Pension
Close

Navigate quickly through this series:

Close

Share this series:

Pension

What does a pension mean to the people of the Netherlands? Who is already planning for the future and who is not? What does the new pension system look like? And more importantly, how will it affect us? In this section, we will go into these pension stories, in the broadest sense of the word.

Theme
Income
Collection Contents
166 Publications

Pension fund ABP exists 100 years

Published on: 30 June 2022

100 years ago, in 1922, ABP was founded, the pension fund for government and education. Now, a century later, the Netherlands has one of the best pension systems in the world and that has brought us a lot. How do we ensure a good collective pension in a livable society in the next 100 years? ABP and its administrator APG (until 2008 they were one organization) pay attention to these themes in this special anniversary year.

The General Civil Pension Fund was established on 1 July 1922. When it was founded, the number of participants was about 90,000. By the end of 2021, that participant base had grown to 3.1 million participants, of which almost 1 million were pensioners, including more than six hundred also 100-year-olds.

In 1996, ABP, which until then was under the Ministry of Finance, was privatized. The board consisted of representatives of employers and employees. The privatization enabled ABP to broaden its investment horizon. In addition to traditional government bonds, more and more investments were made in equities and other categories, including worldwide. In 2008, ABP was split into Stichting Pensioenfonds ABP and the newly established Algemene Pensioen Groep NV (APG). APG has grown into one of the world's largest executive organizations, which provides the pension administration and manages the investment portfolio for several pension funds. The Algemeen Burgerlijk Pensioenfonds continued under the name ABP and grew into one of the largest pension funds in the world.

 

Harmen van Wijnen, Chairman of the Board of ABP: “We are celebrating ABP's 100th anniversary. The idea behind the decision 100 years ago to take care of a pension together is rock solid to this day. It connects young and old, sick and healthy, workers and retirees, and the individual and society. That is the core and the strength of our unique pension system. Together with the AOW, it also ensures that poverty among the elderly is much less common than in neighboring countries. In the next 100 years we want to jointly continue to build a good pension for our participants in a liveable world. For this, our pension system must be adapted to the current times. So that we will continue to have one of the best systems in the world in the future.”

Good income
Annette Mosman, chair of APG: “We have been together for 100 years, first within ABP, and from 2008 as an independent executive organization, but still together with ABP. We share a rich history and a lot of experience. And that comes in handy. After all, we are on the eve of one of the biggest changes to our pension system in the past century. In the coming years, APG will be fully focused on the implementation of the transition to the new pension system. It is our task, together with ABP and our other funds, to ensure a pension administration in which everyone will soon have a good income and in which it is clear and understandable for young and old how their pension stands.”

In the second half of 2022, ABP and APG will pay attention to '100 years of the pension of the Netherlands'. Fund and executor seize this moment to look back and forward; ABP and APG look back in history and collect 100 stories from participants (see www.pensioenvannederland.nl). We also celebrate participants who turn 100 in the same year as ABP with a congratulation and flowers. An exhibition in Heerlen and Amsterdam is also planned for the autumn. We are also working on a documentary about the value of a pension that will also be shown online. Would you like to know more and stay informed about the activities? Go to www.pensioenvannederland.nl

Volgende publicatie:
“I don't know what possessed me when I waived my ex-husband's pension”

“I don't know what possessed me when I waived my ex-husband's pension”

Published on: 20 June 2022

How do you deal with work and money for now and in the future? Do you live from day to day or are you deliberately planning your financial future? And do you arrange ‘later’ yourself or are you participating in a pension fund?

Nathalie van Dinther started working fewer hours when she became a mother and has therefore not accrued the pension she would have liked.

 

Nathalie van Dinther (59)

Profession: Management supporter and fitness coach

Weekly works: 28 hours

Income: 1,800 euro net

Savings: More than enough

Pension is arranged? Yes, but not to my full satisfaction

 

What kind of work do you do exactly?

“I am management supporter at an organization consultancy firm. I also run my own company as a fitness coach, but that's currently on hold because I moved to a different county. I lived in The Hague and have now moved to Zeeland to live closer to my daughter and grandchildren. This means I have to build a new customer base and start all over again. I don't know if I will succeed in doing so. I did start working more hours in paid employment to compensate for that loss of income. I work four days one week and three days the other week. On average I work 28 hours. I work almost entirely from home these days, so it luckily doesn't matter that I live further away from the office. That's one of the positive things we owe to Corona.”

 

How much do you earn?

“1,800 euro net. And nothing at the moment as a fitness coach.”

 

Are you satisfied with that income?

“I just about make ends meet. It is enough, in principle, especially since my fixed costs are lower. I pay less mortgage and I no longer have to contribute to an owners’ association, so I can manage. Although it's not all that; I cannot pack my bags and take three weeks’ vacation when I feel like it.”

Including my state pension, I will end up earning 1,500 euro per month. That is not a lot

Don't you have a buffer?

“I have some savings from the excess value of the previous house. That amounted to a total of 350,000 euro which I had to share with my ex-husband. I could have bought my current house without a mortgage loan, but that would mean emptying my buffer and that doesn't feel comfortable. I want to be able to pay for things that may possibly need to be done to the house. I paid part of my new house using the excess value and took out a small mortgage loan. So, I still have quite a bit of money set aside but I must manage those funds extremely economically. Also because I only have a small pension. Including my state pension, I will end up earning 1,500 euro per month. That is not a lot. I think I will be able to only just make ends meet.”

 

How much do you pay on fixed costs?

“Mortgage, home and car insurances, road tax, municipal taxes and energy together is 495 euro. I pay 58.50 for TV, internet and mobile phone. My health insurance is 140 euro per month, and I also have subscriptions for the gym, yoga, streaming services and the newspaper, together amounting to 100 euro per month. Besides that, I spend 53 euro per month on what I call ‘miscellaneous’. Those expenses include a lottery, a good cause, my funeral insurance and the coffee cups I order. All together my fixed costs are less than 1,000 euro, but my energy contract just ended so it will be a surprise as to how much I will pay on energy in the future.”

 

What else do you spend much money on?

“I don't spend that much money. There was a great coffee shop just around the corner of my house in The Hague that I visited sometimes to eat cake, or I sometimes had some wine and cheese at the beach. That's something I truly enjoy. But the village I live in now, has absolutely nothing. No shop, no bar… It does save me money though. I also don't spend a lot of money on clothes. If I was to buy what I like, it would be expensive branded clothing, but I cannot afford that.”

The village I live in now, has absolutely nothing. No shop, no bar… It does save me money though

What do you save money on?

“I go to the thrift store to buy clothes and furniture. I don't care about stuff much, so things don't have to be brand-new as far as I'm concerned. Moreover, used goods are sustainable. I also considered getting rid of my car, but I really cannot do without where I live now. I am quite committed to the environment. I don't eat meat and wouldn't easily travel by airplane. I haven't been on vacation in a very long time for that matter. I quickly believe that to be too expensive. When I still lived close to the sea, it didn't seem all that necessary. I've been swimming for years, all year round. Now I do that at the Oosterschelde.

 

But I have to say I am currently longing to go on holidays again, but I cannot really afford it. That's not a disaster. Vacation to me also means waking up without having to set the alarm and to read the newspaper while drinking a cup of coffee until the late morning still wearing my pajamas.

 

Do you worry about your pension?

“No, I don't. I don't mind living a sober life. If I can go on vacation every five years, I am happy. I am not very demanding. I feel as if I will be able to make ends meet in the future, there's always a solution. But it is important to manage the savings I have economically.”

 

How do you envisage your life as a pensioner later on?

“I am not really sure to be honest. I now live close to my grandchildren and I think it's amazing seeing them grow up this closely. But there is a chance they will be moving eventually, maybe even abroad. It would be a pity if they leave any sooner, but I will stay in this house at least until my pension. I don’t know what I'll do next. I´ve never been much of a planner. You just follow a path and choose to take the exits you are faced with on the way or not. You never know, there might be a man in my life again someday. I live by the day and just see what life has in store for me.”

 

Does money bring happiness?

“Maybe a bit more happiness. A general state of happiness doesn't exist, moments of happiness are the highest attainable. Money does provide for a more carefree life. And I don't have any worries right now. I believe everything will turn out for the best.”

Volgende publicatie:
My parents can always help out if I'm really struggling

My parents can always help out if I'm really struggling

Published on: 7 June 2022

How do you deal with work and money for now and later? Do you live by the day or do you purposefully plan your financial future? And do you arrange 'later' yourself, or are you a member of a pension fund?

In addition to her master's degree, Emma Verschure runs her own business as a tax consultant.

 

Emma Verschure (23)

Profession: Master's student and tax consultant

Weekly working hours: About 24 hours

Income: Last year 20,000 euros profit

Savings: More than 40,000 euros

Pension arranged? Not yet

 

What exactly do you do?

“I'm studying for a master's degree in tax law and I also work independently as a tax consultant. I mainly help female freelancers with their accounting and tax assessments. It's quite challenging to combine my studies with my business, because both take quite a lot of time."

 

How many hours do you work?

"It varies every week. I think I average about 24 hours. In a month with VAT returns and income tax, it's a lot more, but I can never exceed 40 hours anyway, because I simply don't have that time. Ultimately, I want to do this full-time, but not in its current form. I'm very ambitious and want to enter the legal profession. I'd like to set up a company where entrepreneurs can go for legal assistance, as well as their accounting and tax returns. A fixed point of contact for all things that, as an entrepreneur, you don't actually want to deal with. It appeals to me."

 

How much do you earn now?

"Last year, I made a profit of 20,000 euros and had a turnover of 35,000 euros. I very consciously made all kinds of investments in December, including in courses, so I had to pay less tax. This year, my goal is a turnover 50,000 euros, of which 35,000 euros profit."

 

Are you happy with that?

"Certainly, I earn a lot more than friends and fellow students. I don't worry too much about what comes in. I'm very serious about my work, but because I'm still a student, I don't necessarily have to take it super seriously. I mean: if I don't meet my turnover target, there's no stress. My parents can always help out if I'm really struggling. They also pay my study costs and a large part of my health care costs. I really appreciate that. We all went skiing at Christmas and they paid for that holiday in full, right up to the PCR test. We wouldn't be able to afford such a luxurious holiday ourselves, so we're very lucky in that respect."

'I don't want to live on an old-age pension later on'

What about your home?

"I live in a rented house in Amsterdam with my boyfriend. We pay a lot of money for what we get. 1,200 euros 'including all bills', but we pay for hot water separately. Our apartment is 40 m2 and is also located in Holendrecht, one of the worst neighborhoods."

 

How do you divide the expenses at home?

"I pay 550 euros for rent and insurance, my boyfriend pays the rest. He's a PE teacher and also works in the hospitality industry. He earns about 50,000 euros per year. More than me, so this way it's fair to both of us. For the rest, such as groceries, we go halves."

 

What other fixed expenses do you have?

"Health insurance at 130 euros per month and a telephone contract at 25 euros. I don't really know what we pay for electricity and such. We have Netflix and Videoland, I believe the latter costs 5 euros with commercials in between. And my dad pays Spotify for our whole family. We don't have a car, it's incredibly expensive in Amsterdam. I also have student public transport, so I often travel for free with public transport."

What else do you spend a lot of money on?

"We both used to pay 200 euros for groceries into the joint account each month, but we can no longer manage due to inflation. That's why we increased it to 250 euros per person, let's see if we can manage that. It helps that my mother always buys me detergent and dishwasher tabs; she keeps an eye on all special offers and then immediately buys a huge amount. What's a relatively large cost item for me is the toilet at the station. I study in Tilburg and every time I have to transfer at Den Bosch, I have to go to the toilet. That's 70 cents four times a week. Not a huge amount, but it's adding up, you know. I can also use the toilet on the train, but that's dirty. I also like to buy designer clothes, but for that, I save for a long time."

 

How much savings do you have?

"More than 27,000 euros, plus an investment account that held about 15,000 euros when the stock markets were doing well. Quite an amount, but a large part of it my parents saved for me and there's also part of my grandmother's inheritance. I myself have invested about 1,600 euros through other investment apps. I see that more as play money, because I don't fully trust that I make the right choices. For example, on the advice of my friend, I invested 2,000 euros in exchange rates, but now I only have 600 euros left… He forgot to tell me how risky it was. Also my own fault, I should have looked into it more. A wise lesson."

 

Where do you make savings?

"Saving is a big word, but since grocery prices have risen, we often go to cheaper supermarkets now. We also order food much less often and we deliberately no longer have a TV contract. We hardly even watched TV anyway and haven't missed it for a moment. But I don't want to deny myself things. I'm not going to cut on electricity. I don't think that's necessary. What I do pay attention to is what exactly my insurance covers. That tends to change and before you know it, you pay more and more premium while you get less and less in return. So I'm very careful about that. You're going to pay over the odds if you stay a customer with one particular company for a long time. Strangely enough, switching to a competitor almost always pays off."

 

Do you think about your pension?

"Last year, I looked at my annual margin, but it was so little that it made no sense to do anything with it. I definitely want to build up a pension, but first I have to earn a little more. I don't know of a single student who's already building up a pension."

I don't really understand the whole FIRE movement. Do these people find their work so terrible that they can't wait for their retirement?

How much would you like to receive each month once you retire?

"Hard to say. It's about fifty years away, who knows what an amount like 5,000 euros will be worth by then? In any case, I don't want to have to compromise on how I live before I retire. It looks like I'm going to be a lawyer and I'm going to earn a nice amount of money. More than a hundred thousand a year is very likely. I don't want to live on an old-age pension later on. When you have so much free time, it's nice if you have money to do fun things."

 

How do you envision your future?

"I hope I have a big, nice house and that I can eat out and go on holiday whenever I feel like it. I will probably do volunteer work, mean something to people who need it. My parents do that too, and they're not even retired yet, and I like that. For now, I want to keep working. I don't really understand the whole FIRE movement. Do these people find their work so terrible that they can't wait for their retirement? I don't want to retire at 40, I wouldn't know what to do with my time."

 

Does money make you happy?

"That's a difficult one. I believe it's hard to be happy when you have to be tight-fisted and have a lot of money worries. Money can contribute to a nice and easy life and it allows you to do a lot of nice things. Beautiful experiences can make you very happy. But having a lot of money can also cause certain concerns. You'll have people who want to take it away from you, and you never know for sure if your friends are friends with you for you or because of your money. So let's say money buys happiness to a certain extent."

Volgende publicatie:
“By July we will know how feasible the new system is”

“By July we will know how feasible the new system is”

Published on: 17 May 2022

Next year, the rules for a new, future-proof pension system are expected to take effect. But in the meantime, much work remains to be done. Where do we stand? And what’s in store for the next eight months? Tinka den Arend, strategic policy officer at APG, takes us through the process that will culminate in a future-proof pension system on January 1, 2023.

 

 

Where are we, on the road to the new system in 2023?
“Carola Schouten - the Minister for Poverty Policy, Participation and Pensions - submitted the Future Pensions Bill to the House of Representatives on March 30, 2022. This bill forms the basis for the new system in broad lines. Last year, a draft of the bill was already known. This draft has now been amended on the basis of 800 reactions during a public consultation, tests by advisory bodies and the advice of the Council of State.  Now that the bill has been submitted to the House of Representatives, the next item is the Social Affairs and Employment Committee. This will be followed by the plenary debate.  

The Commission first organized two roundtable discussions, in which it collected the opinions of experts and interest groups. The first discussion, with 18 experts, took place on April 22. The roundtable with the interest groups was held on May 10.”

What kind of experts and interest groups should we think of?

“They are mostly scientists, such as Kees Goudswaard (professor of economics and endowed professor of social security at Leiden University, ed.), Casper van Ewijk (professor of macroeconomics at the University of Amsterdam, ed.) and Bas Werker (professor of econometrics and finance at Tilburg University, ed.). But people from the field are also participating, such as Agnes Joseph, an actuary at Achmea. The interest groups include employers’ associations such as VNO-NCW, trade unions - CNV, FNV - and senior citizens’ associations such as KBO Brabant.”

How does such a roundtable discussion work?

“Each participant has submitted a position paper in advance, outlining their views in a concise manner. During the roundtable discussion, each participant is given a few minutes to explain and defend these positions. This is followed by a conversation between members of parliament and participants, in which members of parliament can ask further questions.”  
   

How do participants know if the House committee is doing anything with their input?

“They don’t know that right away. But if you look at the parliamentary questions about the submitted Future of Pensions Act to the cabinet after the April 22 meeting, you can see a lot of the input from experts in it.”

Can you give an example of input that we have seen reflected in Parliamentary questions?

