Finance: Scotland’s longest established fintech, Origo, is ready, willing and able to give single screen access to our pensions
It would seem that Origo Managing Director Anthony Rafferty knows most of us very well.
To begin with, he’s pretty sure most regular Scots don’t have much of an idea as to precisely where their financial futures lie.
Pension investment letters find their way stuffed into drawers – possibly unopened – and the tangled maze of company pensions with funds which move from place to place can, for quite a few at least, feels impenetrable.
Figuring out when to retire, how much money might be in the pot and whether there’ll any left to help feed the cat, can be such a grind that for many, it’s easier not to bother.
And that, hints Rafferty, could be the mistake of our rapidly aging lives.
“Like it or not, you will probably live one third of our life with money that your pension delivers for you. Whether you engage now or you don’t, you have to live with it.
“People worry about their financial future,” he adds. “They have this nagging doubt they should understand what they’ve got and do something about it, but then they have to remember where the pensions are, where are the statements, can they understand them?
“And somehow work out what will happen when they’re 65 or 67, or whenever they want to stop work.”
It’s true that for many, the pensions maze is a place we really prefer not to tread. According to the 2017 Financial Lives report from the Financial Conduct Authority, around a third of adults aged 35-44 with a defined contribution pension have no idea what it is worth, while a third questioned had not given any thought to how they would manage financially once they retire.
But why should the man at the helm of Scotland’s longest established fintech firm feel so passionately about how we might get by in our golden years?
Rafferty’s office in Edinburgh Park is a stone’s throw from Edinburgh’s Wester Hailes estate where he grew up. Getting to Origo involved a winding path of working with RBS, the Bank of Scotland and latterly Aviva. A lot of time was spent using, as it turned out, technology crafted by the Edinburgh fintech business he’d eventually head.
Behind the scenes, Origo products were grafting away, helping to smooth the path for millions of financial transactions, enabling different organisations using diverse technical language to talk to each other, helping financial advisers access data and creating a more efficient way of working for all.
He’s been in the role since January – “It’s like coming home,” he says – and is ready to take Origo to the next stage of its evolution, one which Rafferty reckons is what the company was made to do.
In 2016 the government made a commitment to the creation of a Pensions Dashboard, a vision for a ‘one-stop-shop’ which will enable us all to review our retirement savings in one place.
Planned to launch in 2019, the idea is to bring workplace, private and state pensions together in one simple-to-navigate space, allowing users to track their pension savings, plan their retirement and take action to invest or move funds to help meet their future needs.
With 30 years’ experience of creating innovative solutions to make the financial services sector interact more efficiently, with faster, fuss-free transactions and smooth data sharing, it would seem that Origo has the credentials and expertise to take on the job.
Indeed, the Edinburgh business is already on its fourth generation Pensions Dashboard prototype, using live but anonymised data in collaboration with pension companies and scale-tested to handle up to 15m users.
“Origo was born to do this from day one,” says Rafferty. “Our purpose at the start was to reduce financial service confusion.
“We are linked to all the pension providers and transfer services. We work with them, and we build tech. We’re ready to get cracking and deliver it.”
Rafferty is hugely upbeat. From his perspective, it’s common sense to push ahead with Pensions Dashboards. And it’s entirely logical that Origo, at the forefront of a string of innovations that have supported the financial sector for 30 years, should provide the complex technology to make it work.
Origo was launched in 1989 – before the first web server appeared and when mobile phones had one function, namely, to make calls – when four financial services providers set out to establish a way to share best practice across the industry through collaboration and innovation.
It is now owned by 13 UK financial services groups including Standard Life, Aegon, Aviva, and Scottish Widows among others, which work with Origo in a series of working groups to identify issues within the sector.
At the same time, Origo engages with the government, other industry bodies, product providers, platforms, financial advisers, portals and software suppliers, seeking ways to cut costs and increase efficiency.
Open Standards was Origo’s first innovation, a behind-the-scenes system that enables the financial services industry to simply and securely work together by defining common processes, data and technical details.
For two decades it was Origo’s sole purpose. The past decade, however, has seen the business launch a suite of six more innovative products – seven if you include work on the Pensions Dashboard.
“People are surprised when we describe what we do,” he says. “We’re a bit of a hidden gem. We provide the plumbing for the industry, it’s a huge skill and we do it with just 70 people.”
Origo’s impact is indeed impressive.
Rafferty explains: “We provide secure access for eight out of ten UK financial advisers to companies like Aviva, Scottish Widows, so they can authenticate themselves easily and do business on behalf of their clients.”
Origo’s Options Transfers system enables the fast and secure digital transfer of pensions and ISAs with minimum fuss. “If a financial adviser is moving a pension or an ISA from one place to another for a client, there’s a 70 per cent chance Origo will have facilitated the movement.
“It used to take a couple of months. It meant signing a piece of paper to give to a financial adviser permission to get your pension documents out of filing cabinet, it was complicated. Now it takes around 11 days.”
Since its launch, Origo’s Options Transfers service has handled £150bn of transfers – the fastest took just 45 minutes – with half a million transfer transactions completed in the last year alone. “For a little company to run that for the industry is quite something,” adds Rafferty.
While working with various platforms, providers and software suppliers, some of whom are in competition, might sound as easy as herding cats, Rafferty insists regular working groups provide the ideal innovative spark.
“The people who come to these working groups are the people who benefit from the services we can provide,” he adds. “They are the people working in operations, the real experts who know where the important points are.
“Even though they’re competitors, they have the same problems and the same things they want to do to improve the service they provide for customers.
“As a result, we can make things more efficient. We have the perfect focus group, because we only develop things we know they will use.
“Origo is held in high regard by the industry,” adds Rafferty. “We are absolute experts at what we do.”
Strong links to the financial services industry, a history built on enabling smoother transactions and integration, and with systems already in place to help competing businesses ‘talk’ to each other in a united language, could put Origo in the ideal position to provide the plumbing for the Pensions Dashboard.
For the business, it would mean a chance to expand a little further, employing extra staff and forge even stronger links with the country’s universities.
And for people with a tendency to stuff pension letters in the kitchen drawer, it could transform the way we stay on top of our future finances.
“The Pensions Dashboard will mean someone can go online, they can very securely identify themselves and they’ll be presented with a page showing what their pensions will be worth, they can take action, get financial advice, contribute more.
“It’s so important. And I’m passionate about it.”
Since its launch in 1989, Origo’s suite of products has transformed the way financial services organisations communicate and operate.
Option Transfers: Used by more than 100 leading brands, it reduces transfer times for products such as ISAs, pension cash transfers, occupational schemes and SIPP transactions, from months to days and even minutes. It handles 50,000 transactions every month and has handled £100bn since its launch.
Integration Hub: Enables easier and cost-efficient integration across the sector. Without it, organisations would have to integrate point-to-point and with individual parties, which is costly and less efficient.
Data Matching: Allows users to reduce risk and keep on top of customer records. Helps to prevent money laundering and fraud, and enables businesses to meet ‘know your customer’ obligations.
Unipass Identity: An innovative service that saves time for around 35,000 staff in more than 8000 adviser and provider firms. It provides a single means of identification to log in to financial websites easily and securely.
Unipass Securemail: Free desktop software available to financial services advisers and software suppliers which enables secure communication with customers.
Agency Services: Origo enables advisers and providers to connect to its 14 owner businesses via a simple registration process, and to manage business through its Agency Administration function.
For more information about Origo, click here