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Democratising investments with the help of fintech

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Published on: April 5 2022

Impact-focused fintech firm Tumelo is on mission to increase engagement among retail investors and pension members, empowering them to have a say on where and how their money is being invested

Tumelo’s platform shows investors how their savings and pension pots are invested and notifies them about shareholder proposals ahead of AGMs | Photo by Anton_Sokolov on iStock

In brief

  • Tumelo was launched in 2020 with the aim to increase engagement among savers
  • It offers investments and pension providers a white-labelled plug-and-play interface that connects to existing user experience
  • Savers can access the voting platform via their existing personal accounts, and their votes are then fed through the relevant fund managers
  • Although fund managers don’t need to adhere to users’ voting preferences, it allows them to engage with savers and explain their position and rationale

Making pensions more interesting for younger people and engaging members in general, continues to be a concern for the pensions industry. 

The arrival of new technology such as AI promises, and indeed enables, more personalised interaction. However, the challenge remains to get members interested in the first place.  

The pandemic brought forward many social issues, boosting investor interest in sustainability and engagement. Pensions have been no exception, with the likes of Make My Money Matter and Pensions for Purpose rapidly gaining traction in the UK.   

UK-based impact-focused fintech company Tumelo, founded in 2018 and launched in summer 2020 with clients Legal & General and Aviva, has set out on a mission to increase engagement and democratise investment, empowering retail investors to have a say on where and how their money is being invested.  

It is hoped that this will bring retail investors closer in line with institutional investors, who for many years have made their voices heard at AGMs on issues related to sustainability.

Plug-and-play

Tumelo, which means faith in the Sotho and Tswana languages of Southern Africa, has three types of easy-to-integrate APIs (Application Programming Interface), a software interface that allows different applications to talk to each other.  

The plug-and-play with transparency and voting feature offers investment and pension providers their own branding and connects to existing user experience, allowing platform uses to access Tumelo via their personal account with their providers.  

The transparency API processes the user’s portfolio to show all underlying company holdings, and the voting API connects the portfolio with relevant shareholder votes. User votes are collected and fed through to the relevant fund manager who then gives feedback on how they voted and why, to provide users with context and demonstrate their impact.  

Tumelo’s founders are Georgia Stewart, CEO, Benjamin King, chief technology officer and William Goodwin, product manager, three Cambridge University graduates who campaigned for sustainable investments in the university’s endowment.  

“Tumelo’s platform shows retail investors how their pension pots are invested and notifies them about any new shareholder proposals ahead of company AGMs,” explains Kerra Pringle, partnerships executive at Tumelo.  

“These investors, who are often investing via ISAs [individual savings accounts], investment platforms and pension schemes, but rarely have a say in how their fund managers vote, can now, via Tumelo, indicate how they would like their fund manager to vote, as well as leave comments explaining their thinking. Votes are then sent to the relevant asset manager who ultimately does not have to adhere to the beneficiaries’ preferences”, she explains, adding that it does however give fund managers the opportunity to engage with members after the AGM and explain their position and reasoning.  

“Already, this is a great leap forward because the pension beneficiaries are able to vote and fund managers do take this into account, and they do provide their rationale for how they voted and continue the interaction after the fact,” she explains.  

Aligning values to investment choices 

Engagement has been particularly high on issues such as animal welfare, which shows that people are beginning to join the dots and align their values,  not just with how they shop or travel, but also in money matters such as pensions.  

Issues such as plastic waste, human rights, gender equality and climate change are also attracting a great deal of interest. “People are increasingly aware and realise that their pension pots are often very large sums of money and they want to make sure that their values are also aligned with their investments”, Pringle notes. 

“Education is key and it is vital to explain clearly how the voting works so that the pension beneficiaries are not mislead and are aware that their vote is not an actual shareholder vote but an indicator to the fund manager of their preferences”, she says.   

Examples of recent votes and their real-world impact can be seen here.  

Tumelo works with a string of market leading investment firms such as Legal & General, Aviva Investors, Fidelity, Amundi Asset Management and BNY Mellon Investment Management, to name a few.

The firm’s backers include Jeremy Coller, founder of Coller Capital, the private equity specialist and ESG supporter, as well as musician Peter Gabriel. 

Auto-enrolment systems across Europe, such as those in the UK and Sweden, continue to be marred by lack of engagement but new technology and the awareness of shareholder rights may slowly start to change this.  

By engaging with pension beneficiaries about upcoming votes, Tumelo’s engagement rates are around 20%, Pringle says. This motivates them to keep voting on a regular basis as they can clearly see their collective impact, she adds. According to pension consultancy Buck, the average engagement levels across the industry is just 10%.  

Market expansion

Tumelo is for now predominantly focusing on the UK market and specifically on defined contribution (DC) pension schemes but expects to expand to defined benefit (DB) and other types of retail platform in the near future.

“In the next two to five years we want to be covering the majority of the UK pension market,” she says, adding that international expansion plans are under way. She explains that the US market is a natural candidate because of its large retail platforms, as well as Australia’s superannuation schemes.  

“While the DC space is an obvious target group focused on member engagement, local government pensions schemes, including the Environment Agency, are beginning to use Tumelo’s software to provide full transparency over their investments, not only for its members but for everyone to see publicly on their website,” she notes. 

Georgia Stewart, CEO and co-founder of Tumelo says: “Tumelo was set up with a mission to empower each investor to make a positive impact on the world through their finances. The increasing demand for our product has been extremely encouraging which has enabled us to secure strong working relationship with some of the top names in the industry and build a strong foundation for expansion and growth.”