Smart: A Global Savings and Investments Tech Provider That Is Delivering Customized Retirement Savings And Income Solutions

By Amit Chowdhry • Sep 14, 2023

Smart is a global savings and investments technology provider. And the company’s mission is to transform retirement, savings, and financial well-being across all generations worldwide. Smart partners with financial institutions, including broker-dealers, RIAs, retirement providers, insurers, asset managers, banks, and financial advisers, to deliver digital, customized, and cost-efficient retirement savings and income solutions. Pulse 2.0 interviewed Smart’s US CEO Jodan Ledford to learn more.

Jodan Ledford’s Background

Jodan Ledford

Ledford has spent his career in the retirement industry and is passionate about building configurable technology to help employers, participants, and advisors access retirement savings options without the need for compromise. Most recently, Ledford was the Chief Client Officer at Legal & General Investment Management America, taking assets under management from $30 billion to $210 billion during his tenure. Previously, Ledford was an Executive Director at UBS Global Asset Management and Head of Asset Liability Investment Solutions. Starting his career as an actuary at Watson Wyatt, Ledford also spent time working in the Investment Bank at J.P. Morgan.

Formation of Smart

How did the idea for Smart come together? Ledford said:

“With the recently passed SECURE Act as a catalyst, Smart understood that the key to making a significant impact was to collaborate with existing providers and advisors. Smart sought to leverage its technology and user experience to enable recordkeepers, advisors, consultants, asset managers, and other financial institutions to enhance their offerings for the benefit of plan sponsors and participants. Smart launched scalable solutions intended to expand retirement plan coverage and enable American workers to save for and spend confidently in retirement.”

Favorite Memory

What has been your favorite memory working for Smart so far? Ledford reflected:

“There have been a lot of good memories, from setting up the business during the pandemic and learning how to create a new company during such a peculiar time, to launching our first retirement plan solution with a great partner, to building a comprehensive, personalized investment solution offering through our Stadion subsidiary, the path the business has taken has been a thrill. Knowing that we have assembled a strong team focused on helping Americans with retirement is quite rewarding, and I am excited to see the impact we can make in society.”

Challenges Faced

What are some of the challenges you face in building the company, and how has the current macroeconomic climate affected the company? Ledford acknowledged:

“While it has been a volatile market, unsettled at times during the pandemic, and certainly a challenging one for venture capital-backed firms such as ours, Smart is focused on delivering technology solutions that may help close the retirement savings coverage gap, drive personalized outcomes and deliver retirement income for participants. More challenging than the market or the macroeconomic climate is the reality that roughly one in four Americans are not saving for retirement and face the disadvantage of not having access to employer-sponsored retirement plans.”

“Access is critical, as research suggests that workers are 15 times more likely to save for retirement if they can easily enroll in a workplace retirement plan. Solving this access and savings crisis is one of the greatest challenges in financial services today, and one that we believe can be solved through modern technology to make small business retirement plans easy to administer and cost-effective to offer.”

Core Products

What are Smart’s core products and features? Ledford explained:

“In the US, Smart is focused on four core offerings:

1.) Fiduciary services — Smart offers independent fiduciary services, acting as a Pooled Plan Provider (PPP) or a 402(a) Fiduciary for retirement plans. By employing a robust process supported by technology, Smart partners with recordkeepers and TPAs to reduce fiduciary risks and costs for businesses, making it easier for them to adopt a plan.

2.) Efficient onboarding — With the influx of state auto-IRA mandates, the transformative impact of the SECURE Act and expanded tax credits under the SECURE 2.0 Act for employers offering retirement plans, Smart anticipates a surge in new plan implementations, posing a challenge for legacy providers. By streamlining processes, eliminating bottlenecks, and digitizing manual operations, Smart aims to enable providers offering retirement benefits to onboard and implement plans more efficiently and effectively.

3.) Personalized retirement saving services — Smart believes that delivering personalized solutions is critical to helping individuals retire with confidence. StoryLine, Stadion’s managed account service, seeks to help all participants, regardless of account balance or investment expertise, prepare for a better retirement. Stadion is a retirement-managed account provider and technology firm that provides connectivity and services that enable the availability of personalized retirement solutions with a focus on the small business retirement market.  Following the Stadion acquisition, Smart acquired ProManage in 2023 with an aim to expand the reach of its solutions to the large and mega plan market.  ProManage and Stadion share a mission to help deliver innovative financial strategies and drive better outcomes to participants on their journey to and through retirement, and we are excited to offer a comprehensive solution across the entirety of the retirement market, from the smallest employer to the largest.  

