The Responsible Investing Podcast Ep.16: Embedding sustainability – with Ben Leonard

Ben Leonard, the co-founder of Life Moments, discusses how technology and responsible investment fit together. He also advocates the need to reimagine the role of financial guidance in our everyday lives.

 

Transcript

Amanda Young: Hello, you are listening to the Aberdeen Standard Investments Responsible Investing podcast discussing all things relating to responsible investing. I am Amanda Young and today's guest is Ben Leonard, the co-founder of Life Moments. Hello, Ben.

Ben Leonard: Hello, Amanda. Thanks for having me.

Amanda Young: Now before setting up on his own, Ben had only ever worked for one firm -  HSBC. He joined the investment bank as a graduate in 1998, where he was involved in the first ever tech bubble. He spent 18 years in investment banking, during which time he moved around a few times. And his last role there saw him running the UK Financial Services team which led to a lot of discussions at board level and strategy work to look at how the financial sector was evolving. Now this sparked his interest in both FinTech and ESG. And he started to engage HSBC’s clients on these topics - including HSBC’s retail bank - and he spent some time with HSBC Premier looking at their wealth proposition where he got involved in FAMR, robo advisors strategy and the pensions dashboard.

Now, in 2016, he left HSBC to set up Meta Finance, which then led to the creation of Life Moments, which we will hear a little more of in a moment.

Ben is a self-proclaimed ‘gadget guy’. He is of the CD generation, and an early adopter of the latest tech equipment and even imported a Discman from Hong Kong for those old enough to remember the Discman.

Now, Ben is full of enthusiasm for pushing the boundaries and would rather take risks than not try at all, which is why he left the security of working for HSBC to start up on his own.

He lives in Wimbledon, he's married with three kids, two who are now teenagers and has a very close-knit family, which lockdown has reinforced. Now outside of work, he has a small house in Italy and imports wine. So, Ben, welcome to our podcast.

Ben Leonard: Thank you very much Amanda, it’s scary listening to all that together in one short paragraph - the wine and the teenagers and the gadgets all sort of blurred into one I'll be honest.  I should add that my teenagers and are far more ‘gadgety’ than I am.

Amanda Young: (laughing) I was going to suggest they might very well be.

Ben Leonard:  Although I have got my youngest child - nine - now into tapes. So that's my latest achievement. He loves rolling them with a Bic biro.

Amanda Young: (laughing) Now Ben, maybe we can start with your career - you've had two very successful decades in investment banking. Now setting up Meta Finance and then Life Moments is something clearly entirely different. So perhaps you can touch on what inspired you to strike up on your own and what you hope to achieve with your current business.

Ben Leonard: Thanks, Amanda. I think it won't be lost on the audience that investment banking perhaps is pretty focused on driving commercial returns, sometimes without enough of a focus on society at large. And whilst I thoroughly enjoyed my time in investment banking, I loved working with clients, I loved solving problems, I loved the creativity of the role, over the last few years in particular, I really found that I was wanting something that had a bit more purpose, I was wanting to think about how what I was involved in creating could make for a better society.

And the more -  as you mentioned in your in your intro - I got involved in looking at areas like FinTech and ESG,  I guess I saw a window to doing that. I realised that consumer facing technology and this idea of embedding sustainability into everything you do was possible, and I wanted to get on and do it.

And as you've also said, I'd rather regret things I have done rather than things I haven't done and so hitting 40, I'm not sure it was a midlife crisis, but it was certainly a trigger for me to say, What are you waiting for? Get on and do it.

Amanda Young: Now, we haven't really covered the topic of technology on this podcast yet,  so it's absolutely brilliant to have you on board. And tech obviously is a key part of progressing many industries that we see today. And it's starting to revolutionise the way people see finance. I'm really interested in exploring how technology and responsible investment fit together for you. So let's start with how you see digital coaching helping consumers to engage in responsible investing.

