Lack of public awareness of climate crisis link to pension funds a “national scandal”, says Cushon boss

In an interview with, the CEO of the workplace savings and pensions app Cushon talks about life at Cushon post-NatWest deal, the Mansion House Compact, the British ISA and the climate crisis.
Lack of public awareness of climate crisis link to pension funds a “national scandal”, says Cushon boss

The lack of public awareness of pension funds being invested in fossil fuels or high-carbon industries is a “national scandal”, says the boss of NatWest-owned fintech Cushon.

Ben Pollard, Cushon founder and CEO, says there is a “shocking lack of awareness” of the link between pension fund investments and the climate crisis.

In an interview with, the CEO of the London-based workplace savings and pensions app also talks about life at Cushon post-NatWest deal, the Mansion House Compact, and the British ISA.

Lack of awareness between pension funds and climate crisis "scandalous"

There are around £1.7 trillion worth of investments in UK pension funds which are not yet in line to hold global temperature rises to 1.5c, the limit targeted by the government at Cop26, and which the net zero target is needed to meet, according to campaigning group Make My Money Matter.

Cushon figures show that an average person’s pension pot finances around 23 tonnes of carbon emissions each year, equivalent to nine family cars worth of emissions.

“Nobody really knows about it,” says Pollard, a former actuary.

“I think that more people aren’t aware of this is scandalous.”

Pollard says journalists could be partly to blame, not doing enough to raise awareness around the subject.

The fintech wears its green credentials on its sleeve, as it looks to drive the investment and pensions industry to green portfolios.

Its website blurb talks about “climate-friendly” pensions and in 2021 Cushon garnered headlines for launching the world’s first net zero pension- however, the “net zero” claim was subsequently ditched amid carbon offsetting concerns with Cushon, instead, focusing on cutting emissions from its main investment offer by 80 per cent.

NatWest acquisition going smoothly

NatWest acquired a majority stake (85 per cent) in Cushon, founded in 2014, in February last year for £144m, as the banking giant looked to offer its commercial customers and their employees a suite of financial wellbeing products.

A Nigel Farage banking scandal later and senior faces at NatWest have changed.

NatWest CEO Alison Rose has been replaced by NatWest veteran Paul Thwaite, who has worked for NatWest for 27 years and previously ran its commercial and institutional units.

Peter Flavel, the chief executive of NatWest’s Wealth Business, whose quote graced NatWest's Cushon acquisition press release, has also gone, replaced by the soon-to-join Emma Crystal, a former UBS executive.

So what does this mean for Cushon?

“The support is still very strong, there is still a lot of buy-in and drive to make Cushon a roaring success for NatWest,” says Pollard, who says he was “quite close” to Thwaite through the deal process.

With nearly one-third of UK companies banking with NatWest (around 1.3m firms), it’s not difficult to see the benefit that NatWest can bring to Cushon.

Pollard says:

“Having the biggest business bank in the country providing warm introductions to all of their business banking clients and commercial banking clients promoting the benefits of Cushon is fantastic."

But hasn’t Cushon lost its challenger identity now the NatWest goliath has swallowed it up.

Cushon retaining startup identity

Not so, says Pollard.

“There was a lot of thought put into mitigating that risk on both sides of the fence,” he says.

He says Cushon has maintained its “sizzling pink” fintech identity” (Cushon’s startup mantra was to “Think Pink!”- which means “innovate” and be “original”) and its “autonomy”.

One of the biggest challenges, since the NatWest acquisition, has been bedding in a workforce which has nearly doubled in number to over 160 since last year, he says.

One operational change to Cushon has been what Pollard refers to as the “NatWest tax”- wiring up Cushon into publicly listed life, including the rigours of quarterly reporting and also having to “raise the bar” on its risk and compliance.

On the acquisition hunt

Cushon, which oversees around £2.3bn in assets and has over 500,000 customers, made three pension master trust scheme acquisitions in the two years to 2022 and is on the hunt for more master trusts, which Pollard says are its “sweet spot”.

“We remain highly acquisitive,” Pollard says, but says acquisitions could be in the broader investment and savings areas, including financial wellness, following on from its 2022 acquisition of financial education specialist Better with Money.

Mansion House Compact

Last year, Cushon became a signatory to the Mansion House Compact, an agreement by pension providers which is likely to see pension funds investing in the world of Venture Capital.

While greeted by the VC industry, there are practical challenges that pension funds investing in VCs entail, like whether VCs can meet pension fund demands on portfolio transparency and fees.

“There is no tension” between the pensions and VC industry but “a mutual desire towards the same objective”, says Pollard.

That said, there are “practical problems and challenges” to be met, he adds.

One challenge, he says, is the pricing structures in the VC world which don’t necessarily marry with the pensions world.

He says:

“There is a bit in terms of  the pricing structures that are sort of market practice in the VC world that don’t necessarily align with the market practice in pensions land, particularly around performance fees and that sort of thing.”

But he says this and other challenges can be worked through.

Cushon currently has a 15% allocation to private markets, within its investment portfolio.

Pollard says that Cushon is actively working on deploying part of its private market allocation into earlier stage VC.

Cushon upbeat on British Isa

On the chancellor’s announcement about the new British Isa, announced in the recent Budget, designed to encourage investment in the share of UK business, Pollard says “we like the idea of investing in the UK”.

“As a direction of travel we are very supportive,” he adds.

Lead image: Headway.

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