“An important example is the input from Casper van Ewijk, Bas Werker, Theo Nijman, WTW and Ortec on the entry method. During the entry process, pension entitlements accrued under the old pension system are converted into pension entitlements under the new system. In this case it means that the collective assets of a pension fund are converted into personal pension assets for participants. The Future of Pensions Act offers a choice between two methods for this: the VB-ALM method and the standard method. The experts rightly note that the VB-ALM method is not useful for this purpose. Because when using this method, you have to make arbitrary assumptions. By definition, these therefore become open to discussion. And since the outcome of the VB-ALM method is very sensitive to those assumptions, there is a good chance that legal disputes will arise. In any case, it is not advisable to use two methods.”

Why not?

By definition, one method will work out better for one group and another method for another group. After all, if a fund chooses the standard method, for example, there are always participants who will wonder how much their pension entitlements would have been when using the VB-ALM method. It is more advisable for each fund to use the same entry method. And the standard method is the most suitable for this, partly because it is easier to implement and the results are easier to explain to participants and other stakeholders. This method does, however, require more leeway to be able to compensate for disproportionately negative effects.”

Are there any other examples of such input?

“The Dutch Pension Federation and the Association of Insurers have drawn attention to the feasibility of the new rules for survivor’s pensions. In order to be able to guide participants in their choices at the right time, pension administrators need information from the UWV. This will prevent participants from falling between the cracks, for example after a period of unemployment. This point of attention was also adopted by many members of Parliament in their questions to the minister.”

When will we know the extent to which the bill will be amended?

“We will probably know this by July 2022. More will gradually be known about the content of the possible changes in the near future. The written questions submitted to the minister on April 26 run to 108 pages. A number of them, including the questions about the VB-ALM method and data exchange, are being asked by many groups. There could be some changes in the bill on those points, but whether that happens remains to be seen. The Cabinet can still modify the bill with amendment bills and the House of Representatives can also amend the bill itself. If the bill is adopted by the House of Representatives, the legislative text will then be fixed and the bill will go to the Senate. The Senate can adopt or reject the bill, but can no longer amend it.

In addition, there will probably also be changes to the secondary legislation, which will flesh out the bill in more detail. Consultation has also taken place in this regard, which has resulted in 44 responses. We expect clarity about the final secondary legislation no later than January 1, 2023.”

Will that date of January 1, 2023 be met?

“The government seems to be pulling out all the stops to meet this date, but at the same time you can see that the House of Representatives attaches importance to a thorough debate. So far, the one does not exclude the other, but this requires a lot of effort from both parties. From APG’s perspective, we have an interest in both timely and careful consideration. From our perspective, enforceability and explainability are particularly essential. It will be interesting to see whether the choices that are made contribute to feasibility and explicability.”

Volgende publicatie:
“That aha moment when people understand the world a little better: that makes me happy”

“That aha moment when people understand the world a little better: that makes me happy”

Published on: 13 May 2022

Netspar director Marike Knoef strives for more pension knowledge

 

Drop the word “pension” and Marike Knoef will get genuinely excited. An unusual reaction in a country where most people seem to feel more emotion at the word “brick”. But that enthusiasm is the ideal attitude for Netspar’s general manager, whose mission is to convince the nation that retirement is definitely not a “we’ll think about it later” thing. More retirement literacy is what she aims for. “Because more than half of people are worried about their retirement.”

 

Is saving for later by definition a good idea? It depends, as Marike Knoef (39) discovered when she moved from her parents’ house in Lochem, Gelderland, to a student room in Tilburg. When she was clearing out the cupboards, she found a stack of origami sheets. Expensive paper, which she used to love folding into origami animals as a six-year-old. But now it dawned on her that she had saved three quarters of them “for later” and now she realizes that she would have been much better off enjoying them at the time. You can also put too much aside, she concluded. She likes to use those Japanese folding sheets as a metaphor when talking about retirement. She also did this in her inaugural speech when she was appointed as professor of empirical microeconomics. She also helped people visualize the differences between pension incomes by handing out a smaller or larger origami paper to everyone present.

 

Netspar

The key question for her, however, is: how do you distribute your financial resources in such a way that you benefit from them in all phases of life? “That is a challenging question. And one in which various scientific disciplines come together. There are the financial, economic and psychological sides, the work and health aspects - how long can you work? - and the communication about it also plays a role. That’s what makes it so fun and interesting for me.” Which is why she feels like a fish in water at Netspar, an independent think tank and research and knowledge network on pensions, of which she has been the general manager since 2020.

 

As director of Netspar, you are striving for more "pension literacy”. Why is that so important?

“Research done by Netspar shows that most people know very little about pensions. At the same time, over half are very concerned about it. Even so, for a large proportion of them, their pensions are in order. The only thing is, they’re not aware of it. If people gain a little more basic knowledge, you notice that their worries subside. Of course, you don’t need to know everything under the hood. But 40 percent of young people think that there will be no pension for them later. That really is a lot! If they knew a bit more about it, they could feel more at ease.”

 

But how do you get them interested?

“We also do research on that. How do you activate people, how do you improve communication? On the one hand, you want to reduce the worries that many people have. On the other hand, you want to inform them about their situation personally. We ourselves communicate little with 'the public'. Once in a while we hold a public event for all Dutch people, for example around the elections. And occasionally we organize information events for interest groups. With our research, we ensure that a debate can be held based on facts, rather than on 'gut feelings’. That is why it is important that our stakeholders - all the agencies involved in pensions - receive the information.”

Marike Knoef became a board member at the research and knowledge network Netspar in 2017. She has been the general manager since 2020. Netspar promotes a better understanding of the economic and social consequences of pensions, aging and “old age” in the Netherlands. They do this by conducting independent scientific research and sharing knowledge through publications, events, webinars and education. www.netspar.nl

So, who should inform the public? Is that the pension funds’ responsibility?

“The entire pension sector benefits if people know more about pensions. But it’s a shared responsibility; I also see a role for the government here. At the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, they’re working on a major campaign. For example, many people don’t even know that Mijnpensioenoverzicht.nl exists. I also noticed once again how low pension literacy is when I tested the questions for a new survey in my surroundings in advance. Both they and the representative group of Dutch people who took part in the survey turned out to have an even lower level of knowledge than I had expected. That was a bit of a shock to me.”

 

Spread the word, in other words. The Pension Federation now provides information to secondary school students. You yourself have visited elementary schools?

“This was an initiative of Leiden University, the Meet-the-Professor project. Professors visit grade 7 and talk about their field of study. I tell them a bit about pensions. When I drop the word, you see students thinking: oh... pension. But then I ask if they have ever collected anything. And was that too much or too little? They recognize that. They mention marbles, stickers. Nail polish, someone said. That’s how they get really interested: how have we set up that pension, how does it work? So perhaps you first need to get people over the threshold. The new pension system could be a good opportunity to make them more aware of the issue.”

 

That new pension system will, in principle, go into effect no later than January 1, 2027. What do you think its strengths are?

“You are really never done creating a pension system; it is a continuous process because the world is continuously changing. But I do think the new system is an improvement. There is more customization per age group, which better suits people’s situations. The old and the new pension systems are both sensitive to developments on the financial markets. However, the new system does offer better ways of dealing with this, through a more targeted allocation of financial risks. In the future, pensions will move more rapidly, in line with the financial markets. Young people may be exposed to more risk than older people. The new system will not necessarily be less complicated. But it will be more transparent, because everyone will be able to see what assets have been accrued for them. That transparency can help dispel some of the concerns young people have.”

 

The new pension system is also more uncertain. Benefits may start to rise or fall annually, depending on the financial markets.

“That’s a point I do worry about. Because we see that if pensions are cut or not indexed, this triggers emotional reactions. Losses hit twice as hard as gains, even if the total benefit increases over the years. Therefore, if this happens with spikes and drops, the perception of the pension can be much worse than it needs to be. Of course, there is some thought about whether you can spread out spikes and drops over time. That has advantages and disadvantages. Viewed purely from the perspective of people’s emotions, it would be best to take a major negative shock relatively quickly. So that you are not confronted with a spread-out loss for years on end, which becomes increasingly difficult to explain. Whereas from that perspective, it would be better to spread a major positive shock over multiple years, to create a cushion for future losses.”

 

Pension funds also determine the investment risk for the various age groups.

“The new Pensions Act (which is still being debated - ed.) therefore states that the risk attitude of participants must be measured every five years. How much risk are they willing and able to take? This naturally raises questions: how do you measure both people’s preference and their risk capacity? And how do you explain this in a comprehensible way? What does someone need to know to be able to answer that? After all, the balance between risk and return is an important decision.”

Netspar is now doing research on that risk appetite?

“A study is underway with APG at the pension fund for the construction industry. We are investigating whether we can make risk measurement more attractive by converting a boring scientific survey into a serious game. We’ll compare the results with those of a regular survey using three different measurement methods.”

 

Can you say anything yet about the outcomes?

“We have just shared the first results with the bpfBOUW board. We see the same patterns across the different survey methods for the difference in risk appetite by age, by high and low incomes, and by background - whether they are employees in the workshop or in the office. But the level of risk appetite does differ by method. That, too, raises questions: how should we deal with that?”

 

But the participants were willing to take risks anyway?

“Yes. Look, if you ask people on the street, they would say: preferably as much security as possible. They don’t like financial uncertainty. They prefer to opt for a fixed rather than a variable payment. Even if that rationale doesn’t necessarily give them the best results.

We have also conducted research into this: for most people, it really is better to take some risk. That increases the chance of a higher payout. Because security is expensive.”

 

The younger you are, the greater the risk appetite?

“That is indeed confirmed in our studies. We also see that in the international literature.”

 

But ultimately, fund directors make the choice.

“They determine how they are going to interpret their investment policy. They can make use of our research results in making that choice. Moreover, it is a good thing that participants’ risk appetites are measured every five years. You can’t just ignore the results. It is also an instant communication opportunity. If you explain the balance between risk and return in an accessible way, it can create mutual understanding. Incidentally, we see from the surveys that the composition of the board - how many men, women, young people, older people - also affects how much risk is taken.”

 

So, if there are three female thirty-somethings on the board...

“... you have a different outcome than if it were three men in their fifties. And that’s actually kind of insane, because you want the risk appetite to depend on the composition of a fund.”

 

Netspar also examines the risk capacity of participants?

“Yes, it does. The great thing is that Statistics Netherlands has a lot of data on the assets that people have, their second-pillar pension entitlements with various funds or insurers, their savings and real estate assets. This enables us to gain insight into the overall picture at an individual level - anonymously, of course. And what that looks like, for example, by sector, age and income bracket. The various sectors will also be able to use the research results in their choices later on.”

 

Unfortunately, some sectors will continue to be left out of the pension equation even in the new system.

“Yes, the self-employed for example. Particularly among middle-income earners, little pension is accrued. People with flexible contracts and employees in small companies, the SMEs, also accrue relatively little if anything at all.”

 

What do Netspar studies tell us about that?

“That one of the barriers again is a low level of knowledge about pensions. They don’t really know how it works. Only 50 percent of self-employed people are aware that there is a fiscal annual margin, several surveys show. You can save for a pension in a tax-friendly way, but many people don’t know about it or think it’s too complicated. On top of that, self-employed people more often have a variable income. They do want to save, but not in a pension product where they can no longer access their money if things go badly one year. That’s a difficult hurdle to overcome. After all, you don’t want people to be able to just take it out: then there will be no pension left later in life.”

 

You yourself have two part-time jobs: you are director of Netspar and professor of empirical microeconomics at Leiden University. What drives you?

“What drives me is a better old age for the Netherlands. That is also Netspar’s mission. It is important to gather both knowledge and know-how - people from science and practice in various disciplines - who will work together to achieve that mission. We obtain knowledge through research projects that are prioritized by Netspar’s partners. We share that information with various target groups, on three levels: quick up-to-date, practical application and in-depth knowledge. Quick up-to-date, for example, is just one page with the most important conclusions and policy indications. Or a low-threshold podcast.”

 

Is this being gratefully used?

“APG is one of our partners, and we work closely with several APG departments that do research themselves. But it seems to me, with other partners too, that we can reach even more employees with our research results. Because the insights are useful and relevant to everyone. That’s why we try to distribute our knowledge in the most accessible way possible. For example, through websites, social media, newsletters and so on.”

 

And network development is Netspar’s second goal?

“That is very important. Various stakeholders are involved in our network: pension funds, insurers, social partners, regulators, scientists, the government. We try to expand that network as much as possible. After all, all these types of organizations have their own role to play in pensions. We hear from each other what’s going on and tackle things together. And we share our knowledge. Before I was the director of Netspar, I did my own research: what exactly are the pension issues and are the research results relevant for practice, what is needed? As director, I can do that a bit more broadly, by connecting people with each other.”

 

In short: sharing and connecting; that’s your mission?

“Well, I also like to surprise people positively with science. Recently I gave a presentation and afterwards someone said to me, ‘Wow, I thought: Netspar, that’s probably going to be very difficult.’ But it was very interesting and relevant. And I got new ideas.’ That aha moment people have, when they understand the world a little better, and that this makes them feel good, that makes me happy. That is also what drives me.”

Volgende publicatie:
What causes the rise in the coverage ratio?

What causes the rise in the coverage ratio?

Published on: 20 April 2022

Current issues related to economics, (responsible) investment, pensions and income: every week an APG expert gives a clear answer to the question of the week. This time: Chief Economist Thijs Knaap talks about the pension funds’ rising coverage ratios.

Many pension funds had good news on Thursday: their coverage ratio - which reflects the financial position of a fund - has risen in the past quarter. The actuarial interest rate is used to determine whether a fund’s current assets are sufficient to pay out pensions (the so-called liabilities) (in the future). The higher the interest rate, the less capital a fund needs to have and the higher the coverage ratio. It’s like saving for a vacation: the higher the interest, the less you have to put aside each month. Based on the coverage ratio, a pension fund decides whether to increase pensions. This is therefore an important percentage.

Returns
“It’s a bad economic time,” Knaap says. “There is a war in Ukraine, and there is a scarcity of personnel and goods because the economy suddenly started to run at full speed after Covid. On top of that, China is in lockdown after the last Covid outbreak there. This creates additional scarcity. The fact that the economy took a hit due to these factors is also reflected in pension fund returns for the past quarter. For example, the bond and share portfolios showed losses of around 5 to 6 percent. You don’t want to have quarters like that too often. In the past, there were quarters in which shares fell by 20 percent, but then you often had bonds that actually increased in value.”


Now the value of all investments is falling, with the exception of so-called alternatives such as commodities, private equity and infrastructure. “But you can’t make it with just good returns on those. Many funds are having negative returns and that has repercussions for their assets: they are falling. But the funny thing is that the coverage ratio is not only based on the assets of a pension fund, but also on the liabilities. This amount is calculated using interest rates and these are now rising so quickly that money is growing faster and less needs to be put aside by the funds to pay pensions. In other words, the liabilities are falling, so the coverage ratio is rising and has even reached a level that we haven’t seen in some funds since 2008, just before the credit crisis. What is going on with the funding ratio right now is quite curious: negative returns but a higher funding ratio. That’s exactly the opposite from the one we saw over the past decade. In those years, pension funds achieved excellent returns but their funding ratios fell. However high the returns were, the liabilities rose even more sharply as a result of the falling interest rates.”

It is still far too early to say that we have definitively reached the end of the ever-decreasing interest rate

Interest
The current higher funding ratios are due to increased interest rates. That raises the question of how long interest rates will remain high. "Since the 1980s, the credibility of central banks and their policies to curb inflation have become increasingly reliable. Now inflation is rising and the European Central Bank is still not doing anything, so there is a chance that the credibility of central banks will decline again. That could mean permanently higher interest rates because investors want to be compensated for the risk if inflation peaks again in the future."


However, there are also reasons to believe that interest rates will eventually fall again. “Right now, there is a lot of savings, both in the West among baby boomers, for example, and in emerging economies like China.” That pushes down interest rates, and the factors underlying the surplus of (savings) money still exist. “Although you can point to a few that are turning around a bit, such as low inflation expectations. Another one is the Chinese supply shock. Items from China, like TVs and cell phones kept getting cheaper and cheaper. Since Covid, the West has wanted to become less dependent on Chinese production. This could lead to less import of cheap products from China. Low-wage countries also want to earn more from their products, which therefore become more expensive. Moreover, China will also want to start spending more. The same can be said of the Western baby boomers, who are now retired. The supply and demand for money will then come more into balance, which could possibly reverse the trend of falling interest rates. But in my view, it is still far too early to say that we have definitively reached the end of the ever-decreasing interest rate.”

Volgende publicatie:
"In my time we were more prudish, at age 12, we didn't know where children came from"

"In my time we were more prudish, at age 12, we didn't know where children came from"

Published on: 4 April 2022

Was everything better in the past, or does 'now' also have its advantages? Different generations discuss social themes on the basis of statements. This time, Angela Ursem (49) and her father Claus (75).

 

Claus about himself: "I have three children and seven grandchildren. I have been working for Bouwbedrijf Ursem for about fifty years, a company that my father once started and that I and my eight brothers managed to bring to great heights. Unfortunately, it collapsed during the crisis. I'm now retired."

