we work - no matter how much we try to kid ourselves.

Can regulation keep up?

Of course it can. I love the way the FCA use its Sandbox to show they're ahead of the curve, of course they're not and they're just riding the same wave as the rest of us. If regulators were always as relaxed about new technology as they are with the sandbox, life would be a lot less stressful. Most of the problems the regulators get into are down to imaginary gremlins - they should lighten up and go with the flow.

Is the London-based FinTech machine losing steam?

I've no idea! I'm just getting on with my job, doing the best I can. The people I work with and compete with all seem pretty energised right now. I was around when Punk happened, it feels a bit like that. We may not be in 1976 but the eighties saw Joy Division and the Smiths, I think London Fintech - like Punk - will reinvent itself - Bristol, Manchester , Newcastle are all humming along in my world. London thinks its so important but it's always been energised by the regions. It will be interesting to see if Brexit makes a difference - I doubt it will. Our business depends on people in New York, Estonia , Madeira and Bangalore - we're not going to stop talking with each other because of some politicians.

What are your favourite FinTech innovations?

Simple ones. I love the way Pension Bee just threw out the idea of adopting a pension system and runs its entire back office on Salesforce. Simple bold moves like that change the pension paradigm - that's what I'd like to be remembered for.

Simon Cullen