Ben Leonard: Sure. So technology for me gets talked about an awful lot as this marvellous new thing. But all it really means is progress. And for me - and the reason I started the business - was that I sort of felt technology was getting ahead of society, and rather than enabling society and obviously, with kids, and with seeing how they adjust to technology, and probably more appropriately digital, it became apparent to me that we really need to sort of reframe how we start to think about the way we talk to customers, to people about the things they're going to do in everyday life.

And therefore, I'd argue that without a really good understanding of technology, and a really good understanding of digital, we can't possibly talk to people about investing, because that's the way we live today. And that could be very much a behind the scenes embedded things of stuff we don't see, or it could be through the engagement through our mobile devices or however we choose to engage in investing.

Perhaps more importantly though - and you mentioned Amanda, digital coaching – really what we're trying to do with Life Moments is think about, how do we help people to think about the role of investing in their wider life? And what it's what it's there for, if you like, the ‘why’, rather than the ‘what’.

And when I got involved in the robo advice space, I observed this fascination with technology, but it was very much the ‘what’ – it was, what can it do to address suitability? Or how can it find the right portfolio? And what really intrigued me was, why are we investing in the first place and what role does technology have to play in making that better?

Amanda Young: Can we touch a little bit on your business, so this is a business that you have co-founded and it's called Life Moments. So perhaps you can explain why this name and what you're trying to achieve?

Ben Leonard: Yeah, it is, it is sort of what it says on the tin. (laughs) We didn't take a long time to come up with I should add. We started with a with an app we created called First Home Coach. And whilst having nothing really to do with investing, what we were trying to do was look at what's the role of data and technology in helping people make smarter life decisions.

We’d observed through some of the work we've done that there's around about 5 million people that take financial advice. There's around 11 million people that choose to use price comparison sites. But there's 55 million people in the UK over the age of 16, who need help navigating everyday life moments.

And financial services and financial guidance is an important part of that. And something's clearly not working if a vast majority of them and not engaging actively in the financial services industry. So, Life Moments is really about reframing and reimagining the role of financial guidance in our everyday lives, in such a way that we can help people make smarter financial decisions.

Amanda Young: And what role do you see values and attributes and engaging people as you do this?

Ben Leonard: So, it ties very closely really to why we're called Life Moments, rather than called sort of Financial Guidance Limited (laughs).

A lot of the financial services industries look at segmentation, it looks at let's understand the financial circumstances of a consumer and let's put them all into a group and then try and engage them because of those financial attributes. But I don't know about you, but I don't live my life that way. I get emotional at times, I'm influenced by things that I care about, people I know, groups that I live in. Therefore, how on earth can we help people make these smarter decisions if we don't really understand their values and attitudes?

And I think, in some way, we are already doing this. I think if you look at what Facebook's done, it's exploited our values and attitudes in order to sell to us and advertise to us. We're trying to turn that whole concept on its head and say - well, if it can be done in arguably a slightly negative way in the world of social media, why can't we do it in a positive way to help people make smarter decisions through their everyday lives?

Responsible investing in ESG I think is very interesting, because people do have values and attitudes towards the planet, towards society at large. And therefore, by capturing those and engaging people around them, we can create a much more alluring journey for them to go on that's tied to investing.

Amanda Young: Maybe you can give us an example of this alluring journey that you're talking about.

Ben Leonard: Yeah. So, as you start to think about why - and you may recall we did a workshop a bit like this as part of the Impact Investing Institute Sessions that you kindly involved me in - but as we start to think about what people are doing, as they head up to retirement, we need to find a way of engaging them in a way that isn't just driven by regulatory requirement.  So, Wake Up packs for pensions for instance.

If we can engage them in the things that they want to do in life, in the things that they're passionate about, then it allows us to get much earlier engagement. And it also allows us to help align the decisions they make on how they invest and where they invest with the things that they care about in real life.