Angela about her father: "My father is very driven, he's always busy developing things and making things better for others. I also think he's very warm and sociable, he's always friendly and never loses sight of the needs of others. I think that's a nice characteristic trait. He's now enjoying his camper van in Portugal, but I know him as someone who's constantly on the go. He now finally is able to sit down and do nothing for a bit."

 

Angela about herself: "I was born and raised in Wognum, a village in North Holland, my parents still live there. I was the middle child. I now live in Amsterdam with my husband and two teenagers. Over the past ten years, I've worked as an interim marketing manager for many large corporations. Three years ago, I started a skincare company, Food for Skin, with my older sister, born from the urge to make the cosmetics world more sustainable. My sister has been a beautician for thirty years, I contribute all the marketing and commercial knowledge."

Claus about his daughter: "Angela was very independent from her early childhood. She is a woman who's doing well, she's very social, can be businesslike and also stands up for others. She is a precious daughter to us."

 

Statement: People used to look after each other more

Claus: "You know, in the past, you could hardly help but look after each other. I come from a big family; everyone had to chip in. In our village everyone was equal, there were no big differences in income or they didn't seem to exist. You helped each other, there was great solidarity. With today's possibilities, looking after each other seems to disappear. But on the other hand, people are still there for each other when needed."

Angela: "Something has definitely shifted, we've become much more individual. Not that we don't care about others or don't want to show solidarity, but life is a rush, a lot is expected and demanded of you, leaving less room for others. But as my father says: when the need arises, people are really willing to help each other. Fortunately, that basis is still there."

 

Statement: In the Netherlands, we're lagging in terms of women's emancipation

Angela: "I think that in the Netherlands, we're much further ahead in terms of women's emancipation than many other countries, but we're not quite there yet. Just look at that campaign recently, about how there are more CEOs in the Netherlands named Peter than there are female directors. Equality is important for everyone, not just women. Fortunately, I've never had any trouble proving myself. I stand my ground."

Claus: "I also think women's emancipation is important, women should be given the same opportunities as men. Yet I also thought to myself a few times: is it about the best person in the right place, or does it have to be a woman? I'm not always sure whether good choices are made in that regard. That said, there should be no discrimination in pay."

"When the need arises, people are really willing to help each other"

Statement: You have to be so careful with what you say these days

Claus: "Well, judging by the language they use in the House of Representatives, we don't have to be that careful. But more attention is paid to what you say and how you say it. That's important too. As long as you treat each other respectfully, I think you can say a lot."

Angela: "I think freedom of expression is a great and important asset. But that does not absolve us of our duty to take other people's sensitivities into account. Freedom of expression is not a license to offend people from other cultures or backgrounds. I think it's very important to be aware of who you are talking to and how it comes across. If something is sensitive, try to find out what's behind it: why does someone take it personally, and how can I do it better? I think it's enriching for everyone to continue to develop in this area."

 

Statement: We're very prudish these days

Claus: "Well, in my day we were more prudish. When someone was washing himself in the kitchen, my mother would put a tea towel over the radio so 'the man in the radio' couldn't see you. The first naked woman on TV, Phil Bloom in 1967, was quite an event. At home we were bound to the church, nothing was allowed there. At age 12, we didn't know where children came from."

Angela: "I'm glad we can now freely talk about sexuality. The average magazine writes about it quite explicitly. That's fine with me, it shouldn't be something mysterious, like when my father was young. Sex is also discussed much more openly in schools. In that sense, I think we are less prudish now."

 

Statement: The gap between rich and poor will only widen

Angela: "I'm afraid so, looking at how society is developing. The number of rich people is increasing, and so is the number of poor people. Yet there are initiatives, also from the rich, to close this gap. Hopefully, that movement will be big enough to really make a difference. This is also necessary to prevent many problems in the long term."

Claus: "In my time, there was poverty everywhere. In the village where I lived, almost everyone was equal, with the exception of a few dignitaries who we felt were wealthy. We all felt pretty poor, but didn't really mind because everyone was the same. I come from a family of twelve and the trousers of the first one lasted twelve children. That's completely different now. I also think that the gap is getting far too big, something definitely needs to be done about that. Some of the big earners should lead by example, by using their large assets for charities. But it remains difficult to achieve."

 

Statement: Everyone in the Netherlands can have a good life

Claus: "What is a good life? The most important thing is that you're healthy and happy and that you can get by. I don't know if that's feasible for everyone. Basically it is, but there will always be people who, for whatever reason, can barely scratch a living."

Angela: "In theory, it's possible for everyone to have a roof over their heads and buy food but in practices we see plenty of examples of this not being the case. It also depends a lot on your definition of a good life, as my father says. It's a combination of factors. I can imagine that if you don't have a lot of financial resources, but do have a rich social life, you still think you have a really good life. There must be a subsistence level, but that is apparently not for everyone, despite all the regulations and subsidies. I find that distressing."

"Young people are no different than they used to be, the circumstances are different"

Statement: Today's young people are too well off

Claus: "People often say young people are no good, but I don't agree with that at all. Young people are no different than they used to be, the circumstances are different. When I was young, everything was much clearer, we had much less temptation. Back in my day, you didn't even know drugs existed. Today's young people have known few setbacks or poverty - with a couple of exceptions. They grow up with far more opportunities than we used to have. But does that mean they're spoiled? No."

Angela: "Again, define 'good'. Most young people can go to school and have the opportunity to study. Fortunately. Financially, I think they may be better off than in the old days. On the other hand, look at what they're faced with. They've hardly had a social life for two years because of COVID, there's a climate crisis hanging over them that they have to deal with and now there's a threat of war again. For my children aged 15 and 16, this has an impact on their lives and the choices they make. They face very different challenges than my father and I had to cope with. I think that nowadays, there's more attention and care for young people, for their individual needs, also at school. There is more personal support. Is that too good? I don't think so. It's just good."

 

Statement: By definition, technological progress is good

Claus: "Yes, we need to constantly invent and improve new things. It makes many things easier. On the other hand, it also creates distance."

Angela: "I'm a huge proponent of technological progress, which is what we need when you look at the problems we face, such as the climate crisis and overpopulation. For that, we need behavioral change but also technology. We can't afford to stand still. I do think that with every invention we should ask ourselves: does it really bring us further, or does it bring new problems with it?"

 

Statement: Everything used to be better

Claus: "Ha, if you start talking like that, you're getting old. Everything used to be different, but certainly not better. Not for me anyway."

Angela: "That's beautifully said, dad. Everything was different, and everything will be different in the future. Everything is constantly evolving and it should be. You shouldn't resist it, you should embrace it."

Volgende publicatie:
“It is our joint responsibility to improve confidence in our pension system”

“I enjoy providing leadership in a context of uncertainties”

Published on: 31 March 2022

Just under three more years and then the first pension fund will transfer to the new system. This transition must run smoothly for all parties – employers, participants and funds. That is why 2022 for APG is fully dominated by execution, says APG’s CEO Annette Mosman. “The most important thing is that we first get the primary process in order. That has to be done right the first time. It is the litmus test of the new pension system.” 

 

“2021 was the last year APG could afford to talk about preparing for the new pension agreement. This year is all about implementation,” says, APG’s CEO Annette Mosman. “As we speak, the bill is in the House of Representatives for approval. The transition to the new pension system is therefore becoming a reality. And now it’s our turn. You can feel that in every fiber of our organization. We’ve thought about it for a long time, we’ve helped create the law, and now we have to renovate our house while the store stays open.”

And meanwhile, 2022 has begun very dramatically. What is the impact of that on you, on the organization?
“Everything is relative when you see what is happening now in Ukraine. That affects me as a person and it affects our employees. There are people working at APG who are from Ukraine, people with relatives there and we have Russian colleagues as well. It affects the organization as a whole, but it also affects the energy prices we all pay, our economy, our investments, cybersecurity. But most of all, it is a humanitarian disaster that is happening right now.”

What is number one on the 2022 priority list?
“For APG and our pension fund clients, the first priority is obviously the Pension of the Future. In the next six months, we will be making agreements with our clients about which fund will be transferred when. Before we transfer the first fund on January 1, 2025, there is still a great deal of preparation to be done. This includes, for example, the implementation of the policy administration and the entry process, but also the development of our employees’ competencies. And secondly: last year was an excellent investment year. We can be proud of APG’s leading position as a responsible investor. But that position is under pressure. Clients and society are demanding more speed on sustainability issues. So, we have to move. In a smart way. By focusing on and accelerating the digitization of our operations. And by making clear choices on the theme of responsible investment, together with our fund clients.

Finally, we need to move even more toward a single APG. We must learn more from each other’s areas of expertise. With the new pension contract, we are seeing asset management and pension management increasingly converging. They used to be two separate, specialist fields. Our magnificent new working environment, EDGE West, helps in this respect. Literally. I spoke to a colleague who now works there and he told me: ‘I’ve been with APG for fifteen years now, but in one week I’ve already met more coworkers than in I did in recent years.’ That’s wonderful. The new APG is starting with the direct collaboration between people.”

The road to the new system is complex. Many parties with different interests. A system that has not yet been worked out in detail. How difficult is it to find your way in it as an administrator?​​​​​​​
“Clear choices’ is the theme of the annual report and that really means that we have made, had to make, clear choices and have put some things on the backburner. We are continuing to experiment; we are continuing to think about new propositions in terms of the financial fitness of the participant. But the most important thing now is to first get the primary process in order. We are going to convert 1,700 billion euros for the transition in the Netherlands. That has to be done right the first time. It is the litmus test for the new pension system. It is crucial for our pension fund clients and their participants that the pots are calculated correctly.”

But are you going to be able to figure that out together?“We work for eight funds. Each fund has its own ambitions and different emphases. Whether it’s data quality, their new client missions or improving ‘my pension’. But that is no small feat, because everyone wants their full agenda accomplished. However, there is also a clear common goal: a smooth and controlled transition to the new pension system. In which we promote the interests of all participants in the best possible way.”

The fact is that not everything is known about the new system yet. How do you lead that process?
“We have a lot of expertise at APG. Still, it is not easy, because we have never before had to face a period in which we had to make such important decisions, while the picture has not yet crystallized. You may call the context we are operating in unclear, but I don’t see it that way. There are always uncertainties. I actually enjoy providing leadership in a context of uncertainties. For me, the glass is usually half full. And besides: there is a lot we do know. We know what the law stands for, we know the direction it is going in. You can also be the master of your own destiny in that process.”

Administrative calm is crucial in this respect, Mosman points out. “We have a stable executive board, which was also involved in the formulation of the strategy in this composition and really lived through it. That also applies to the majority of the leadership team. And that administrative calm is also there because of the good relationship with the Works Council, the Supervisory Board and the shareholders. I am genuinely pleased that the relationships with these important stakeholders has improved and been strengthened. We have achieved this through intensive and genuine contact, in which we have not avoided difficult discussions and dilemmas.”

APG will take on more of the characteristics of a technology- and data-driven as well as participant-oriented organization

2021 was your first year as board chair. Are you satisfied with how things are going?“Satisfied?” Laughs, “I’m never quite satisfied. But to be honest: I can look back on a challenging year that has also been a very good year. It was a year in which our strategy was approved; that was an important milestone. And at the end of 2021, there was the decision to set up our policy on equity administration in collaboration with an external party, Festina Finance. We are taking the leap forward with the very latest technology, in the interests of participants and funds. And I am feeling very confident about that.”

What do you see as the biggest challenge?​​​​​​​“The labor market. Finding good people. We have very good people at APG, but the enormity of the work that is coming our way is really a big challenge. That is also the reason we are entering into more partnerships, such as working with an external party on the entry process.”

The system is changing, and so is APG. Can you paint a picture of the administrator that will be required in the new system?
“APG will take on more of the characteristics of a technology- and data-driven as well as participant-oriented organization. Of course, we must continue to excel in investing and administering. Those will always be important competencies. But the focus will shift to the front end. We are moving towards a system in which there is more uncertainty among participants. As a pension sector, we will have to explain more. We are therefore becoming more of a communications company. We’ve already taken steps in that direction, but the shift will really continue in the next few years. In any case, change is the new constant. I am convinced of that. We are now focusing on this transition, but we will have to continuously improve and develop in all areas as an organization.”

2025 is three years away. Will APG be the organization you envision by then? Isn’t that a bit too soon?
“We have been able to excel by being a specialist in the field of administration and investment. The coming transition will demand a lot from the organization and its people. But I’ve also come to know APG as an organization that can switch gears surprisingly quickly. Whether it’s the start of the corona crisis, where we had to switch to working from home in one weekend, or the global Log4j vulnerability, which we also had to arm ourselves against at the end of 2021: the moment there is a crisis, everyone goes into ‘we can do this’ mode. Because people here are so driven. Everyone works with passion for the pension funds, and for the participants. Whatever we have to do, we’re there for it. And that gives me the confidence that things will turn out all right.”

You prefer to talk about a change program rather than a culture program. Why?
“I’m cautious with the term culture program, because changing culture is something you do every day. In the past year I have tried to communicate a lot, with this guiding principle: make it concrete. But there are limits to that. I can’t make it more concrete for every employee. It’s also about enabling employees and managers to translate the situation into their own work. Unfortunately, I can’t have individual conversations with 3,000 people. For me, the most important thing is still to offer the promising perspective and to give confidence: we are all in this together.”

 

Collectivity remains an essential element in the new system as well. Why do you think that’s so important?
“If I look at myself: I’m 55 and only now am I starting to think about what I’ll be like in ten years. What about my house, my current mortgage? And I’m not the only one in this position. For many people, the horizon is too short to make significant changes. So that’s why I think accruing a pension through your employer, and especially its compulsory nature, is so important. My children will now be ‘forced’ to save, or rather invest, for their future. You may call that paternalistic, but I wasn’t doing it when I was young and they are not doing it now either. The fact that it will be mandatory for them means that they will also be able to have a good life in their old age. That’s what makes our system so great.”

But the reconstruction was badly needed.
“It is not surprising that this system needs to be renewed after a hundred years. After all, a lot has changed. We no longer work for a single employer our entire lives, we are increasingly living longer, many people are self-employed, whether temporarily or for their entire career. We are certainly aware that for some time now there has been little or no possibility of indexation, so the limits of the system are already being felt by current pensioners. And with this step, we will be able to take that yoke off the old system and give us the opportunities to be able to invest a bit more broadly. It is often said that the new system will make things simpler. But for the participant it is simpler to know: I get a thousand euros a month. Now we are saying: this is what you get now, but that may change depending on the economic situation. That’s why communication with the participant is more important than ever. Really getting to know the participants, where their concerns lie, is becoming crucial.”

So, isn’t it time to prepare the participant?
“Yes, absolutely. We have a duty to prepare participants for the transition to the new system. But I also think that it will only become really concrete for them when they are informed about exactly how the changes will affect them individually. That is when it will become relevant. And then there will certainly be a lot of questions. Fortunately, we have innovations such as Kandoor, which received a million questions last year, but also Geldvinder and Prikkl. These are initiatives that contribute to timely thinking about income for now and for the future. In recent years we have invested a lot in these initiatives, so that we can be ready when the time comes.”


But isn’t it mostly about trust? As a participant, you suddenly get a different pot of money. Is it correct, how can I be sure my fund is managing it properly? How do you get ahead of questions like that?
“I see it as a joint responsibility of government, social partners, pension funds and administrators to improve trust in our pension system.

We have a special role in this as the largest pension administrator in the Netherlands. We help everyone, we facilitate, and we provide the calculations behind the proposals. And later we will ensure a controlled transition to the new system, with solid pension administration and excellent investment results. We also have a responsibility to properly explain the changes that will affect participants. Clear communication to the participant is a precondition for confidence in the new system. But the trust must also be created among the social partners, i.e. employees and employers. Decisions on how each pot in each pension fund is distributed across the generations - the average system - are made by the social partners. They will have to make the right choices. And, incidentally, I have every confidence that they will.”

 

 

Curious about the entire APG Annual Report 2021? Read it here as a PDF or go to the special website.

Volgende publicatie:
Annual report 2021: focus on clear choices

Annual report 2021: focus on clear choices

Published on: 31 March 2022

Today, APG publishes the 2021 annual report. Naturally as a PDF, but also as a website, where you can read in detail how we as APG look back on 2021. And how we, as the country’s largest pension administrator, are preparing for an unprecedented, rigorous pension reform.

 

APG plays a crucial role in that transition to a new system. All funds must have switched to the new system by January 1, 2027. And some pension funds want it sooner. That's fast. Clear choices are therefore essential. APG’s CEO Annette Mosman says about this in the annual report: “The changes are so great that we have to make clear choices. The new system is the top priority. This means, among other things, thatwe will put certain projects on the back burner for a while, retrain or reskill employees, and recruit digitally trained people.” Read more about it in her foreword.

 

What else can you find in the report?

