Riccardo Gasparini (CFO/COO) and Eduardo Chazan (CEO) are the founding members of Collegia, the ground-breaking start-up created in 2018 to shake up the pensions industry. Collegia is unique and is the UK’s first and only app-based Automatic Enrolment and personal pension provider.
The Collegia Pension is a fully portable product that stays with members, regardless of their employment status. Anyone can set up a Collegia account – either directly or via an employer. And through their Collegia account, members can have their personal, Auto Enrolment, workplace and self-employed pensions all rolled into one.
Although still in its initial phase of growth, the business has already secured partnerships with many payroll providers including PayCaptain and Accentra and benefits providers Maji.
We have also been awarded a Defaqto 5-stars rating (the industry’s highest rating and one which few of our competitors achieved). We were also awarded with the “Financial innovation of the year” and “Most innovative UK pension in Automatic Enrolment” awards.
Collegia has sought to embed itself within the industry and has partnered up with organisations such as Pensions for Purpose and the Transparency Taskforce.
Collegia, has grown to over 20 employees in just under a year and has a partnership with Asset Management giant AllianceBernstein. The business is regulated by the FCA, and investors’ funds are wholly protected by the FSCS. Collegia has also been awarded a 5-star rating (the top rating) by Defaqto.
Collegia is 100% ESG (Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance) sustainable. That means, in terms of investments made via Collegia, there is a bottom-up integration of ESG factors in all the research and investment processes. Funds are directed towards companies that score high in ESG and stakeholder management metrics.
Collegia’s default strategy goes beyond ESG and being sustainable. This means controversial industries – such as tobacco, weapons, coal, alcohol and UN Global Compact violators – are all excluded. On top of this exclusion, investments are directed to companies that are aligned with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (2030 deliverables).
Looking to the future, Riccardo and Eduardo have plans to place Collegia in a global context.
“I have separate pensions in Italy, Germany, Spain and the UK, and we want Collegia to create a European framework and become a European pension provider to adapt to the more transient lifestyles we now lead,” explains Riccardo.
What is your background? What made you decide to get involved in supporting entrepreneurs?
Riccardo Gasparini (MBA 2017) and Eduardo Chazan (MBA 2017) met during the first week of their MBA course at the Oxford Said Business School and decided to go into business together after collaborating on multiple MBA projects. “Our idea for Collegia is actually a direct result of our time in Oxford”, adds Eduardo.
“We were at the School during the USS pension strike and witnessed how professionals were extremely fearful and anxious about their future; their pensions were difficult to understand, even for extremely educated people, and we identified that as a huge problem.”
“While it was individuals that were suffering, the problem was not of the employers’ making as they were let down by the pension providers that served them. A lack of vision, poor technology and customer service underpinned by decades of apathy due to an oligopoly in provision was to blame.
Our goal was to create a pension that helped employers as much as their employees”.
“Oxford provides entrepreneurs with a huge amount of support and opportunities”, adds Eduardo. “We were fortunate to be part of the Oxford University Incubator and that alone helped us connect with investors and our eventual Chairman.”
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Riccardo: “I think entrepreneurship is impossible to sum up in one single definition. Everyone has a different idea of how they can, or should, set a project in motion. That is the beauty of business and creativity working together. Perhaps that’s a good way to encapsulate it. “One thing I can say is that going into business together has been more intense than getting married! “We have to put everything we can into the business, trust each other unequivocally, and not be afraid to disagree. It has very much been do-or-die, and we are thrilled to see our hard-work coming into fruition; we received regulation from the FCA, which will allow us to be even more efficient and cost effective in the future.”
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
At a time when the average staff turnover in the UK is one of the highest in the world, we recognised that a job for life is a thing of the past. Today 1 in 7 people work in a GIG job and 48% also have another job. There are also 4.3 million self-employed people in the UK. Because of this, most employees now have multiple small pension pots scattered amongst many pension providers creating inefficiency and mass apathy. We knew we had to design a business to meet the needs of today’s employees (and employers) and not those of the 1970s. This is where we saw the gap in the market for an app-based pension provider, and the spark of an idea turned into a flame. The Collegia Pension is unique. It is the UK’s only app-based Automatic Enrolment and personal pension provider. In addition, Collegia is committed to environmental, social, and corporate governance, permitting individuals to make sustainable pension investments that align with their personal values.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why
Commitment, Creativity, Commercial astuteness
You need to be 100% wholly dedicated and committed to your project in order to turn your germ of an idea into something financially viable. A project will not succeed without the input of hard work and commitment.
Creativity, meanwhile, enables you to think laterally and take the initial concept forward to fruition whilst avoiding the majority of pitfalls on the way. Any arising obstacles can usually be overcome successfully through undertaking a creative and flexible approach.
And finally, you need to have a bit of business nous. Your commercial awareness and shrewd approach to business planning will be what attracts the investors and those partnerships that can help support you financially as your project progresses.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
The people. Without a doubt. Working with like minded individuals to bring about change for the benefit of everyone who is looking for better retirement provision.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
Tim Cook because of his organisational leaders
If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
We would like to ask him how he manages to instil a vision into his 150k+ employees worldwide.
What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
Being the first company to gain regulatory approval from the FCA by merging together workplace and personal pensions is very significant. It really is one of the most significant moves forward in UK pensions in the last decade.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
Do not be afraid to speak with other people about your idea – while you are the one responsible to take it to the next level and make it happen, there is a wealth of knowledge around you.
How have you funded your ideas?
Initially we self-funded and then gained support from Oxford University Innovation and some angel investors.
In June 2021 we raised £500,000 from global investors including Hong Kong based angel investment and individual and family office investors from Italy, Dubai, Brazil and the UK.We are currently in our next funding round in order to significantly scale up our business.
Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
The financial and more general support from being a member of the Oxford University Innovation Startup Incubator from 2019 has been very important to us. The Startup Incubator runs a full programme of support from ideation to incorporation and beyond.Collegia won also the FStech Fintech innovation of the Year in 2022 award. Collegia was awarded also the “Most innovative Pension scheme in Automatic Enrolment” award.
What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
Oxfordshire is a community and one where almost everyone wants to help. In addition to this it’s a multi-cultural and multinational community that embraces networking and global thinking. There is no ‘bad’, but having both grown up in somewhat sunnier climates a few more days of warm weather might be nice
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
Can be network groups, places, books, videos, Oxfordshire based websites, etc.
Any last words of advice?
Never give up and get the job done.