But the sequencing of those things is quite important, I think. And therefore, coming back to Life Moments, what you need to do is engage them about an event that might happen in retirement, rather than just retirement per se - a holiday they might want to go on; how they might pass wealth to their children; what might happen if someone, unfortunately, were to die in the family. And I think, starting to get those engagement triggers, within a customer journey - a digital customer journey - are critical to be able to draw out those values and attitudes and they are in turn are critical to then talking to someone about how and where they may want to invest their money.

And I often think, Amanda, that the industry sometimes tries to do that in reverse. It wants to engage people about investing money first, then it asked them why and what they want to invest in. And lastly, it asks them why they're investing. And the reality is humans think the other way around.  

Amanda Young: Absolutely, I think it's a really interesting way to look at what is driving people's investment decision. And we've spoken a little bit about values and how you use that to engage people. And one of the things I do in this podcast is as any listener will know, I like to get a bit of inspiration from my guests, because all the people on this podcast, clearly want to make the world a better place through whatever it is they're doing.

So, my guests in the past have given me a range of fantastic books, some films. Ben, what would you like to inspire us with?

Ben Leonard: No pressure (laughs). So, I am inspired by lots of things, but one of my biggest passions is for music. And I know you didn't mention songs, but I'm going to try and add a new category into your list. A lot of what I do ties to me thinking about lyrics and songs and I genuinely think that the artistic world out there, you know, we need to pay more attention to in the creative world and apply that to sort of how technology is built and how we run financial services.

But to answer your question, yeah, I'd go for a song. And the song I'd choose for this is from an Aussie band, Midnight Oil, a song called Beds Are Burning, which sounds like it might be about climate change but it's actually about Aboriginal population. And the thing I love about it is that it has a line in it that says, essentially, the time is here to get on and do it. And I think that's very pertinent to where we are as a planet at the moment. We talk too much about stuff, and we need to get on and do more. And that's really traces back to my decision to leave HSBC. We need more action, and less talk. I like the way that it looks at what we've done and says, ‘Come on, just get on and do it, the time is here.’

Amanda Young: Now, I am of an age that remembers that song. So if anyone who wants a bit of inspiration and a move back -  it’s the 1980s isn't it - for some inspiration on your music choices.

Now we're very sadly, nearing the end of our podcasts. So, I've just got one last question Ben, where next for you and Life Moments. What should our listeners be watching out for in the next few years?

Ben Leonard: So our business - our sort of vision and mission - is to help people play life better. We've set ourselves a rather ambitious target of helping 10 million people by 2025, which is really not that long away.  To do that we have to work with organisations who have customers but share our passion for making those customer journeys better.

So really what we're all about over the next few years is helping organisations to see the value of digital coaching, of goal-based life moment-based customer engagement and nurturing - and rolling that out. And to date, the focus has been largely on first time buyers, but we've got some really exciting client launches coming, that will show how we can do much more in the retirement space, how we can do more in even the business banking space. And I think one thing that that I sort of finish on that hopefully aligns with the point of the podcast is that what we're trying to do in all of these projects is look at how we embed sustainability. So how can we make sustainability not a nice to have that sits at the side, but is embedded in every single customer journey that we're helping to create, so that this doesn't become a nice to do it becomes just the right thing to do.

Amanda Young:  Well, Ben, thank you so much for coming and taking time to chat to us today. And it's great to hear a little bit about how technology can enable us to make those decisions with our investments in the future. So thank you very much for giving us your time.  

Ben Leonard: Great, thank you very much Amanda for having me.

Amanda Young: Now you've been listening to the Aberdeen Standard Investments Responsible Investing podcast, which aims to bring you insights into all things responsible investment. Now to all those who have taken time to tune in many thanks for listening. You can find all of our previous podcasts on our website. Until our next podcast, goodbye for now.

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Risk warning

Risk Warning

The value of investments, and the income from them, can go down as well as up and you may get back less than the amount invested.