 

Who we are and what we do

As the country's largest pension administrator – we serve 8 pension funds and some 4.8 million participants – we make use of our combined strength and knowledge to build a transparent and future-proof new pension system. We are becoming an increasingly modern communications and IT company, and we strive to provide high-quality services along the way.

 

About APG

 

The best possible pension – in a livable world

On the road toward the ‘Pension of the Future’, we’ll do everything we can to achieve maximum pension value and a healthy return. Sustainability plays a central role in all our investment choices.

 

Our 2021 results

 

The importance of our culture

Our internal culture is a microcosm of the influence we have within society. To this extent, our employees’ knowledge, skills, and ways of working are critical to our success. The transition to the ‘Pension of the Future’ also requires new expertise and skills – which we are working hard to develop.

 

How we work together

 

 

Read the full Annual Report as a pdf here.

Volgende publicatie:
Bill on new pension system sent to House of Representatives

Bill on new pension system sent to House of Representatives

Published on: 30 March 2022

The legislative proposal for the new pension system in the Netherlands was presented to the House of Representatives today. The House of Representatives will consider the bill in the coming period, after which it will go to the Senate. If both agree, the rules will take effect on January 1, 2023. Pension funds will then have until 2027 to switch to the new system.

 

The bill, which is called the “Future of Pensions Act”, stems from the pension agreement that was entered into in 2019 after over ten years of negotiations. In the new pension system, pensions will move with the economy more easily. Fewer large buffers will have to be built up, bringing the prospect of indexation closer. Members will also gain more insight and clarity about the pension they have accrued. There will also be new rules for survivor’s pensions.

 

Planning

Now that the bill has been submitted to the House of Representatives, the lower regulations - the further details of the bill - will also be made public. The aim is for the Act to be published in the Staatsblad on January 1, 2023, whereupon the rules will officially go into effect. Whether that date will be met is not certain. “It is quite possible that the Senate or the House of Representatives will need more time to pass judgment on the proposals,” says Wim Koeleman, director of Pension of the Future at APG. Koeleman is pleased that the proposal is on the table. “It marks the beginning of a new phase in the system change. But there is still a lot of work to be done. We will be intensively studying the proposal and the lower regulations in the coming period. APG will pay extra attention to the feasibility of the new system.”

 

Lump sum

One of the new rules of the new system, the option of withdrawing a maximum of 10 percent of your retirement pension in one lump sum at the time of retirement, was supposed to take effect on January 1, 2023. But that seems too soon. The Pension Federation and the Association of Insurers are urging Minister Schouten to postpone the effective date to at least July 1, 2023. Any sooner would not be feasible.

 

Suspenseful

If the new pension law takes effect, pension funds, together with administrators, employers and unions, will have until January 1, 2027 to adapt pension schemes to the new legislation. Koeleman is well aware that this will be an immense operation. “That is why APG, APG’s pension fund clients and the social partners (employers and employees) have already made a start with the implementation, based on a draft version of the law. We are certainly very anxious to see the changes.”

 

 

Volgende publicatie:
“When I have money, I think: Yes, spend it, right now”

“When I have money, I think: Yes, spend it, right now”

Published on: 28 March 2022

How do you deal with work and money for now and in the future? Do you live from day to day or are you deliberately planning your financial future? In this Week van het Geld (Week of the Money, ed.) we talk to some young people. Today we give the floor to Maud (13) who is already earning some money doing small jobs and who is an expert in spending it.

 

Maud van Zandwijk (13)

Income: 72 euro per month

Savings: 180 euro

 

Do you get an allowance?

“Yes, I get 22 euro in pocket money and an allowance of 50 euro for clothing. I can also earn some money at home performing household chores. Doing the dishes earns me 1 euro and I receive 1.50 euro taking care of the laundry. That motivates me sometimes.”

 

Do you have any other sources of income?

“I take on some small jobs. I ‘work’ in the cafeteria at school from time to time. My payment consists of a free sandwich which saves me a lot of money. My parents said: If you deposit the money you save on those sandwiches on a separate account, it's almost as if you really get paid. That was a good idea. I also play walk-on parts at times. That earns me about 30 to 40 euro for each part.”

 

Is it enough all together?

“It should be. But because it feels as if I have loads of money, I also spend it quite easily. I now literally have 73 cents in my account. Halfway through the month I thought: Hey, I have some money left. So I went to the city center and that's where things went wrong.”

 

What do you spend your money on?

“Mainly food and drinks. We have nice things to eat at home as well, but McDonald’s is something we don't normally have. It's possible to have meals delivered by certain food delivery services, but then the fries are usually cold. It just feels nice not having to ask for permission and are able to buy whatever I feel like. I also bought a pair of shorts for 10 euro because the weather forecast was sunny. And then I saw a cardigan a friend of mine has and I also wanted to buy it: 20 euro. And all of a sudden I ran out of money. My parents don't tell me what to do with my money, it truly is mine. But once it's gone, it's gone. I have to suffer the consequences and they usually don't help me out.”

 

It just feels nice not having to ask for permission and are able to buy whatever I feel like

Do you roughly get the same as your friends, or more or less?

“I get quite a lot compared to them. Most of my friends don't receive an allowance for clothing.”

 

Do you save?

“Yes, that was a precondition for my parents to give me my own bank card. The agreement I made with them is to set aside 10 percent of everything I earn on a separate account. I call it my ‘don't touch’ account. I am used to it now, so I don't miss that 10 percent. So, I save quite a lot unwittingly, it feels like free money. That ‘don't touch’ account now has a balance of 160 euro. My parents also have money saved for me in the late future, but I have no idea how much that is.”

 

Do you save money for anything specific?

“I have another pot holding 20 euro, intended for America. We go to America at the end of the summer holidays and I want to have some money by then to buy Starbucks mugs. I collect those mugs and every city has its own version. Then I will have something special.”

 

Do you handle your money responsibly?

“No. I have usually spent my pocket money and clothing allowance in three days’ time. When I have money, I think: Yes, spend it, right now. I keep on making the same mistake and I don't learn from it.”

 

What do you want to be when you are older?

“I always wanted to become an editor, but I never do it anymore so I don't think that's what I still want. Maybe I can do some more walk-on parts or anything social or in the hospitality industry or something like that. I did some voluntary work in a cinema once with my mother and I truly enjoyed doing that.”

 

Do you care about the amount of money you will be earning later on?

“Yes, it's important to earn a good salary because I don't want to end up being homeless. It would be nice if I can make ends meet.”

Is money important to you?

“It usually is. You need money to buy things or if you have to pay someone back. It's rather miserable if you are unable to pay someone back. I borrow money from friends quite often when I have spent my monthly allowance and they handled their money more wisely. They usually don't mind, as long as I pay them back quickly. And I do.”

 

Does money bring happiness?

“Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. Money gives you the freedom to buy whatever you like. If you are poor, you cannot do whatever you want and have everything your heart desires. On the other hand, it also doesn't seem great to have everything you want. What should you do with your money in that case? I also heard that people could get very lonely if they have so much money they don't have to work anymore, because their friends still have to work and never have time to meet.”

 

Do you worry about your financial future?
“Sometimes I do, and then I think: How will I survive if I have to do it all on my own later on? It already happens sometimes that I don't get picked for a walk-on part, and the same may be the case with a real job. If you don't get picked then, you won't be able to pay the rent. My mother already said: You move out once you turn 18. Maybe my parents and I can agree for them to pay my rent if they want to get rid of me that eagerly.”

 

Your pension is still miles away, what do you know about it?

“That you receive money but no longer have to work, something like that. When I think about pension, I think about old men playing golf wearing those funny hats.”

Volgende publicatie:
'I get nervous when I have less than 15,000 euros in my savings account'

'I get nervous when I have less than 15,000 euros in my savings account'

Published on: 21 March 2022

How do you deal with work and money for now and later? Do you live by the day or do you purposefully plan your financial future? And do you arrange 'later' yourself, or are you a member of a pension fund?

Bianca Wolters (32) is a real saver.

 

Bianca Wolters (32)

Profession: contract administrator at a water board

Weekly working hours: 32 hours

Income: 3800 euros gross

Savings: 30,000 euros

Pension arranged? Yes, through employer

 

What kind of work do you do?

"I've been a contract administrator at a water board for two years now. This means I keep an eye on the contracts they have with suppliers for a certain department: are the agreements in the contract being fulfilled? Often in these types of positions, only the suppliers side is considered, but I also check internally whether the organization is meeting its obligations. Before that, I did similar work at a health care institution, but I also did purchasing."

 

What do you like about your job?

"That I'm kind of a spider in the web. I deal with different layers in the organization, from management to people on the shop floor, and with suppliers. It's very diverse. If things don't go well with a contract, I talk to them about why that is. Perhaps they have to make changes to their business operations. Getting my teeth into something like that is fantastic! My parents are both entrepreneurs and I do notice I have that entrepreneurial spirit in me, but I prefer to apply it within paid employment. I like that 'security', as far as it's there."

 

How much do you earn?

"3800 euros gross, that includes an individual choice budget. Net, I have about 2300 euros left."

 

Are you happy with that?

"I get by, but I could do with a little more. Colleagues of mine in about the same position are one salary scale up. The difference is mainly in the job title: I'm a contract administrator, they're contract managers. That position wasn't there when I started. But our tasks are not much different."

 

Do you dare to ask for more?

"Absolutely. It was something I had to learn. Because the labor market is so tight, you have a good negotiating position. I've already mentioned that I think I should also go up a scale, but as is often the case with authorities, it's a time-consuming process. The enterprising part in me can sometimes get frustrated: come on, if you really want to keep me, it shouldn't be that hard to come up with more money, right?"

 

Because the labor market is so tight, you have a good negotiating position

What would you like to earn?

"I wouldn't mind a gross salary of more than 4000 euros. If I calculate what I earn per hour, it's about 25 euros. I think I should ask for 50 euros. Now that I've gained some more work experience and achieved a couple of great results, I have a better idea of what I'm worth."

 

Do you own a house?

"Yes, I just bought a new house with my boyfriend. We both already had our own house, which we sold with considerable equity. I bought my house for 225,000 euros, 50,000 euros of which came from savings. When I sold it, I made 175,000 euros. My friend had only had his house for a year and had completely renovated it. He made a profit of 75,000 euros. This gave us the space to outbid 35,000 euros when we bought our new house."

 

How do you divide the expenses?

"Fifty-fifty. My friend is a truck driver and we earn about the same. I did contribute more of my own money to the purchase of the house, but we've also recorded that in our cohabitation contract."

 

What are your fixed charges?

"We jointly pay 1500 euros in mortgage, so 750 euros per person. We now pay an advance of 150 euros for gas, water and electricity, but because we've disconnected our house from the gas, I expect to get a lot in return. We each put 1500 euros in the kitty each month. We're doing everything we can, and so far, it has worked well. I pay 14 euros per month for my telephone contract. My gym membership costs me about 50 euros per month. I pay the health insurance once a year, that's 1400 euros. And I have a car. I pay 34 euros per month in road tax, 40 euros for the insurance of my car and bike together, and about 200 euros per month in petrol. Fuel is quite expensive now, but we can fill up in Germany, which makes a difference."

What else do you spend a lot of money on?

"I often have lunch at work, so quite a bit of money goes to the company canteen. I'm also very focused on healthy food, they've looked into what I'm intolerant to and the like. The nutritional supplements I have to take according to the results of that examination cost me about 50 euros per month. I also like to go to the beauty salon every now and then, or to a good hairdresser. Buying clothes comes in waves for me: sometimes I suddenly buy a lot of new things, and then nothing for months. I'm also regularly being coached on a personal level, to get more out of myself."

 

Where do you make savings?

"I think I live quite frugally. I don't need the latest phone, I deliberately opted for that contract of 14 euros per month. And we save a lot on energy at home by investing in a heat pump and solar panels. I only buy new things when the old ones are worn or broken. I'm becoming more and more aware of this, also because of the environment. I also often look at second-hand items. At times, I'm really amazed at the beautiful things you can find that still look like new."

 

Are you more of a saver or a spender?

"A saver. I have 30,000 euros in my savings account and get very nervous when there is little on it. 15,000 euros is the minimum for me. I never had specific savings goals, because my buffer was always large enough to pay everything I really needed. Now we want a hybrid or electric car and that has become a bit of a savings goal. In any case, I automatically save 200 euros every month. I'm now considering exploring further investment options for part of my savings. I would like get advice on this from someone with expertise."

To be honest, I hardly know anything about my pension accrual

Do you think about your pension?

"Not really, no. At my previous job, I did attend a pension meeting because I was curious about what they were discussing. My parents are about to retire, so they tell me bits and pieces, but it still feels like a long time off. I think I'll have to work until I'm 80 - that will take a while."

 

Are you building up a pension?

"Yes, through work. But to be honest, I don't know much about it. I do get statements so I can see what I've built up, but I couldn't tell you off the top of my head. All I know is that it's not nearly enough to live on."

 

How much do you think you will need per month?

"I think it's important to be able to continue the standard of living I'm used to now. That would amount to about 2000 euros per month. I think that's feasible, if I grow a little more in terms of salary. Of course, there's also a lot of money in the house. That will be released if we ever sell it."

 

How do you envision your future as a pensioner?

"I picture myself walking a lot with a dog and just living a little bit in my own flow. I think it'd be great to be able to do only what you enjoy."

 

Does money make you happy?

"To a certain extent, yes. If you don't have enough to get by, you really go into survival mode. I think it's terrible if you're in the supermarket and have to start doing sums in your head to make sure you can pay for your groceries. But I think having too much doesn't make you happy either. If you don't know what to spend your money on because you have so much of it, I can't imagine your life really being that much nicer."

 

Volgende publicatie:
APG and ABP win prizes at Pensioen Pro Awards

APG and ABP win prizes at Pensioen Pro Awards

Published on: 18 March 2022

APG was awarded twice during the presentation of the Pensioen Pro Awards 2021. The pension provider took home the award for Long-Term Investor of the Year and that for Responsible Investment/ESG. The presentation was postponed to 2022 due to corona. Ronald Wuijster, CEO of APG Asset Management, and Claudia Kruse, head of Responsible Investment, received the golden theme awards.

 

The jury awarded the Responsible Investment/ESG prize to APG for the Sustainable Development Investments Asset Owner Platform, which it developed together with pension provider PGGM on behalf of the pension fund clients. This standard allows investors to rate companies on their contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. An initiative with which APG 'excellently considers/integrates ESG factors and implements a clear ESG policy in strategy and investment practice'.

 

Hand in hand

APG owes the other award, the Long-Term Investor of the Year, to the Glaspoort project. Thanks to this joint venture that APG has set up with KPN on behalf of ABP, 750,000 households and 225,000 companies will be connected to fiber by 2026. According to the jury, this is a good example of 'how efficiency and sustainability can go hand in hand'.

 

No ‘spielerei’

According to Ronald Wuijster, CEO of APG Asset Management and member of the Executive Board, the awards underline the importance of APG's course. “Awarding each other prizes in a sector, in this case the pension sector, can come across as 'spielerei'. Yet it is very nice to receive recognition and appreciation for the work that you all do together. It confirms that you are doing the right thing. This is all the more true for the two golden theme awards in areas that together form the core of APG Asset Management's strategy: long-term investing and sustainability.”

 

Exceptional contribution

Other prizes were awarded to ex-Minister of Social Affairs and Employment Wouter Koolmees, among others. He received the Pension Pro Award for his 'exceptional contribution to the sector'. The jury praised him for his role in drawing up the pension agreement. Pension fund Provisum won the prize for Pension Fund of the Year for the second time in a row. “A rock-solid fund with a policy funding ratio of 146% (November 2021) and zero indexation backlog,” said the jury.

Volgende publicatie:
Dutch people are living an average of 3 ½ months longer. How does that affect pensions?

Dutch people are living an average of 3 ½ months longer. How does that affect pensions?

Published on: 16 March 2022

Current issues related to economics, (responsible) investment, pensions and income: every week, an APG expert gives a clear answer to the question of the week. This time: actuary Caroline Bruls talks about how higher life expectancy affects pensions.

Due to improved air quality, Dutch people will live an average of 3 ½ months longer in 2030 than in 2016. This is evident from a report by the RIVM. Does this mean that pension premium will go up? “If life expectancy increases, it does have consequences for pensions,” says Bruls. But it does not mean that the premium will also be increased immediately. “We don’t actually do anything with this kind of news, because we already assume that life expectancy will continue to rise. So, you could say that the 3 ½ months has already been factored into our expectations. Perhaps the improved air quality will make life expectancy a little higher. If that is the case, it will automatically find its way into the data that we base our prognosis for the future on. That forecast of life expectancy is updated every one or two years, and thus remains fairly current. It has to be, because there are constant developments that influence life expectancy, of course.”

