Our guest for the latest episode of our Three Things Podcast was none other than Romi Savova, Founder and CEO of the UK’s leading online pension provider, PensionBee.

In a fascinating conversation with All Together Co-founder, Jamie Mitchell, Romi explained how her childhood – spent in Soviet-controlled Bulgaria and post-Apartheid Pretoria – sparked the hunger for purpose-driven work that ultimately led to the genesis of PensionBee. But it was her exposition of the business itself that really amazed us.

This is a company that is extraordinary in every sense of the word. Not only is it pioneering the reformation of a sector that has languished in antiquated practices for decades, but the approach it has taken to achieving that goal is equally remarkable. Read on, or listen to the full conversation, here, to discover what makes Romi’s business so special.

What is PensionBee?

Pensions are neither inspiring nor easy to understand, but for many of us, they are the largest financial asset we will ever have. And yet, despite their importance, pensions have never been optimised to allow us to make the most of them. But now, with PensionBee, that is gradually becoming a thing of the past. “We exist to make pensions simple so that everyone can look forward to a happy retirement”, Romi explained. “We help people combine their old pensions into a new online plan that they can manage from the palm of their hand by making new contributions, making withdrawals from the age of 55, and investing in line with their preferences.”

Romi Savova CV Crop

Romi Savova’s CV Highlights //

2015-Present // Founder and CEO – PensionBee

2014-2015 // Director of Corporate Development – Credit Benchmark

2012-2014 // Associate – Morgan Stanley

2008-2010 // Analyst – Goldman Sachs

Romi BQ 1

PensionBee’s purpose is to help their customers have better, healthier, happier lives once they retire. The way they have identified to achieve that purpose is by giving them full control of their pensions so they can maximise their finances and have the money available to live better. It’s a mission that everyone within the organisation really lives and breathes, and it is this that makes it such a special company.

But the creation of such a purpose-driven organisation does not happen by chance. At its heart must lie a founder that epitomises that purpose so that it disseminates into every layer of the business. And so, naturally, we were eager to find out how Romi became such a figure.

Why purpose is so important

Romi was born into communist Bulgaria, before moving to post-Apartheid South Africa with her parents in the 90s. In both places, she witnessed the overthrowal of the established order for the benefit of the masses, and these experiences had a profound effect on her interests and ambitions.

“Living through two globally known regime changes does make you interested in political science and economics”, she acknowledged. “And I also knew I wanted to do something that would have an impact.” That desire manifested itself in a dream to practise international law. But, after completing a BA in economics and international studies at Emory, the next steppingstone on Romi’s journey changed the course of her career entirely. “I went to Goldman Sachs, where I was focused on country risk”, she explained. “But when I got to the world of international and global finance, I realised that I could have that exposure to the world, to world economies, and to a lot of the concepts I was passionate about.”

A Harvard MBA later helped Romi compound her understanding of world finance, but also stirred a passion for entrepreneurialism that had lain dormant since her childhood, when she would try to sell her paintings to her parents. “50% of Harvard graduates go on to become entrepreneurs”, she revealed, “so a lot of the individuals that go there are interested in making change.” Fast-forward two years or so, and Romi had left a position as an Associate at Morgan Stanley to pursue a significantly more purpose-driven and entrepreneurial vocation.

“I had the same feeling that I had at Goldman Sachs, which was that I wasn’t achieving purpose”, she admitted. “And FinTech was an emerging area of interest, so I joined a FinTech startup called Credit Benchmark…Their purpose was to democratise credit ratings by making them more easily available throughout the financial ecosystem.”

Romi BQ 3

This was a fortuitous turn of events in more ways than one. Not only did it allow Romi to satisfy her yearning for purpose, but joining as the business’ 4th employee gave her the opportunity to experience – and fall in love with – the process of building a purpose-driven company from ground zero, which would prove crucial to the creation of PensionBee.