4.) Retirement income — Employers who offer retirement plans are searching for retirement income solutions. Research consistently shows that participants look to their employers for guidance, and 85% of participants would stay in the plan post-retirement if it offered a retirement income solution. Smart is building a modular technology solution for implementing retirement income strategies. Its open architecture platform is designed to help individuals confidently spend through retirement. Smart’s proprietary user interface allows for intuitive participant self-service and will be able to accommodate a variety of retirement income solutions. Through Stadion’s managed account capability, Smart can integrate with recordkeepers, generate personalized portfolios, and connect all the entities required to deliver retirement income solutions.”

Evolution Of Smart’s Technology

How has Smart’s technology evolved since launching? Ledford noted:

“Initially thinking that we would launch a full-service branded solution to market, taking on the incumbent established providers, Smart made a strategic decision to prioritize the speed of its impact after the  SECURE Act’s rollout in 2021 via the delivery of an enablement platform to support these providers. We firmly believe that the most effective way to create substantial change is through collaboration with established providers and advisors. We have focused on providing tools and services that aim to deliver the best outcomes for participants while enabling providers to deliver the scale and volume needed to help close the retirement savings gap.”

Significant Milestones

What have been some of Smart’s most significant milestones? Ledford pointed out:

“In January 2022, Smart announced a partnership with Finhabits, a market-leading fintech company making financial services more inclusive in the US through bilingual offerings designed for the Latino community. Utilizing the Finhabits financial wellness platform, Smart integrated its retirement technology within the app to help Latino small business owners and their workers gain access to a one-stop location for retirement savings plans.”

“In March 2022, Smart acquired Stadion Money Management, an independent managed account provider that offers retirement services to plan sponsors and participants, recordkeepers, asset managers, and advisors. This acquisition enhanced Smart’s capabilities in delivering personalized solutions, including retirement income.”

“In August 2022, Smart’s subsidiary, Stadion launched an innovative partnership with Lincoln Financial Group called StoryLine Dynamic QDIA, a Qualified Default Investment Alternative (QDIA) program.  This program is designed to evolve with plan participants and transition their investments to a more custom, personalized allocation strategy as they near retirement age. Built with Stadion’s technology, this solution combines a target date fund (TDF) for younger individuals with Stadion’s StoryLine managed account service for participants aged 50 and older.”

“In April 2023, Smart partnered with Transamerica and TAG for a new pooled employer 401(k) retirement plan solution, the Choice PEP. This innovative pooled employer plan (PEP) offers a streamlined and efficient workplace retirement plan for employers looking to reduce their administrative burden. Smart’s specialized fiduciary services subsidiary sponsors the Choice PEP and serves as its Pooled Plan Provider. A Pooled Plan Provider sponsors a PEP and oversees its service providers. Because many employers do not have expertise in planning fiduciary duties, a Pooled Plan Provider provides support for those fiduciary responsibilities. A PEP offers shared fiduciary responsibility for an adopting employer and potential efficiencies around investment, administration, and audit costs.”

“In May 2023, Smart acquired ProManage, LLC, a US-based financial wellness services provider that offers managed accounts and other retirement solutions to plan sponsors and their plan participants. The acquisition of ProManage bolsters Smart’s ability to offer a transformative suite of technology solutions across financial wellness, retirement saving, and income. ProManage’s managed account products, technology, and relationships, when combined with Stadion’s suite of solutions, make Smart the 5th largest managed account provider in the US.”

 Total Addressable Market

What total addressable market (TAM) size is Smart pursuing? Ledford assessed:

“Smart aims to participate in all areas of the retirement market in the US, which Cerulli estimates to be approximately $32 trillion.”

Differentiation From The Competition

What differentiates Smart from its competition? Ledford affirmed:

“The Smart team focuses on finding the right solutions, rather than working backward to fit ‘legacy’ technology. We believe the best retirement solutions are ones designed with real people’s input. Everything we do is based on extensive user research and meant to solve real-world problems.”

Future Company Goals

What are some of Smart’s future company goals? Ledford concluded:

“We believe our team and our technology can solve industry challenges through strong partnership, systems integration, and our focus on innovation and scalability. As we develop offerings to help people save for and spend through retirement, our expertise gives us a deep knowledge of how it works today and the ability to approach industry problems in novel ways for tomorrow. Our goals include continuing to grow and innovate our core offerings of fiduciary services, efficient onboarding, personalized retirement services, and retirement income technology.”