Impact
Bruls emphasizes that it is very difficult to determine for a relatively small development, such as improvements in air quality, the extent to which it will affect the long term. “There are so many big and small factors that can affect life expectancy. Even with the Covid pandemic, it remains to be seen whether it has a major impact on mortality projections. Is that a one-time event with no long-term impact? Or do we expect such an epidemic to occur more frequently so that it has a lasting impact on life expectancy? The Royal Actuarial Society will issue a new mortality forecast this year. This will include the latest data, including mortality rates related to Covid.” 

That an increase in life expectancy has consequences for pensions, is because pensions have to be paid out for longer. “In the current pension system, if life expectancy increases, the coverage ratio falls. The financial position of pension funds will therefore worsen. The premiums will also have to be increased for future pensions. Or we may have to retire at a later age. This will change under the new system, which will no longer have a coverage ratio. The people who are not yet retired may put in a bit more premium for themselves in the new system. And for those who are already retired, the shortfall can be supplemented from a collective reserve, for example.”

Eligibility age for government pension
Although we are still getting older, life expectancy is no longer rising as fast as it has in the past 100 years. “The biggest gains in terms of improving living conditions and health have been achieved by now.” The main consequence of increased life expectancy for the Dutch pension system is the increase in the eligibility age for the government pension. In order to keep pensions affordable, the eligibility age for the government pension keeps moving up a bit. “At the time that it was set at 65, our life expectancy was a lot less than it is now. Currently, pensions have to be paid out over a longer period of time. In order to keep the ratio between the period that people work and pay pension contributions and the period that they receive a pension in balance, it has been determined that the eligibility age for the government pension will increase in line with life expectancy.”


In short, the fact that life expectancy has increased by 3 ½ months in 2030 because of better air quality has little to no impact on pensions. It is still rare for an event to have a major impact on life expectancy, and thus on pensions. “It used to happen more often, because the models and computers we used to make our forecasts back then were not as good as they are now. Now we can make predictions with increasing accuracy, although there will always be some degree of uncertainty. But the impact of any adjustment in life expectancy on pensions is still manageable. Particularly if you compare it to the impact of stock market fluctuations or interest rate shocks. The influence of life expectancy is dwarfed by that.”

 

Volgende publicatie:
“I have the builders sitting on my shoulder”

“I have the builders sitting on my shoulder”

Published on: 9 March 2022

She is not averse to paternalism, firmly believes in collectivity and is very supportive of self-employed people and of members who are at their wits’ end: Eline Lundgren, the new chairperson of bpfBOUW.

“I’m more frugal with the pension fund’s money than with my own.”

 

Picking up bricks with her own hands while renovating her house, that was as far as Eline Lundgren’s personal experience with the construction sector went. That is, until she became the chairman of the bpfBOUW pension fund, the sector pension fund for the construction industry. Because of the corona crisis, until the photshoot she had not yet been to the building site to inhale the smell of cement and have a cup of coffee with one of the 147,020 active participants (annual report 2020).

BpfBOUW is one of the five largest pension funds in the Netherlands, with a total of over 776,000 participants and more than 102 billion euros in invested assets. Lundgren - an experienced pension administrator on behalf of the trade union federation FNV - considered it “honorable, fun and challenging” to be asked to chair such a large fund. Although it was “with pain in her heart” that she had to give up her chairmanship of BPL Pensioen, the pension fund for the agricultural and green sector.

 

From farmers to builders: what are the differences in pension administration between these sectors?

“First, an important similarity: both pension funds are aimed at providing participants with the best possible income for later in life. But there is indeed a difference: the agricultural sector is faced with a shrinking number of farmers. The number of active participants in the industry pension fund is therefore also declining. This has consequences for the continuity of the fund: with more participants, you can invest better and gain higher returns. By contrast, the construction industry is growing: the demand for construction workers is far greater than the supply. Especially now that the madness on the housing market means that many new homes will be built in the coming years. This is a huge challenge for the sector, but for the continuity of the pension fund, this growth is good news.”

 

Both sectors are also dealing with the nitrogen and PFAS crisis.

“Both the agricultural and construction sectors face a major sustainability challenge. But even there we are seeing different dynamics. For the agricultural sector, the sustainability policy has mainly negative consequences. For example, the future for pig farmers and farmers around Natura 2000 areas is uncertain. In the construction sector, however, sustainability has a positive connotation: the challenge of innovative and climate-neutral construction.”

 

The construction industry has many self-employed workers. They often do not accrue a pension. What role do you see there for the pension fund?

“Employees save for their retirement throughout their working lives and therefore have the security of an income for later. I really don’t begrudge self-employed people this either. I also think it’s important for society: one of the pillars of our wonderful society is our good pension system, in which we share risks together. As a fund, we therefore want to make it easier for self-employed individuals to save for their retirement. This would probably not succeed with an obligatory scheme: self-employed people feel like real entrepreneurs and, moreover, paying the premiums is difficult if their income varies. But a voluntary pension scheme might have a chance of success. At bpfBOUW, we are investigating whether and how that might be possible.”

 

BpfBOUW is the largest Dutch fund to index pensions as of January 1, at 1.76 percent; that’s 68 percent of inflation. Are you happy with that?

“Absolutely. We were one of the last pension funds eight to nine years ago that could still index and now we are one of the first funds that can largely offset the increase in consumer prices. And as a board, we also have full indexation on our minds. We still need to have more discussions about whether and how we are going to do that. In addition, you always have to keep an eye on the premium and the coverage ratio.”

 

On top of that, the new pension system is coming: what changes will that bring?

“Fortunately, a lot will stay the same. Dutch people will continue to save money for the future, pension funds will still have money in their coffers for everyone, and every participant will continue to receive lifelong pension payments, even if you live to be 124. We will also continue to share the risks with each other: the short and longevity risks, belonging to the generation of bad luck or good luck, the occupational disability risk and the investment risk.”

 

The latter is the case in the solidary premium scheme, which the social partners at bpfBOUW have provisionally opted for. Why was a flexible premium scheme not chosen, in which members themselves can indicate with which risk profile they wish their pension contributions to be invested?

“In the solidarity contribution scheme, you have a larger pot to absorb investment risks and the returns will ultimately be slightly better. For the lowest possible premium, you get the best possible benefit in return. What’s more, you share the differences between generations that are going through worse or better economic times, between the unlucky and the lucky. That’s what I feel most comfortable with. I am a fervent supporter of the idea of collectivity; I firmly believe in the principle of solidarity.”

 

I am a fervent supporter of the idea of collectivity

But isn’t it a bit paternalistic to deny people the ability to make their own choices?

“I am not averse to a little paternalism. It starts with the obligation to accrue a pension: how paternalistic is that? But it does ensure that people don’t blow their contributions and that they have the certainty that they will have an income after retirement. Moreover, the more choices there are, the more stressful the choice will be. When you’re at the supermarket waiting for the checkout, you always feel like you’re in the wrong line. Murphy’s Law, right? I myself stood at the cradle of one of the first pension schemes in the early 1990s in which choices were introduced. What transpired: people didn’t know what to choose and were afraid they were doing it wrong. In the end, almost everyone chose the default option.”

 

An option in the construction industry is the heavy work scheme: construction site workers can stop working three years before the state pension age. How much need for that is there for this occupational group?

“Construction workers often start working at a young age. People who are in their final years before retirement have sometimes been working for nearly forty-five years! Plus, they frequently used to have to do a lot of heavy lifting. And if you always thought you could stop working at age 64 and the state pension age suddenly goes up to 67, that can be quite a shock. Then it’s important for the fund to make it clear to older construction workers, who may be running out of steam, that they can choose to retire early.”

How challenging is communicating with construction workers about a complex issue like pensions?

“We need to communicate with all our participants. Our target group is very diverse: from low-literacy to higher vocational education and university. So we communicate with participants at different language proficiency levels. In addition, the sector itself is very diverse: our participants are not only construction workers, but also, for example, carpenters or natural stone workers. And don’t forget our participants’ partners. We also deal with both young and older participants; that’s another thing to take into account.  If you break it down, pensions are not rocket science: on one end you put money in and on the other end a pension is paid out. But as pension funds, we like to explain it in detail and also explain all the complexities surrounding it. Some people like to hear all the details, but there are also people who are unsettled by that. So we communicate with participants at different levels and through different channels.”

 

By old-fashioned letter?

“You can’t reach everyone by email. It was the same at PBL. During a meeting, I once asked participants to provide their email addresses. After all, this is the quickest and cheapest way for the fund to communicate. Afterwards, someone came up to me and said that he did not have an email address. He said he couldn’t read. I learned so much from that. So, at bpfBOUW we still communicate with some people by letter, which the son or daughter can then read to them on Sunday. We also have a helpdesk, which can take people by the hand when making pension decisions.”

 

The construction industry has a relatively large number of Eastern European employees, who work here temporarily but keep their home country as their domicile. What challenges does that create?

“A pension is something you have to apply for. You have to register with the pension fund as a participant. But we know that many participants don’t do that. So we try to provide as many pensions as possible to people who are entitled to them. But then you do have to be able to find those people. That is a challenge with people who live abroad. Fortunately, it seems to work quite well at bpfBOUW. Communication is also more difficult with this group of participants, of course.”

 

Are we most effective by getting out of investments in oil and gas companies, or by using our influence as a shareholder?

How do you, as a board, deal with the investment policy of bpfBOUW and what dilemmas do you experience in that regard?

“We do not experience a dilemma between returns and sustainability. On the contrary, we believe that the returns of organizations without a good sustainability policy can come under pressure in the long term because of the risks they run. We do have discussions within the board about responsible investment: how do we approach it, how far do we go? For example, we got out of tar sands and we removed many raw materials from our investment portfolio. This immediately excluded many investments in fossil fuels.”

 

ABP has decided to stop investing in fossil fuels altogether. Do you feel social pressure to follow that example?

“Action groups see ABP’s decision as a success. They’re focusing first on the largest pension funds, such as PFZW (Pensioenfonds Zorg en Welzijn, ed.)(Care and Wellbeing Pension Fund). But I expect they’ll eventually come to us, too. Will that influence us? Yes, of course it will. But we are already looking closely at our investments in fossil fuels. We do still invest in companies like Shell. As a board, we ask ourselves the question: are we most effective as a pension fund by withdrawing from investments in oil and gas companies, or by using our influence as a shareholder?”

 

What style do you use as the chairperson of the board?

“As  the chair, you have to encourage less vocal people to give their opinion and slow down others. A discussion may be heated, but the atmosphere must be one of mutual trust. Everyone must be prepared to support the final board decision, even those with a dissenting opinion. As chairman you have to create a real team. I learned that from my mother: what is good for the team is also good for the individual members. There you have that collectivity idea again. But I also have my father sitting on my shoulder: he taught me the importance of integrity. My father was very honest; at times brutally honest. But he also applied the standards he imposed on others to himself. I am a reflection of that.”

 

Can you give an example?

“For example, I think you should not spend someone else’s money as easily as you spend your own. I am therefore more frugal with the pension fund money than I am with my own. The bpfBOUW Board immediately felt like a warm bath, by the way: everything works well and the atmosphere is great. That’s really nice, because then you don’t have to worry about who’s pulling on you, and you can focus on the important things: offering people peace and security with a good pension scheme and clear information. I try to look at everything from the perspective of our participants. They are my touchstone: is this a balanced decision and can I explain it? I also have our participants sitting on my shoulder every day, whether they are saving for their retirement or already enjoying their well-deserved pension.”

Who is Eline Lundgren?

To become an archaeologist or join the navy, just like her father: as an adolescent, Eline Lundgren (1960) had very different ambitions than becoming a pension administrator. A vacation job grew into an interest in actuarial science. While working at insurer Interpolis and actuarial agency Brans & Co, she almost completed her studies to become an actuary. She ultimately broke it off for a world tour through Thailand, Indonesia, China and Australia. Once back, she went to work as the head of the actuarial department at the corporate pension fund of paper manufacturer Buhrmann Tetterode. After that, she worked at consultancy firm AZL for three years.

 

In 2002, Lundgren started her own pension consultancy with several colleagues. They regularly did projects for trade union federation FNV, which asked her to become a pension administrator in 2011. Her first funds were Vlakglas and the Bakkersbedrijf. She was subsequently a director of the ING cdc and NN cdc (collective defined contribution) funds. In 2018, she became chairperson of BPL (Agriculture), a role she traded for the chairmanship of bpfBOUW in September 2021.

Volgende publicatie:
Swedish pension: not generous but rich in options

Swedish pension: not generous but rich in options

Published on: 4 March 2022

The second-best pension system in the world. That is what we have in the Netherlands, according to the annually published Mercer CFA Institute Global Pension Index, which includes 43 countries. Are other countries doing so poorly? Every two weeks, for twenty weeks, we delve into the system of a specific country. For this episode, we go back to Scandinavia, to the land of vast forests, Ikea and eight months of paternity leave: Sweden. 

 

Sweden ranks 8th in the Mercer rankings and is known as a country with an extensive social safety net. Its pension system is no exception. It starts with the mandatory accrual of a work-related pension through the first pillar (government pension), for employees as well as for the self-employed. Every Swede contributes just under 17.5 percent of their gross income for this purpose. Slightly less than 2.5 percentage points of this goes into a personal pension pot, which gets invested. Upon retirement, this accrued amount is converted into a regular benefit (annuity). The other 15 percentage points are used for a pay-as-you-go scheme. The amount of that pension depends on the premiums you have paid and the annual economic growth until retirement (with which the premiums are indexed). At that point, this paper pension pot is converted into lifetime regular benefits. For these benefits, the premiums of the working Swedes are used. The work-related pension is available once they have reached the age of 62. 

 

Guaranteed pension 

For residents born after 1938 who have accrued little or no work-related pension, there is also a so-called “guaranteed pension” of 9,765 euros (converted from Swedish Krona) per year (or 21 percent of the average income) in the first pillar. This pension grows in line with inflation and can be taken out once the age of 65 is reached. Also not insignificant: depending on income, a housing allowance of 660 euros per month is available to the retiree in Sweden.   

What is remarkable about the Swedish system is the freedom of choice. For example, participants can choose how their personal pension pot (for which they pay the 2.5 percent) is invested, as well as how benefits are paid. The accrued pension rights can be converted into a monthly payment of a fixed amount, with the recipient no longer running any investment risk. Those who do want to run that risk can have their pension money invested and then receive a pension that fluctuates along with the investment returns. 

 

Driver’s seat 
That’s quite a few schemes, and weve only mentioned the first pillar. Because about 90 percent of the population also takes part in a supplementary pension scheme of one of the four industry pension funds. The office worker fund ITP scheme, for example, for which participants contribute 4.5 percent of their salary from the age of 25 on (over a maximum of 47,400 euros annually). And here too, the participant decides. The premium can be put into a traditional savings plan, but also - somewhat riskier - into investment insurance. Moreover, the participant can choose which insurer will execute the scheme, which asset manager will invest the premium and how long the benefit period will be. The participant is also in the driver’s seat with regard to the survivors pension: he or she decides whether a survivors pension is accrued, how much and who receives it in the event of death (only partner or partner and children). The only limitation is that at least half of the deposit is put into a traditional savings plan 

Many Swedes opt for a limited duration of the (supplementary) pension benefit, for example ten or twenty years. Through the first pillar, someone with an average income already receives 56 percent of that as a pension-for-life. In Sweden you can continue to work past retirement age until you are 68 - with pension accrual (69 as of January 1, 2023). The age at which you can legally retire at the earliest (now 62) will go up to 63 in 2023, however, and by 2026 it will have gone up to 64. 
 
Swedish Joe Average 
The Swedish Joe Average receives about 56 percent of his income as a net pension: 24,760 euros. In the Netherlands, this is almost double (48,920 euros), while the price levels of the countries do not differ very much. In terms of adequacy, the Swedish system is therefore not in the upper echelons of the Mercer rankings (17th place).  

In terms of the sustainability of the system, the Swedes have their affairs in order (6th). In 1999, the system was overhauled and there was a shift from pay-as-you-go to funded financing (where the employee accrues his/her own pension through a pension fund). This makes the Swedish system less vulnerable to ageing.  

The Swedish pension system: Facts & figures 

 

Rating in the Mercer CFA Institute Global Pension Index 2021: B-Grade (“A system with a solid structure and many good features, but has a number of areas of improvement that keep it from belonging to the A-grade category.”)  


Structure
: Two-pillar system 


Financing
: Coverage (first pillar) and equity coverage (first and second pillars) 


Adequacy (Mercer ranking):
17th  


Sustainability (Mercer ranking):
6th 


Integrity (Mercer ranking):
16th  

 

 

0.5 

0.75 

1 

1.5 

2 

3 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Net pension  

34.7  

43.7  

56.2  

93.8  

123.7  

171.7 

Net replacement ratio 

65.1  

56.7  

56.2  

69.8  

75.3  

76.8 

Total net pension equity at time of retirement  

12.3  

10.7  

10.6  

13.2  

14.3  

14.5 

 

Explanation of schedule:  

The column under “1” shows the situation for someone with the average income. The column under 0.5 reflects the situation for someone with half of the average net income, etc.  


