Cardano has agreed to buy ATP’s UK defined contribution (DC) master trust provider NOW: Pensions.

The transaction is dependent on NOW: Pensions being authorised by the UK’s Pensions Regulator (TPR) to continue operating as an auto-enrolment workplace pension provider. All UK DC master trusts must go through the regulator’s new authorisation process by 31 March.

The deal is also subject to NOW: Pensions’ trustee board approving the transfer of investments from ATP to Cardano. If approved, Cardano said the acquisition should complete later this year.

Cardano’s fiduciary management team will assume responsibility for NOW: Pensions’ investment strategy, which is currently based on ATP’s model.

Nigel Waterson, chair of the trustee board at NOW: Pensions, said: “This is an exciting time in the development of NOW: Pensions. As well as gaining access to their expert investment team, our members will benefit from Cardano’s wealth of experience in technology and aligned commitment to good governance.

Nigel Waterson, NOW: Pensions

Theo Kocken

Nigel Waterson, NOW: Pensions

Theo Kocken, Cardano

“We are working closely with ATP and Cardano to ensure a smooth and safe transition for our members. The future is bright for NOW: Pensions and our members.”

In a joint statement, Cardano co-CEOs Theo Kocken and Michaël De Lathauwer said the acquisition was “an investment in the future of UK pensions, enabling us to grow and diversify our client base”.

“We believe our combination of pensions risk management and investment skills, together with NOW: Pensions’ enormous potential, creates a ‘new force’ across the UK pensions landscape,” they said.

ATP – Denmark’s biggest pension provider and the fourth largest in Europe – set up NOW: Pensions in 2011 to provide DC pensions to small employers as the UK rolled out its auto-enrolment policy.

Although NOW: Pensions has grown to become the UK’s third largest auto-enrolment provider, with 1.7m savers, it has been beset by operational problems in recent years.

A change of administration provider in 2014-15 led to problems processing and investing contributions. The provider removed itself from TPR’s list of approved providers in 2017 and was fined £70,000 (€79,920) by TPR in 2018 in connection with the problems.

Founding CEO Morten Nilsson left in August 2017, and is now chief executive of the BT Pension Scheme. Troy Clutterbuck was appointed permanent CEO in May 2018.

Clutterbuck said the Cardano deal would “bring significant benefits for our clients and members, giving us a fantastic platform to reach our full potential”.

Bo Foged, interim CEO of ATP, said: “NOW: Pensions has grown into one of the largest auto-enrolment providers in the UK. The market has matured, and NOW: Pensions is entering a new phase of operation focused on asset growth.

“In view of ATP’s continued strategic focus on simplification and consolidation, we have found this to be the right time to exit the investment and sell the company to a new and dedicated owner who will take the company into the next phase of development in the UK market.”

NOW: Pensions is the pension provider for IPE International Publishers.