How PensionBee embodies its purpose

“When I left Morgan Stanley, I had to move my pension”, Romi explained, “but I found it really difficult to find anyone who even wanted my money.” All the existing pension providers refused to talk to Romi directly. Instead, they recommended enlisting the help of a financial advisor, but – somewhat unbelievably – none of them would take her on either because her pension wasn’t big enough.

This experience fused with her newfound love of building businesses to form the idea for PensionBee, but the evolution of the business thereafter was not a product of chance. It was meticulously mapped out from the very beginning, with every decision curated to help the business achieve its purpose. Of all the decisions PensionBee made, undoubtedly the most intriguing were those concerning governance and funding. You would expect, for instance, that a new, exciting, technology-driven business with fresh ideas on a somewhat forgotten sector would be the perfect candidate for VC funding, but Romi had a different perspective.

“VC never made sense for me”, she declared. “VC makes sense for VCs. But I don’t think it makes sense for all the other stakeholders, including entrepreneurs, customers, and employees.” Her reasoning, she explained, was that VC-backed businesses must grow at breakneck speed. They are high risk, high reward ventures, with relatively low success rates.

Romi BQ 4

“That level of outsized return almost inevitably comes with outsized risk”, she continued, “and for a pension company, that level of risk is unacceptable.” Romi realised that no VC would ever truly align with her vision for PensionBee, and that the best source of funding was to go public.

“Every entrepreneur needs to ask themselves what the right source of capital is for their company”, Romi explained. “And for us, IPO was always part of the plan.” This was because the public capital structure demands good governance, transparency, and accountability, factors Romi desperately wanted PensionBee to embrace because of how well they aligned with the values and purpose of the business.

“We invested in good governance, in being a well-run company, from the early days”, she claimed. “We hired an independent chairman almost immediately, we focused on good investor relations, discipline around reporting, and updating our current investors from the beginning.” Behind every decision has been a nuanced understanding of what is best for PensionBee’s customers, and going public encapsulates that entirely, showing that this is a company that exists for the benefit of its clients above all else.

But the benefits of being a public company do not stop there because, as Romi explained, “Going public also gives us a platform to talk about the things we think are important within society, and that are part of our mission, like the gender pension gap, more responsible and sustainable investment opportunities, and how people can make the most of their money in a cost-of-living crisis.”

Romi BQ 5

Romi’s Three Things

To round off our conversation, we asked Romi for her Three Things – three pieces of actionable advice – that founders and CEOs can implement to make their businesses better, today.

number 1

Invest in culture…now.

“Culture is one of the best ways to manage growth”, she declared, “and there is a famous quote that says, ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’.” Making sure everyone is motivated by the same objective is one of the most powerful ways to gather speed, so this is especially useful for startups. But enterprises with more established cultures must firstly find out what their culture is. “There must be something that brings everybody together. Once you can hone in on that, that’s the part that you keep.” The rest you should change, and then measure the effects of those changes by maintaining a dialogue of constructive criticism with your team.

number 2

Make sure your investors align with your vision, values, and purpose.

“Make sure the money you take aligns with the way you want to run your company”, Romi advised. It is in your best interests as a business leader to do your research on the capital offered to you before you commit. If it doesn’t align with the values and purpose of your business, it will invariably be a pothole-ridden road ahead with your investors, so doing your due diligence now will save you from trouble in the future.

number 3

Be careful with who you take advice from.

“First and foremost,” Romi began, “listen to your customers…they’re probably your best advisors, especially if you’re solving a customer problem, but after that, only take advice from people who have been there and done it.” Advice comes thick and fast in the world of business, but the provenance of that advice is not always reliable. Knowing how to filter it is key, and according to Romi, “It’s the people who have really walked in your shoes that can offer you the perspective you need when you’re facing a challenge.”


We’d like to thank Romi for joining us to offer such amazing insights and advice that we can share with our members.

If you or someone you know could benefit from expert business advice, apply to All Together today for up to five hours of pro bono mentoring from a leading CEO, every year.