Net pension: the net pension someone receives as a percentage of the net average income.  
 


Net replacement ratio: the net pension that someone is left with, expressed as a percentage of that individual’s total earnings. 
 


Total net pension equity: value of expected benefits as a multiple of net annual income.
 

Volgende publicatie:
"What's important to us is that an employee gets insight into his financial situation"

"What's important to us is that an employee gets insight into his financial situation"

Published on: 2 March 2022

APG and Vattenfall have signed a contract under which the energy company can use Geldvinder for three years. Thanks to the digital platform, the 2400 employees of Vattenfall Netherlands can get started with their personal financial goals for now and in the future. Gertjan Meijer (HR Services Vattenfall) and Richard Coonen (COO Geldvinder) tell about the value of Geldvinder.

The goal of Geldvinder is that employees can work on their financial fitness in an accessible and proactive way. This means that they get insight into and control over their finances.  According to Meijer, this fits in nicely with the other tools that Vattenfall offers its employees. "We have a package of five products that allow our employees to work on their financial fitness. For example, there is the personnel fund, which can offer a loan to an employee in special cases. In addition, in collaboration with Nibud, we publish a newspaper about financial issues. For financial insights, an employee can already talk to an advisor of EBC Netherlands and for pension questions he or she can contact ABP. And as a final addition, there is now Geldvinder. That has been used for the past two years by our youth organization Megawatt. Partly thanks to their positive reactions, we decided to offer Geldvinder to our entire organization. The participants think it is a nice addition to our existing package and are pleased with the user-friendliness and convenience of the tool."

Vattenfall pays a considerable amount of attention to the financial situation of its employees. Is there a specific reason for this?
"No, but as an employer we think it is important to take good care of our employees. Part of this is to make financial problems a topic which can be discussed openly. In addition, as an energy company, we have to deal with customers who, for example, have difficulty paying their bills. We are in discussion with Nibud and municipalities, among others, about how we can prevent debt problems or notice them in time so that we can help. That contact with those customers also plays a role in the attention we have for financial fitness as an organization."

What purpose does Vattenfall has with Geldvinder?
"When people have financial problems, this can lead to sick leave or they might no longer function optimally. It is therefore important to make it a topic which can be discussed and to support employees in this as much as possible. We see Geldvinder primarily as a tool with which employees gain insight into their financial situation. For example, what their expenses are, and what is needed to save for certain purposes, such as a house, children or a wedding. That was still missing in the other products we offer. Momentarily, Geldvinder supports our people mainly digitally. In the long run, it will also be possible to accompany the digital support with actual conversations, but we do not yet know whether that adds anything to what we already offer."

An employer can do quite a lot to point out to his employees the importance of financial fitness.  But isn't it ultimately the responsibility of the employee himself?
"In the end, it is indeed. But as an employer you can act as a facilitator and we do that in this way. As Vattenfall, for example, we also pay a lot of attention to vitality. For example, employees can have a preventive health examination carried out or undertake activities aimed at fitness with a discount. Safety is also important in our company. You have to realize that not everyone has an office function at Vattenfall, there are also colleagues working in the power plants and at the wind farms. That work has risks that we handle carefully. As an employer, we continuously listen to our employees to find out what their needs are. Just like we do with customers. And it doesn't stop at the financial fitness or health of our employees. We for instance also promote what we call sustainable employability by offering our employees the opportunity to grow in our company."

Through Geldvinder, Vattenfall can keep an eye on the financial fitness of its employees. Are there no privacy concerns?
"It's anonymous.  And that's a good thing, because we don't want that information to come to us via Geldvinder. We have other ways to do this, such as a conversation between an employee and a manager. At Geldvinder, it's really about an employee gaining insight into his or her financial situation. With inflation making many products more expensive, Geldvinder can also help them with ways to save money. That is more important to us as an employer than that certain scores roll out and we do something with them."

Vattenfall is one of the 20 employers who helped APG set up the platform. Of those employers, 8 employers have now signed a contract, including the Vrije Universiteit and APG itself. APG is still talking with the rest of the partners about possible contracts. "As APG, we started Geldvinder two years ago because we wanted to promote people's financial fitness," says Richard Coonen (COO Geldvinder). "We think that's just as important as physical and mental fitness. APG and Vattenfall are on the same page in this respect. And just like APG, Vattenfall attaches great importance  to good employership and wants to support their employees in various ways based on social involvement. It is therefore nice to see that, as a large employer, they make Geldvinder available to their employees for at least three years."

Volgende publicatie:
“At the end of the month, my husband and I send each other a Tikkie”

“At the end of the month, my husband and I send each other a Tikkie”

Published on: 25 February 2022

How do you deal with work and money for now and in the future? Do you live from day to day or are you deliberately planning your financial future? And do you arrange ‘later’ yourself or are you participating in a pension fund?

Silvia Bogers (40) made the conscious decision not to have a joint bank account with her husband. 

 

Silvia Bogers (40)

Profession: Business coach

Weekly works: 45 to 50 hours

Income: Pays herself a monthly income of 1950 euro

Savings: 10,000 private, 18,000 business

Pension is arranged? Not yet really

 

What kind of work do you do?

“I have been an entrepreneur since 2014. That was not an instant success: the plan was to sell handmade bags - I believe I sold two. No surprise really; I didn't really know what I was doing, it was doomed to fail. I then started working as a software consultant. That was great, earning me a rather nice salary. In my last year I achieved a turnover of 127,000 euro, 120,000 of which in profit. And that with an average workweek of three days.”

 

So why did you choose to start doing something else?

“The work made me very happy for a long time, until it didn't anymore. I worked for healthcare institutions quite a lot and the lack of drive in that world started to annoy me immensely. I wanted to optimize cumbersome systems, for example, but was told they rather kept everything the way it was ‘because they only had to work for another fifteen years until retirement’. I started my current company as a business coach in 2019, as I was looking to make a more direct impact. Now I help other coaches and therapists to make their practice more successful. This makes me intensely happy.”

 

How many hours do you work?

“Forty-five to fifty hours. I worked in places where twenty hours of work used to be exhausting, but the work I am doing now actually gives me energy. I go to the office every day with immense pleasure. Just let me do my thing, I enjoy it way too much. I never work weekends, but I make long hours during the week. I consider myself an employee of my own company and want to earn the title of ‘employee of the month’ every time again.”

 

How much do you earn?

“Last year, the second full year in my new company, I realized a turnover of nearly 125,000 euro. I think an amount of 70,000 euro can be booked as profit. I pay myself a monthly salary of 1950 euro.”

 

Are you satisfied with that income?

“Yes, I am absolutely happy with that income. It was enough for last year. Next year, I want to realize a turnover of 500,000. The foundation is established, I have learned a lot and become increasingly better in what I do. A turnover of 350,000 euro, my original plan, would no longer be a challenge for me. Upon encouragement of my own business coach, I have therefore set that goal of 500K.”

 

How were you able to increase your turnover this quickly?

“I started working smarter. Scalability is a great way to spend your hours more lucratively. I provide online training for start-up entrepreneurs, for instance, partially providing me with passive income. The training has been developed and finalized and can be sold endlessly without considerable extra time and effort. Increasing your rates throughout the year also helps.”

I consider myself an employee of my own company and want to earn the title of ‘employee of the month’ every time again

How much do you pay on fixed costs?

“All in all about 800 euro per month for me and my husband together. I have paid off the largest part of the house and my mortgage currently amounts to only 440 euro per month.”

 

How do you divide the expenses?

“Differently than most people I think. I have consciously bought the house we live in on my own, so that won't be an issue should we ever split up. My husband pays me 100 euro ‘rent‘ per month. I pay for everything that needs to be done to the house. A new dormer, a new bathroom in the amount of 18,000 euro: I paid for it. We share the other expenses fifty-fifty, but we don't have a joint bank account. We have always done it that way, even when we weren't married yet. Exclusion of all community of property is officially not possible anymore, but that is actually the condition under which we got married. We have notarized that my husband only has access to my money once I have passed away. Finances are often cause for enormous fights when people break up and that is something we want to prevent.”

 

So, how do you handle any joint expenses?

“We use the app ‘Wie betaalt wat’ (Who pays for what) to broadly keep track of who spends what on groceries and such, and we settle the bills with one another at the end of the month. This means he sends me a Tikkie, or I send him one. We both know exactly where we stand. Precisely because we arranged our finances this way, we handle our money in a very relaxed manner. This might not work for others, but it feels good to us. And that's all that counts.”

 

How much savings do you have?

“I always make sure to have set aside about 10,000 euro in private savings. Half of that amount is reserved for vacations. I enjoy going on vacation, also on my own, and it feels good that this is always possible. In addition, my company has a savings account always amounting to 18,000 euro, providing me with a six months’ buffer. I furthermore have a pot for study and development which I want to supplement to 5000 euro. And then I still have a pot I call the ‘surplus pot’, currently amounting to 7000 euro. If that amount reaches more than 10,000 euro, I use it to pay off my mortgage. I still have a mortgage of 100K that I want to fully redeem this year.”

 

What do you spend much money on?

“On education, courses and training within my company. I enjoy learning new things and want to become even better in my profession. I pay 14,000 euro annually for the services of my own business coach. A rather large investment, but one that pays off. I also enjoy visiting the beautician and the hairdresser every six weeks, the sauna once in a while or going for dinner with my husband or friends. I enjoy everything I can do with my money more and more.”

 

Where do you save money on?

“We have had solar panels installed which will eventually be a considerable saving. I don't throw money down the drain, but I also don't live consciously frugal. I buy what I need and that's not really a lot. We cancelled our TV subscription nine years ago, for example, because we never watched. I also really don't need the latest phone: I use my phone until it's worn. The same applies to furniture and clothing. Friends sometimes say: ‘You have been wearing that same cardigan for fifteen years now, wouldn't you like to buy a new one?’ But I rather spend my money on experiences.”

 

Do you think about your old age sometimes?

“If you just started your own company, you don't have the financial leeway to set money aside for your pension. To me, redeeming my mortgage is part of my retirement provision. If I don't have a mortgage to pay, I need a lot less money to earn my keep. The pension I accrued so far working in employment probably doesn't exceed a couple of euros per month. With the turnover I intend to realize this year, I want to take an in-depth look at the possibilities.”

 

How do you envisage your life as a pensioner?

“On the one hand I tend in the direction of working until a high age. On the other hand I think: a 70 years’ old business coach, I don't know… I think I want to travel a lot. Maybe I still want to contribute to society in a way, but maybe not. I mostly hope to reach the pensionable age in good health, so I can still enjoy my life. That's also what I am doing right now: I really enjoy working.”

Volgende publicatie:
“In the preparations for the new system, young people are less able to make their voices heard”

“In the preparations for the new system, young people are less able to make their voices heard”

Published on: 24 February 2022

APG’s Lars Aussems in Financial Investigator on how youngster-proof the new pension system is

 

How do young professionals perceive the new pension system? And what will be changing for younger pension fund participants, taking the current state of affairs as a starting point? Financial Investigator provided an answer to these questions in an online article. The article portrayed, among others, Lars Aussems, Project Manager within APG’s program Pension of the Future. “In the preparations for the new system, young people are less able to make their voices heard. And that gives me cause for some concern.”

Pension continues to be something of the future for young people. They don't follow the discussions regarding the new pension system, but are focusing on other matters such as study, income, obtaining a house and making it through the pandemic.
Financial Investigator asked eight young professionals in the reasonably aging pension industry about their visions on the changes to the pension system. What are the changes young people need to consider? And is the new pension system youngster-proof?

Sharing risks

Lars Aussems sees many good sides to the new pension system for young people. “The positive aspects of the current collective system remain intact. That's something to point out to young people. We have something great; it is there when you need it and the principle of collectivity remains unchanged. Together you share the risks you won't be able to bear on your own.”

An important improvement, in particular also for young people, is that the new pension system assumes a personal pension capital, Aussems continues. “That provides a solution for the current concerns among young people that there won't be any pension left for them to benefit from in the future. It shows there will be capital available to them. The abolition of the average system also is a positive change. It ensures a fairer redistribution among younger and older people and will result in the new situation in a better alignment with the flexibilization of the labor market.”

Cause for concern
The Project Manager Pension of the Future also indicates that, from the perspective of young people, there is also cause for concern. “The constituencies of the trade unions have a weightier voice than young people when it comes to the balance of interests. Older people are overrepresented in these groups. Young people generally show little to no interest in pension and also not a lot of motivation to deepen their knowledge. That is mainly reflected in the considerable under-presentation of young people in the management boards of pension funds and accountability bodies. In all of those preparations for the new system, young people are therefore less able to make their voices heard. And that gives me cause for some concern being a pension professional, but also as a younger person.”

 

The conclusions drawn by Financial Investigator after talking to Lars Aussems and the seven other professionals, can be read in the article Young professionals over jongeren en het nieuwe pensioenstelsel (Young professionals on young people and the new pension system).

Volgende publicatie:
Greek pension is generous and meager at the same time

Greek pension is generous and meager at the same time

Published on: 18 February 2022

The second-best pension system in the world. That is what we have in the Netherlands, according to the annually published Mercer CFA Institute Global Pension Index, which includes 43 countries. Are other countries doing so poorly? Every two weeks, for twenty weeks, we delve into the system of a specific country. For this episode, we go the Mediterranean again, to the land of olives, the Parthenon and mythology: Greece.

 

In Greece, pensions are largely funded from the state coffers. During the Greek debt crisis, which broke out in 2010, the government therefore had to reduce pensions several times. As a result, some Greeks had to surrender up to half of their pensions. In 2020, the highest court in the country ruled this to be partially illegal. As a result, the government decided to return a total of 1.4 billion euros to duped pensioners that same year.


Disabilities

The country is now financially back on its feet, but aging is still a major problem there. Greece is one of the most aging countries in Europe; more than 20 percent of Greeks are older than 65. Reforms are therefore needed, but they are not exactly welcomed by the population. New pension plans were received with strikes and demonstrations in 2020. Meanwhile, the legal retirement age has been raised to 67, for men and women who have paid pension contributions for at least 4,500 days (equivalent of 15 working years). Exceptions apply to Greeks who have a heavy occupation or have to work in unhygienic conditions. The same applies to residents who care for children, brothers or sisters with disabilities. Those who would like to retire earlier can stop working from the age of 62. For every month worked less than the 67 years of age, 1/200 will be deducted from the pension. 

 

No one’s getting rich

The Greek equivalent of our government pension does not depend on income and is therefore the same for everyone (with the aforementioned condition that you have paid contributions for 15 years, but have also lived in Greece for 15 years). This provision is not a bed of roses: 384 euros per month. A considerable contrast with our government pension, which amounts to 1,244 euros for people living alone and 838 euros for people who live together or are married.

 

Not lavish

The supplementary pension is also regulated by the government in Greece. It is compulsory and, like the Greek government pension, is financed on a pay-as-you-go basis (the working people all pay for the pensions of the pensioners). The maximum amount over which you can accrue pension is 6,500 euros per month. The obligation applies only to employed people. Self-employed people can choose to participate in the supplementary pension plan. Before 2020, the self-employed person’s income determined the pension contribution, but after that they were given the opportunity to choose between six insurance categories each year. The higher the category, the higher the monthly premium payment and the pension ultimately received.  

 

Sword of Damocles

If you consider that a Greek with an average net income receives no less than 83.6% of that net income as a pension, then you can safely call that generous. Someone who earns half of that average net income in Greece even gets 94.1% of it back as a pension. But don’t be too hasty to conclude that you’re better off in Greece. The average income in Greece is considerably lower than in the Netherlands. Including the government pension, a retired Greek will receive an average of only 17,670 euros per year in 2020. In the Netherlands, that amount is almost 49,000 euros. Moreover, the Greek pension system relies heavily on pay-as-you-go funding. As a result, the ageing of the population hangs over pensions like the sword of Damocles.

The Greek pension system: Facts & figures

Structure: Single-pillar system, with an income-independent government pension and a supplementary scheme that is mandatory for employees (self-employed can choose).

 

Funding: Pay-as-you-go.

 

 

0.5

0.75

1

1.5

2

3

Net pension

53.2

69.4

83.6

109.2

132.8

173.0

Net replacement ratio

94.1

87.8

83.6

79.2

77.5

76.4

Total net pension equity at time of retirement

17.3

16.1

15.4

14.6

14.3

14.1

 

Explanation of the table:

The column under “1” reflects the situation for someone with the average net income. The column under 0.5 reflects the situation for someone with half the average net income, etc.

 

Net pension: the net pension someone receives as a percentage of the net average income. 

 

Net replacement ratio: the net pension that someone is left with, expressed as a percentage of that individual’s total wages.

 

Total net pension assets: value of expected benefits as a multiple of net annual income.

