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Exclusive Interview: Mike Fotis, Founder Smart Money People



Mike Fotis is the founder of Smart Money People. Launched in October 2014, Smart Money People is on a mission to use people power to help increase trust and transparency in financial services. Prior to Smart Money People, Mike worked as a management consultant, focusing on banking and insurance clients. He is a graduate of the University of Cambridge. He speaks to Blue & Green.

In 140 characters or less – what is Smart Money People?

Smart Money People is a review and insight platform focused on financial services.

What was the driver for creating Smart Money People – what gap did it fill?

As an ex-consultant I could see a dichotomy emerging. Financial organisations are busy looking at ways of treating customers fairly or thinking about how they can grow by being more customer-friendly. But the average consumer has come to see financial services as one big grey block. We’re trying to break this down. We want to better engage people to think a bit more about which providers they want to use. For example, we recently awarded ‘Best British Bank’ to First Direct, while highlighting RBS as the poorest reviewed bank in Britain.

Who does it primarily serve?

Our community ranges from young people looking for information about prepaid cards or a first current account, all the way up to older people looking for information about annuities or travel insurance.

What difference does Smart Money People want to make?

We want to harness people power to help increase trust and transparency in financial services and make it easier for people to drive change.

What are the barriers to making that difference?

The key barrier we face is breaking down that view of financial services on one big grey block. An unhealthy proportion of people see all financial organisations as the same which makes it difficult to engage enough people to drive change.

Who’s helping you overcome those barriers?

New entrants in the financial services industry are a great resource. They are keen to be seen as different, be trusted, and dare I say it, even loved by their customers. They can help to reimagine the industry, but the full impact of this is some years ago. Likewise, we’re running campaigns that help to highlight differences in terms that people can engage with. For example, car insurance policies may all look the same, but some insurers charge you £26 if you need to change your name (for example if you’re newly married), others will make this change with no charge. When put in terms like these, we hope that we can get people to think a bit more about the choices they’re making.

Financial services haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory over the last nine years. What changes need to happen for financial services to restore that reputation and make a positive contribution to the economy, society and the environment?

The truth is that there are a lot of well-intentioned people trying to make financial services better. That said, the size of the task means that there remains a decent bit of road ahead before the industry rebuilds the trust it’s lost in the eyes of many consumers. And while the banking industry in particular is improving, there are a number of black spots when it comes to financial services. A particular area of concern are the practices and lack of transparency employed by companies in the funeral plan industry.

Can you tell us a bit more about the funeral plan industry?

Admittedly, at the age of 27, I hadn’t quite planned to research funeral plans for a while yet. But when we took a look at the market, it’s clear that its core characteristics have helped fuelled some rather dubious practices. These characteristics include high growth (the market size has doubled since 2007), high value sale (funeral plans typically start at £3,500), and lack of regulation (the funeral plan industry does not come under the remit of the FCA). Taken together, a Wild West industry has emerged with transparency and treating customers fairly at best, being an afterthought. For example, what’s included in a funeral plan (and more importantly, what isn’t) could, and should be made a lot clearer. Similarly the total cost of repayments if you don’t want to pay for your plan upfront is often not as clear as it should be.

How can people – individuals and organisations – find out more about Smart Money People?

The best way is to write a review and share your experience of financial services with us. By building a large community engaged in making financial services better, we can help to deliver some of the positive change that will strengthen the industry in the long-term, and help the industry to make a better contribution.