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Interview: Pensionbee founder Romi Savova on listing and the ‘pretty dire’ number of women CEOs

Naomi Ackerman
·3-min read
<p>Romi Savova is a founder and chief executive of Pensionbee (Pensionbee)</p> (Pensionbee)

Romi Savova is a founder and chief executive of Pensionbee (Pensionbee)

(Pensionbee)

Fintech company Pensionbee has been dubbed the “Monzo of pensions”.

In a similar way to how fellow digital offering Nutmeg offers savers an easy-access investment service, Pensionbee allows customers to port over and manage all their previous pensions in one place.

Late last year the company revealed it is preparing to float in the next 12 to 18 months. Today its founder and chief executive Romi Savova told the Standard she hopes to be able to structure to list on the high-growth segment of the London Stock Exchange as soon as possible within that timeframe.

PensionBee today manages around £1.4 billion, with more than 120,000 active customers. Like many digital-focused companies it is operating at a loss, while seeing huge levels of growth. Its operating losses doubled in 2019 to £6.86 million. Savova said it has "benefited from the fact that consumers are paying more attention to their finances" during the pandemic.

The entrepreneur believes it would be a “good thing for the UK” if more high-growth, digital-focused companies such as hers plan to list.

Savova, who launched the company in 2015 after working in finance at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, argues that the high-growth segment - launched in 2013 and most famous for seeing JustEat list in 2014 - has been "very underused".

The segment, which allows entrants to have just 10% of their shares freely floated, is only open to companies with an expected market value of more than £300 million.

"Listing has always been on the cards for us," she said. “For businesses that look out to consumers, the ideal ownership position is one of a listed company, because it enables you to achieve that level of transparency and that recognition of governance that consumers really look for when choosing a financial services brand.

“Our growth has been so strong, including during Covid, that in some ways it has accelerated the desire to go public - and the markets are very conducive to high growth businesses coming to the fore.

"In the UK in particular, which has lagged the US in tech companies listing, it’s highly necessary to encourage more high-growth businesses to come to the market, as you can see from the various reforms being put forward by the Chancellor.”

She added: "What you've seen for a long time with high-growth businesses is the dominance of the private capital market, which is some ways has done a disservice to public market investors."

Savova, 35, wants to be part of a new generation of women leading listed companies.

The chief executive said she is seeing an "emerging movement" of women as investors, which she hopes to see grow.

The start-up boss, who with colleagues still owns around 60% of her company, said she used her own networks to help find hundreds of angel investors for the firm, which has a gender-balanced board.

"I think the situation [with the number of women CEOs], especially when you look at listed companies, is pretty dire," she said.

"It's a really complex problem. You need to track women-founded businesses through the ecosystem - if you look at the statistics around how many female-owned businesses attract capital in the early stage you will find that the vast majority of funding goes from male investors to male founders, so the circle of exclusion can be quite systemic."

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