Volgende publicatie:
‘Vacation is my biggest financial priority’

‘Vacation is my biggest financial priority’

Published on: 16 February 2022

How do you deal with work and money for now and in the future? Do you live from day to day or are you deliberately planning your financial future? And do you arrange ‘later’ yourself or are you participating in a pension fund?

Soraya Koendjbiharie (34) spreads out her income over 18 pots, of which the pot ‘vacation’ is the most important one to her.

 

Soraya Koendjbiharie (34)

Profession: Coach and consultant

Weekly works: Between 32 and 42 hours

Income: 2700 euro per month

Savings: Has a buffer of 6 months in salary plus 18 savings funds

Pension is arranged? I am working on it

 

What do you do for a living?

“I started as an independent entrepreneur two years ago. I work as a change and communication consultant for the central government, as a personal branding coach and as a work-life balance coach.

 

What's that work-life balance like in your case? Because it sounds pretty busy.

“The balance is good 90 percent of the time, but there are some weeks in which I am a bit too busy. I will then consciously take a vacation and/or a break and make sure I have no or less work after that, instead of just continuing. I am very careful consuming my energy. It has become even more important to me to unplug sometimes since I became an entrepreneur. You have the freedom to take on everything you want, but that is a pitfall at the same time. That's the reason why I really plan my days off.”

 

How much do you earn?

“I always make sure I am able to pay myself a monthly salary of 2700 euro. That's an amount I can afford every month. I rather not share my revenue, which of course differs on a monthly basis, but that's usually well above my salary.”

 

Is it enough?

“Yes, I am very happy with it. I would not want to pay myself any more than that. More revenue is always nice, but not at the expense of my work-life balance. Especially in these difficult times, I am truly grateful that I earn the amount I earn. I only have little to wish for.”

 

How much do you pay on fixed costs?

“I purchased a home on my own back when I still was in paid employment. My mortgage payment amounts to 1200 euro. I reserve 120 euro per month for groceries and 80 euro per month for going out to dinner/drinks. I pay 110 euro per month on gas, water and electricity, 40 euro on insurances and 60 euro on internet. I pay my healthcare insurance annually because of the 2 percent discount that applies in that case. Oh, and the most important thing: I also reserve 500 euro per month for vacation.”

 

Wait a minute, 500 euro per month for vacation?

“Yes, I found out vacation is a priority to me. When I still worked for an employer as a department head digital communication and made 50 hours’ workweeks, I really needed vacations to be able to cope, regardless of how much I enjoyed my job. I noticed it contributed to my success. It is my way to stay productive and energetic. I always want to have the possibility to go on vacation and that's why I designed my salary as a vacation-first fund. I often go to Greece - no less than ten times per year at its height – and don't want to have to struggle if I feel like ordering an extra cocktail or go out for lunch in a fancy restaurant. Having enough money to be able to enjoy life, that's important to me.”

 

What else do you spend much money on?

“I love beautiful things and invest in a new piece of furniture once in a while. Other than that, I don't spend a lot of money. I kept track of all of my expenses in an Excel sheet for two years. That's how I discovered I made quite some impulse purchases in the drugstore and shops such as Action, and found I could do with a bit less. There didn't appear to be a need to cut down on other things, but I did start creating savings goals to handle my money way more consciously.”

 

Where do you save money on?

“In 2020 I didn't buy any clothes for a year. I had plenty of clothes, didn't go anywhere in that Corona year and wanted to live a bit more environmentally conscious. I was surprised to succeed so easily, because I love clothes and went shopping every month previously. I buy more consciously ever since that successful experiment. I also save on groceries: I buy these as much as possible with bonus discounts.”

 

 

Stress related to money is the worst stress possible. Money gives me freedom and freedom equals happiness to me

How much savings do you have?

“I don't want to share the total amount, but I keep a buffer of six months in salary. I set aside 600 euro per month of which I invest 200 euro and spread out 100 euro over several pots. In total I have 18 different pots for varying savings goals. I even have a pot for my wedding, should that ever occur. At the moment I am single but a girl’s gotta dream.”

Does money bring happiness?

“It makes everything a lot easier. I believe stress makes a person unhappy and stress related to money is the worst stress possible. Money at least ensures you don't have financial stress. Money gives me freedom and freedom equals happiness to me.”

 

Do you think about your old age sometimes?

“One of my 18 savings pots is a pension pot. I now need 2700 euro per month to be able to live a comfortable life, but I don't know how much that will be by the time I retire. I cannot see into the future. Will I still be single or do I have a family? Am I still an entrepreneur? What will happen in terms of inflation? What will be the state pension by then? I just assume I will always need that 2700 euro which means I have to accrue a considerable amount of money.”

 

What do you do to accomplish that goal?

“I took an investment course through Instagram. In my millennial bubble of entrepreneurs everyone is investing. I invest 200 euro per month. I hope that amount will provide for a decent pension. The pension I accrued in seven years of paid employment is not enough; I don't know the exact amount, but I do know I wouldn't even be able to pay for my groceries on those payments. I hope the combination of my investments, my already accrued pension, the state pension and my savings pot will eventually be enough.”

 

How do you envisage your life as a pensioner?

“I don't think I will be sitting idle. I want to continue doing things, maybe volunteer work, contribute to society. And for myself? The world appears to be much bigger than just the Netherlands and Greece, so I would like to travel and discover a lot more.”

 

Volgende publicatie:
Everyone should get a chance to work

Everyone should get a chance to work

Published on: 14 February 2022

As a convinced social democrat and member of the red family, Xander den Uyl, chairman of Pension Fund Work and (re)integration, puts his heart and soul into a good pension and more jobs for disadvantaged people in the labor market. "Companies should not exclude our participants, but include them."

 

Before the Covid crisis, the board of Pension Fund Work and (re)integration (PWRI) often did not meet at the office in Utrecht, but on location: at one of the sheltered employment companies. (Employees) Chairman and former trade unionist Xander den Uyl thinks it is unfortunate that the pandemic has made this impossible; he likes to be close to the disadvantaged people, for whom PWRI provides their pensions. This involves more than 200,000 pension accounts.

 

From becoming outdated and shrinking...

And that number is growing, because the fund is expected to add about 15,000 new active participants in one fell swoop. Here's the thing: in 2015, the government “locked up” the social workplaces and the Participation Act was passed. People with disabilities had to work in regular companies from now on. PWRI therefore did not get any new participants, the fund has become outdated and has shrunk in the past six years.

 

… to rejuvenation and growth

This is now going to change. Recently, a new CBA was signed for disadvantaged workers who are seconded by municipalities to local companies, for example in the provision of green space and cleaning. This CBA includes a pension plan, which is accommodated by PWRI. Den Uyl is pleased with the expected new participants. "Growth and rejuvenation will help us as a fund to continue to operate in the future and to provide a good pension for a group of people who really need it."

 

What is special about a pension provision for disadvantaged people?

"Some of our participants are very capable of standing up for themselves, but many others need support in their lives and with work. The security of a good pension is very important for this group. These are often people with a low income: minimum wage or slightly above. Our pension scheme therefore has a low franchise, so that people accrue a pension on their salary more quickly."

 

With inflation looming and people being able to buy less for their pension euro, how important is indexing?

We are in good financial shape as a fund: our policy coverage ratio is 113.3 percent. You can start indexing from 110 percent, which is what we will do from 1 January. That's unusual, because in the past ten years we've only been able to do that three times. But just like the previous times, we are still far from complete price compensation. If the indexation rules are broadened later, we might be able to do that next year. But first we want to know exactly what the rules will be. We also need to exercise caution: interest rates could fall again, as could equity markets, which could reduce the funding ratio. But if we can, we will index; that is our ambition."  

 

What motivates you to get involved specifically with these participants?

"As a board we feel very involved with our target group. Some board members have people in their immediate circle who are disadvantaged. I don't have that myself, but I did grow up in the social democratic tradition. It's a tradition that I've inherited and that forms the common thread in my life and career. I have been a member of the Labor Party for years and worked in the trade union movement for thirty years. There I was also able to look after the interests of our members in the sheltered employment sector; that was a good time. I am a member of the red family; that is where I feel at home. I am also on the board of PWRI on behalf of the FNV and I do that with conviction. As an old social democrat, I feel strongly motivated to help support this group of people in society."

 

Pension is a complicated subject. How do you communicate about it?

"Our target group is diverse and we adjust our communication policy accordingly. Some of our participants are very language literate and use the internet and social media. We can communicate with them digitally. Other participants are less language-savvy and have not made the digital transition. For that group, we still need to use paper-based communication and the language must be as simple as possible. We also tried visual communication. It looked good, but the message was not picked up enough. We first test all our communications with a focus group. This group consists of people who are close to the workplace and who have a better idea of what is going on there."

How do you reach participants with intellectual disabilities?

"Some need the help of someone else to understand our emails and letters, make pension choices and stand up for their interests. That is why we work with a system of case managers. We ask participants to voluntarily appoint someone close to them to help with pension administration and our communication as a fund. When a letter about the pension arrives, the participant can put it on the shelf until the case officer arrives. He or she can discuss what it says. Because of privacy laws, we register each case manager and only inform them if participants have given their permission."

 

We are facing a new pension system, with more personal responsibility. How will this affect the PWRI participant?

"The social partners have expressed a preference for the solidary premium contract (in which the amount of the premium the employer and employee pay for the pension is fixed, ed.). As a board, we can understand that. Many of our participants find it difficult to make choices. Even now, little use is made of the options offered by the existing system, such as retiring early, part-time and surviving dependents’ pensions, high-low constructions or a lump sum payment. This will not change in the future. The premium contract also fits in well with the sense of solidarity in social employment. If you are socially marginalized financially, there is a greater tendency to work together. I also recognize myself in that solidarity principle. I come from a collective thinking background: the common good must outweigh individual interests. Some people may think that's outdated, but it still holds true for this group of participants."

 

Your fund focuses on sheltered employment. How socially responsible is the pension capital of approximately ten billion euros being invested?

"About six years ago we made that a priority. We consciously invest 100 million euros annually in fifty listed companies that offer disadvantaged people the opportunity to work. We enter into discussions with these companies to encourage them to take concrete steps and to qualify for the Social Performance Ladder. The PSO was developed by TNO to independently measure how inclusive employers are. How many people from our target group do they employ themselves? Do they work with suppliers who create opportunities for our participant group? We use our influence as a shareholder to ensure that companies include, rather than exclude, people with disadvantages in the labor market."

We consciously invest 100 million euros annually in fifty listed companies that offer employment opportunities to people with disabilities

Isn't this hundred million euros just a drop in the bucket?  

"Even with one or a few shares, you are already a co-owner and can have a say. Moreover, listed companies are sensitive to their reputation. We actively ask questions at shareholders' meetings: what are you doing as an employer for people with disabilities? We have also made demonstrable progress in those six years: the number of companies using the PSO ladder is increasing. But it takes time."

 

So it takes patience. Are you a patient man?   

"No, patience is not in my character. But here I am thinking: this really needs a long-term approach. And as a pension fund, fortunately, we can make that long-term commitment. Incidentally, we also invest in social bonds (bonds used to finance social projects, ed.) and we want to make a contribution to social and sustainable housing construction in the Netherlands. We do that by investing in loans from the Social Housing Guarantee Fund, which helps housing corporations with funding through guarantees. Many of our members have to rely on social housing, so why should we invest in expensive real estate that they will never be able to afford anyway? In addition to a good pension, we want to help ensure a pleasant living environment and a sustainable society. Climate is also a priority in our investment policy."

 

How far will you take that?

"We were one of the first pension funds to invest in green bonds (bonds to finance environmental and climate projects, ed.). Nice, but we have been overtaken by time: investing in green bonds has become normal. We are now working on the next step: making our entire portfolio climate-neutral, net zero, to help limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. According to the Paris Agreement, that goal must be achieved by 2050, but we want our investment portfolio to be climate-neutral preferably as early as 2030. We are now looking at how we can go about that. Stopping investing in fossil fuels is on the table, yes, but not immediately. As a pension fund, we are dependent on the economy we invest in. Ultimately, the companies themselves will have to become climate neutral, although as investors we can influence that."

We want our investment portfolio to be climate-neutral preferably as early as 2030

You will be president of PWRI for one more year; in September 2023 you will step down as chairman of the board after three terms. What do you want to leave behind?

"Three things. First, I hope we have a clear strategy by then to be climate-neutral with our investments by 2030. I also hope that in 2023 we will be ready for the transition to the New Pension Contract. And finally, I hope that PWRI can look to the future as a growing and independent fund. We were to merge with PFZW (Pension fund Care and Wellbeing, ed.) in 2016. That was postponed at the time due to falling funding levels and unstable financial markets. Next year, we are going to do a reorientation on the decision in principle to merge. In the meantime, I think it would be better for us to continue under our own steam."

 

Because of those 15,000 new participants expected to join?

"With new participants, we can continue to offer an attractive premium and sufficient continuity. But in addition, as an independent fund we are better able to offer a pension plan that is tailored to our target group. I always hate to say it, but our participants live shorter lives on average because of their disability. They generally have less time to enjoy their pensions. As a result, we are actually cheaper than other funds. Perhaps you could use that financial advantage to allow our participants to retire a little earlier, given their lower life expectancy. There is now a temporary Early Retirement Scheme, which could be made permanent. The Board of Trustees is not responsible for this; it's a matter for the social partners. But I think it would be good for our participants. After all, it's for them that we're doing it all."                  

Who is Xander den Uyl?

 

Xander den Uyl was born in Amsterdam in 1953, the son of former Prime Minister Joop den Uyl and Liesbeth den Uyl. He studied economics at the University of Amsterdam. After his studies, he became a policy officer at trade union Abvakabo/FNV, where he worked for a total of three decades (with a three-year interlude as director of the province of North Holland). From 2004 to 2010 he was union secretary.   

 

Since 2010, Den Uyl has been a full-time director and supervisor in the pension world. He is currently employee chairman of the Pension fund Work and (re)integration (PWRI) and board member on behalf of the ABP pensioners. Den Uyl also specializes in sustainable investment. For the past six years, for example, he has been a member of the board of PRI (Principles for Responsible Investment), a United Nations-supported international network of investors working together on the global implementation of six ambitious principles for responsible investment.

     

Volgende publicatie:
Belgian pension system is on a collision course

Belgian pension system is on a collision course

Published on: 11 February 2022

The second-best pension system in the world. That's what we have in the Netherlands, according to the annually published Mercer CFA Institute Global Pension Index, which includes 43 countries. Are other countries doing so badly? Every two weeks, for twenty weeks, we delve into the system of a specific country. For this episode, we're looking a little closer to home. We're going to the land of the Rode Duivels, specialty beers and Manneken Pis: Belgium.

 

Belgium occupies the 17th place in the Mercer rankings and, with a C+ rating, its pension system is in the same group as the US and France. An adequate pension, but in a system that is far from sustainable. This is how you could describe the situation in Belgium.  

With a few exceptions (such as, e.g., judges and miners), the retirement age in Belgium is 65. In 2025 and 2030 it will be raised to 66 and 67 respectively. Not so long ago, women were allowed to retire earlier than men, but this was equalized in 2010. In the past, many Belgians used a scheme that allowed them to retire earlier, which led to the fact that in 2008 only one in three people over 55 were still working, which is not desirable. Today, more than half of those over 55 are working, but only 37.5 percent of 61-year-olds are still working. 60 is the minimum age at which Belgians can take early retirement, after 44 career years, 61 after 43 career years and 63 after 42 years. On average, men in Belgium still enjoy 21.2 years of retirement, women 25.5 years.

 

Less advantageous

Like the Netherlands and Germany, Belgium has a first pension pillar that is financed on a pay-as-you-go basis. In the first pillar, the employed together pay for the old age of the pensioners. In contrast to our state pension, the amount of the state pension in Belgium depends on the amount of your salary and the number of years you have worked (in the Netherlands it is a fixed amount). In principle, you receive 60 percent of your salary as a pension, unless your partner is financially dependent on you. In that case it is 75 percent (this percentage is used if the sum of your and your partner's pensions is less advantageous at 60 percent).

 

As you can see, the Belgian state pension depends on what you earned in your working life and how long you worked. But there are also some guidelines to guarantee a certain minimum pension, under certain conditions (2021: 1440 euros per month for a single person and 1800 euros per month for a household). And there is a limit on the income over which you accrue pension rights in the first pillar. In 2019, this was an annual income of 59,615 euros. 

 

Financial safety net
In addition to the state pension, there is also a financial safety net for the elderly in Belgium: the GRAPA (Garantie de revenu aux personnes âgées). If you share a household with someone else, you are entitled to 9,235 euros per year. Do you live alone? Then you get a lot more, 13,852 euros. You will not receive benefits from the GRAPA scheme until you reach 65. The Belgian system also has a system whereby - under certain conditions - the pension accrual continues for those who do not work for a period of time. For example, a period during which you care for the children, but also during unemployment. 

