Stewart Bevan is head of pension product development at Simplitium, a transparency services provider. A teenage summer intern project with now-FCA Institutional Disclosure Working Group chair Dr Chris Sier gave him his first taste of pension charge transparency analysis. He now sits on the IDWG and works helping trustees and IGCs understand the torrent of charges data now being given them
What was your first encounter with the financial services industry?
Smashing transparency campaigner Dr Chris Sier around on a judo mat. I used to teach his kids judo. He then introduced me to the project he was doing looking at the Local Government Pension Scheme, investigating commission-sharing arrangements.
Did you realise at the time that you were taking part in a landmark piece of research that would play a key role in the unravelling of millions of pounds worth of pension charges?
Not at all. I was 18 years old, doing it as a summer intern project between sixth form and Uni. We had 50 boxes of paper and we hired a team of analysts to go through it page by page and crunch the numbers. It was a really old-fashioned paper process, but then there is still a lot of that in the pensions industry today. We still see people who work in PDFs.
As a 28-year-old millennial, how do you find working in the industry?
You see problems differently as a millennial, possibly because you have grown up with technology around you. It makes you frustrated at seeing the problems in the pensions industry and the lack of tools to drive change. The lack of utilisation of technology is unbelievable.
Who are Simplitium?
We are a part of a Swedish fintech umbrella company, which is building different component companies of which we are one. With tech companies it is great to sit around doing blue sky thinking around big ideas like Blockchain, but we are about pragmatic innovation – things we can do today to make processes more efficient. So in the world of pensions, and charges, it is a data problem. There is so much data, so it is a case of collecting it and presenting it in a way that people can do something useful with.
What sort of projects are you working on at present?
We are working with defined benefit schemes, master trusts and single employer trusts, helping them to understand what questions to ask providers around costs and charges. Trustees suffer from data overload. They get given a fat pile of pages they haven’t the time to read. It is a big data problem and they need all that data presented to them in a way they can use.
How will the FCA’s Institutional Disclosure Working Group template help this process?
I am on the committee contributing to the development of standards for costs and charges data. People need to be able to have confidence in the data they are collecting, and standardising the process certainly helps that.
What do you make of the industry’s focus on costs and charges?
Costs and charges aren’t bad. You wouldn’t be able to access asset classes without going through a broker of some sort. It is a question of capturing the data and presenting it in a way that you can make sure you are paying the right amount.