Written as editor of the New Statesman’s NS Tech and first published here.
Pensions are certainly not the most exciting conversation starter, but when you finally realise you should get on top of yours, Lady Barbara Judge is your woman.
She currently sits as the first female chair of the Institute of Directors and just stepped down from the Pension Protection Fund (PPF), the arms-length government body that helps save your retirement pot if something goes wrong.
Lady Judge helped bring pensions auto-enrolment onto the statute book, designed to get the millions of people in the UK without a private pension to start putting money aside.
Speaking to NS Tech, she says she was “delighted” that the government enacted auto-enrolment, but admits that many companies have found the new process a “pain in neck”.
That’s why she’s now offering her expertise and connections, which saw her make the Woman’s Hour Power List 2014, to HR platform Hibob as its new chairman.
“Auto-enrolment really takes a lot of work, particularly for SMEs, who’ve found it extremely difficult to set up the schemes, and to do all the paperwork and administration,” she says.
“Employees don’t understand it either. Most people just don’t think about having a pension, but people born today will live to 100 and many certainly won’t save for that.
“Instead of working out really well, it’s been quite problematic and I’m extremely concerned about what all this means.”
Lady Judge believes Hibob, which sadly won’t win any awards for the best startup name, is a way to solve that problem.
The platform is a cloud-based, data-driven HR platform designed for SMEs where they can onboard new starters, engage staff in the workplace, manage time off, and sort out benefits like healthcare, insurance and, of course, pensions.
Co-founder Andy Bellass explains that, to date, many employers and employees have seen automatic pension enrolment as “just another tax” and the lack of enthusiasm for it has seen many people opt out as early as possible.
“The general perception that the government will provide is increasingly difficult to believe,” Bellass says. “But most people have no idea where they stand on their pension and that’s a huge problem.
“The fundamental vision is to create an experience for the employer that the employee will be totally engaged with. Maybe we don’t even call it a pension.
“If we can start helping people understand where they are versus the norm, it starts to be something they can visualise and be proud of sharing.”
Bellass says Hibob has conducted research with SMEs that found huge swathes of them are using a series of humble spreadsheets to manage their people, which becomes pretty onerous the larger the company gets.
“We’re already working with more than 300 companies, up to around 1,000 people each, and it’s literally a case of dragging an Excel into the platform to let it suck out all the data. That takes about 90 seconds.”
You can automatically order a computer before new starters arrive, quickly pull management reports, integrate with relevant healthcare or insurance providers, and tailor staff benefits to the data they input around interests and hobbies.
Part of Hibob’s secret sauce is its’ company culture’ indicators created from that data, how many other mums you’re working with, how many people do yoga and more.
Knowing more about what you have in common with coworkers, Hibob thinks, helps create those ‘great place to work’ vibes that younger workers in particular are yearning for.
One of the key features on the horizon is pension data monitoring, so users will be able to move their money easily, see how they compare to peers and up their contribution if they want to.
It’d be crazy if the company didn’t start helping advertisers connect with workers to sell in their various wares – but this has to be done without straying into creepy territory.
Hibob has received $7.5 million of investment in a round led by Silicon Valley’s Bessemer Venture Partners, which shows it’s already being considered as a pretty serious business. An early backer was Saul Klein, founding Skype exec team member, serial investor and now government adviser on GDS.
The cold, hard pension figures are pretty scary, even for those people who have saved, as companies like BHS, Tata and BT grapple with have huge black holes in their schemes.
It’s no secret, then, that pensions as we’ve known them no longer exist and young people are facing a poorer old age if they don’t start paying as much attention to this as they do Snapchat. So this is a problem – of course – but is it a problem that tech alone can solve?
Both Bellass and Lady Judge admit that part of the next challenge is getting the pensions conversation out into the wider public, but she’s enthusiastic: “Once people see Hibob, they will not fail to understand that it’s offering very important social contribution to our country.”
Hibob is by no means the first tech-powered HR department, but the combination of a slick user experience, with the team’s drive to help defuse the ticking pensions time bomb, is a pretty interesting combo. “If it’s ugly and horrible, nobody uses it,” Bellass agrees.
Let’s hope inertia and lack of time don’t allow this genuine and mounting problem to continue to swirl out of control for Britain’s workforce.