A supplementary (second pillar) pension is not mandatory for our southern neighbors, in the sense that the employer or professional sector decides whether to set up a pension plan. But if your employer or sector has set up a scheme, it is mandatory for you to participate in it. In addition to these supplementary pension schemes, in Belgium you can buy (third pillar) insurance products as an individual, which are tax-deferred. 

 

45 years of employment
Self-employed people can receive a maximum of 1,500 euros as retirement benefits after 45 career years in which they paid social contributions. In reality, the average is 751 euros. As an employee, you receive a maximum of 2,250 euros after 45 years of service, and the average is 1,281 euros. For civil servants, the maximum pension benefit is 6,800 euros. In practice, the average is around 2511 euros. Someone with an average income receives just under 62 percent of this in Belgium as a net pension.

All in all the pension of our southern neighbors is definitely not scanty, but that also comes with a price tag. The Belgian system relies heavily on pay-as-you-go funding. And the population in Belgium is also aging, meaning the decreasing number of people in employment have to provide for the pension of an increasing number of pensioners. If the system is not reformed, the aging society will hit the Belgian system in the center. In order to keep the system affordable, austerities in the decades to come are inevitable. 

The Belgian pension system:  Facts & figures

 

Valuation in the Mercer CFA Institute Global Pension Index 2021: C-Grade; in this case C+ (C-Grade involves “a system with some good qualities, but also major risks and shortcomings. If these are not addressed, it is questionable whether the system will be sustainable and adequate in the long term.”)

 

Structure: Two-pillar system, with participation in the second pillar mandatory only if the employer or sector concerned has a pension scheme.


Funding: Based on pay-as-you-go (first pillar) and equity funding (second pillar).


Adequacy (Mercer ranking): 8th


Sustainability (Mercer ranking): 37th


Integrity (Mercer ranking): 5th

 

 

0.5

0.75

1

1.5

2

3

             

Net pension

54.9

55.9

61.9

72.9

72.9

72.6

Net replacement ratio

83.0

68.2

61.9

54.8

43.9

31.3

Total net pension equity at retirement

14.6

12.0

10.9

9.6

7.7

5.5

 

Explanation of chart:

The column under "1" reflects the situation for someone with the average net income. The column under 0.5 reflects the situation for someone with half the average net income, et cetera.

Net pension: the net pension someone receives as a percentage of net average income. 

Net replacement ratio: the net pension that someone is left with, expressed as a percentage of that individual's total wages.

Total net pension assets: value of expected benefits as a multiple of net annual income.

Volgende publicatie:
“I studied engineering but had to stop working when I got married”

“I studied engineering but had to stop working when I got married”

Published on: 1 February 2022

Was everything better in the past or does the ‘now’ also has its advantages? This new series reports on conversations between different generations about social themes.

Fusina Verloop (57) and her mother Lidy (92) are the first to take the stage. “Fusina does what I aspired to do.”

 

About each other

Fusina about her mother: “I admire her positivity, creativity and resilience. We have had two crazy years, but my mother did not become discouraged. She almost never complains and is more concerned about her hairdo. I inherited some of that joyful attitude to life.”

Lidy about her daughter: “Fuus is my source of support and my anchor. I can always count on her. We see each other at least once a week, sometimes more often.”

 

Emancipation

 

Working women used to be an exception back in the days. What was that like for you, Lidy?

“I studied engineering and worked as an architect for a couple of years, but I stopped working when I met Fusina's dad. I had five children in seven years’ time. That's the way it was back then. You had to give up work once you got married. It took me a lot of effort to accept that. I did use my architectural knowledge to keep the renovations in the house on the right track.”

Fusina: “My mother was always there for us. She managed the entire family. It is disrespectfully called ‘being a housewife’, but my father was only able to make progress in his career and earn money because my mum did everything else. When my dad passed away, in 1994, I was very curious to see how she would cope with that. She had always taken care of him and us, and would have been well in her right to just give up. But she started living her own life instead. She invested in friendships, picked up all kinds of things, took courses. I find that admirable.”

Lidy: “It was an entire new chapter in my life. I used to play second fiddle. My husband was in charge, I was the one taking care of the kids. When he died, I created a new life for myself. It didn’t feel as if there was an alternative; it came from my heart.”

 

How do you look at the working women of today, Lidy?

“I regret not having been one of those women myself. I would have loved to have a career. I had the skills and the knowledge, but those were different times. I think it's a great development that women are no longer only taking care of the children. I sometimes envy Fusina, hearing all the things she does. There are so many people in her inner circle, such an enormous network. A homemaker is home-bound. I truly enjoy her stories. She is doing what I aspired to do.”

Fusina: “You used to be very active in the past, right mum?”

Lidy: “Yes, I did a lot for the school and the tennis club. When the school's principal left, he said to me: ‘To me, you were the school's mother’. That says something about my commitment.”

 

Are there still steps to take in terms of emancipation?

Fusina: “I think we are definitely heading in the right direction but are still a bit behind compared to Scandinavian countries. We do the best we can. I am more in favor of natural evolution than all of us saying: things need to be done this way or the other. For example, I am not a firm believer in quotas for women. I also wonder to what extent women are willing to make the sacrifices required for certain high-level positions. Is that what they want if it means they are forced to spend less time at home, with their family? I don't have children myself, but it seems very difficult to me to combine work with a family.”

Lidy: “I think it's important for women to do what feels good. The most important thing is enjoying what you do.”

 

Prosperity

 

What was your living standard growing up?

Fusina: “We were relatively well-off.”

Lidy: “We always kept a tight grip on our expenditures, as that was something the wartime taught us. I still don't buy expensive stuff for myself. Although the children showed me that it's good sometimes to purchase high-quality items.”

Fusina: “I am the same: sparing in the basis, but I treat myself once in a while.”

 

What's your opinion on the current housing market?

Lidy: “I think it's a disgrace. Prior to my move to the nursing home in Baarn, I lived in Bosch en Duin for over fifty years. We purchased our detached house with a large garden 55 years ago for 85,000 Dutch guilders (nearly 40,000 euros, ed). That amount caused me many sleepless nights. And just look at the situation now.”

Fusina: “You can probably imagine the amount we sold the house for eventually. Fortunately, it was bought by a family who loved it just as much as we did because we sold it with pain in our hearts.”

 

Is a good life feasible for everyone in the Netherlands?

Lidy: “In general, I think we have a good life here compared to many other countries. Of course, there is poverty as well and some people experiencing misfortune. Life is also what you make of it.”

Fusina: “People used to spend their entire career at the same employer and that has changed. I have three sources of income. That's what I love about these times. It's not necessarily easy, but there are more opportunities.”

Lidy: “What you say is right. People used to be loyal to their employer. Someone changing jobs caused suspicion. You didn't just leave. People do now, but that also seems rather restless to me. Things used to be clearer in the past.”

 

I have three sources of income. That's what I love about these times, there are more opportunities

Solidarity

 

What's our level of solidarity these days?

Fusina: “I believe the Netherlands has one of the highest percentages throughout Europe when it comes to voluntary work, so I think we are definitely still solidary in that respect. Many messages in the media portray a negative picture but I see many good initiatives around me.”

Lidy: “I do believe the younger generation is very much me, me, me. But that probably has a transitional nature. Today's children are experiencing Corona which could lead to a counter-reaction.”

 

Did we pay more attention to one another in the past?

Lidy: “It was easier just paying someone a visit unannounced without having to make an appointment. That has changed.”

Fusina: “But you are not forgotten, right mum? The other day someone from the church stopped by to give you a Christmas decoration.”

Lidy: “Yes, it's true, people pay attention to me. That's also one of the reasons why I moved here, so I wouldn't be alone. Although one of my neighbors walked around my house every day when I still lived in Bosch en Duin, just to keep an eye on me.”

 

What do you do for other people?

Lidy: “I would like to do more should I have the opportunity.”

Fusina: “I am a member of the rotary in Amsterdam and chairperson of the charity committee. We collect money for good causes and I regularly bake cakes for families who have to make ends meet on a low budget. It's a small effort for me and it brings great pleasure to others. I also used to manage a kid’s cinema in a children's hospital for a long time and I gave hockey training to children with special needs. I believe it's a good thing to reach out to people who are less fortunate.”

 

Upbringing

 

What type of family did you grow up in, Lidy?

“I had two sisters; my mother was one of the first women who studied chemistry. There weren't many girls back then enrolled in that type of education. But she too became a homemaker after that.”

 

What message did you want to pass on to your own children?

“I have tried never telling them how things were supposed to be done, I rather showed them leading by example. I believe it works better if you show them something instead of putting it into words. I gave my children more freedom compared to my own youth. In the past, you just did what your parents told you to do. They expected a lot and resented you if you didn't behave the way you were supposed to. I wanted to handle that differently.”

 

What did you enjoy about your upbringing, Fusina?

“I was taught good standards and values. Being polite to other people, respecting others even if they have a different opinion. I have good memories of the rituals and traditions, holidays. My father always invited the entire family. And travelling has been good for us as well, as it opens your eyes on what is happening in other countries.”

 

What did you like less?

“That we never talked about religion.”

Lidy: “That's true. Your father would have none of it. I went to church, but he didn't like that very much. I should have talked about it more with you guys.”

Fusina: “You cannot do everything perfectly.”

 

To what extent have the standards and values changed in the past decade?

Lidy: “The style of living has become somewhat sloppier. People aren't as polite anymore. Not that I am such a good girl, on the contrary, people sometimes say I talk too much. But at least I try to listen to other people and to understand their point of view.”

Fusina: “Indeed, that's what my upbringing taught me as well. I have had some Americans visiting my house once who said they could talk to me about politics without arguing for the first time in their lives. I feel as if we are increasingly less able to have sympathy for other people's opinion in the Netherlands. That is a pity. We should be proud of the fact that we have this many political parties and the freedom to express our opinion.”

Technology

 

What do you think is good and bad about the ongoing technological progress?

Lidy: “The internet is a wonderful thing. You can search for everything. I do believe it's a shame that people hardly read anymore these days. That should be stimulated more. Reading places you into a different world, today's children spend a lot of time on their phone.”

Fusina: “On the other hand, I think it can also make children very creative, It’s impressive to see what some children are doing on TikTok. Those kind of things weren't available to us growing up.”

Lidy: “I am a bit concerned though. Children shouldn't forget they have friends to talk to. It's so impersonal just sending messages.”

 

Finally

 

What life wisdom would you rather have known sooner?

Fusina: “That you always have to determine your own course and listen to your intuition. You can become successful especially by doing the things you feel good about.”

Lidy: “I would have liked to know sooner that negative or sad things can also bring something beautiful. If you experience something sad with each other, it also brings you together. Such event also connects people. Bright spots can also be found in the lesser good times.”

Volgende publicatie:
“Not everything is a battle, I had to learn that”

“Not everything is a battle, I had to learn that”

Published on: 26 January 2022

How well are pension administrators taking care of their own pension? Emile Toes represents his colleagues in the management board of the staff pension fund of APG. Approachable and with a straightforward mentality, but also stubborn where needed. “Results are especially achieved when there's a certain degree of friction.”

 

During pre-Corona times Emile Toes was regularly approached by his colleagues at the coffee machine, being a manager of the staff pension fund of APG: “Tell me, why has the pension contribution increased?” Or: “I hear the partner pensions will be retrenched, what's that all about?”

“Those types of decisions have an immediate impact on people's wallets,” Toes says. “No wonder they have questions about it. I then try to explain why such decision is necessary and what factors played a role in the considerations of the management board.”

No, he has never secretly avoided the coffee machine and, with that, the confrontation with colleagues. “I consider it an advantage for us managers to be present in the workplace. How often do you meet an ABP manager as a teacher or staff member of the defense department? One-on-one contact is impossible if you serve millions of participants. For us, as a small and independent company pension fund, the threshold is low and the lines nice and short.”

Toes has been a manager for the past two years on behalf of the employees in PPF-APG, providing the pension for 7000 participants of whom 2200 are active. In daily life, he works as a business consultant at APG. In that role he calculates, among other things, pension schemes and thinks along about the service provision to the associated funds. Toes therefore wears different hats: he is an employee of APG, participant and manager of the own pension fund and, in that latter role, also a customer of his own employer. Some type of Droste-effect you could say.

 

How do you keep those roles separated?

“You always have to ensure avoiding any semblance of a conflict of interest. It helps that everyone is aware of my double hat, I am very open about it. I do not perform any direct activities for PPF in my daily work at APG. And if, for example, an advice of APG is discussed during a board meeting to which I contributed, I don't cast my vote but step out to drink a cup of coffee. It also is an advantage fulfilling those different roles. Because I know a lot about pension administration, I am able to provide the management board with plenty of input.”

 

Why do you think were you elected as a board member back then?

“I have no doubt that my fellow candidate would have been suitable for this role as well. Perhaps I was eventually elected because I don't want to be technocratic but open and accessible. Managers are like people: complicated political hassle sometimes occurs because they want to do justice to all the interests involved or want to convey a difficult message in a less disturbing way. But it's better to just be honest and straightforward: saying you had to make a tough decision that may have a negative impact on some people.”

 

Can you give an example?

“Take the retrenchment of the partner pension for instance. A decision made by the social partners which is then assessed and executed by the fund. That was quite a significant adjustment, but one that was needed to keep the pension affordable in the future. This led to concern and dissatisfied reactions from some participants. I will then explain such decision: one-on-one, often more than an hour. Those conversations are not always pleasant and sometimes it is impossible to reach substantive consensus. But the exchange of views is still valuable. Another difficult topic is indexation. For the fifth year in a row we will also not be indexing in 2022, no matter how much we may want to. Our policy coverage ratio is 107.5 percent, which is lower than the legal requirement of 110 percent, even though we are moving into the right direction. That's something we try to explain thoroughly, for example during the participants’ meetings or the annual pensioners’ day, which, by the way, are both held digital since Corona.”

 

It may become possible to index at a coverage ratio of 105 percent in the future. Good news?

“Yes, but you also have to look to the future. It should not be the case of us indexing and having to cut back again in two years’ time because the coverage ratio has decreased too much. We want to avoid yo-yo policy. Moreover, it has to be balanced: if the payment of pensioners increases, what will be the consequences for the active participants? That are the things we discuss in the management board.”

 

And you obviously represent the interests of the employees within the board…

“The management board is constituted with equal representation: we have seats on behalf of employers, pensioners and employees. But we are not segregated, as managers we all look beyond the party we represent. It involves a lot of money and major interests. This means I cannot afford only highlighting the perspective of the active participants. I am a member of the board on behalf of everyone, also the pensioners and the sleepers.”

 

Not all employees of APG participate in the staff pension fund. Several hundred employees are accruing pension through ABP. Does that lead to mutual tensions?

“It is the product of historical development. If two employees hold the same position but are both participating in a different pension fund, a comparison can easily be made. The coverage ratios are not equal, for instance. People also often think that we are more expensive than ABP. Indeed, the fixed costs are a challenge for a small fund because those costs have to be distributed among a smaller group of participants. That is why we, as the management board, aim for a further decrease of the costs every year, both in terms of administration and asset management. The investment policy is also compared quite often as we are both relying on APG for our asset management. When ABP announced to no longer invest in fossil materials, the staff pension fund also received questions from participants: ‘Will you be abolishing investments in fossil fuels as well?’ Or actually: ‘You won't be abolishing investments in fossil fuels, do you?’”

As an individual investor, that amount of 1.7 billion does not gain us a lot of clout on a global scale, that's true

And what was your reply to those questions?

“We want to take our time for careful deliberations on that matter. As the board, we work according to a certain model: Imaging, the formation of an opinion and decision-making. The first thing we are doing at the moment, is thoroughly mapping all consequences. We also consider the base of support among our participants. As it happens, we had just conducted a survey on responsible investing prior to the decision made by ABP. About 70 percent of the respondents believes we are allowed to be somewhat ambitious in that field. We also received questions from participants earlier this year about our interest in mining company Glencore, due to human rights violations during the extraction of cobalt. As the management board we then decided to no longer invest in Glencore.”

 

How much influence can you exert with invested assets of 1.7 billion euros, versus the hundreds of billion euros invested by ABP as the largest pension fund of the Netherlands? Don't you feel like a tiny mouse opposite a giant elephant?

“We are mainly seeking cooperation with other parties. As an individual investor, that amount of 1.7 billion does not gain us a lot of clout on a global scale, no, that's something you have to be realistic about. A fellow member of the board described that somewhat ironically the other day, with a fictitious newspaper headline: ‘PPF-APG gives China its final warning’. Yet, as the management board we are one hundred percent committed to realizing an as good as possible and responsible pension for our participants using those assets, regardless of the volume thereof.”

 

Many pension funds struggle with the communication towards their participants who find the information often way too complicated. You probably don't have those difficulties.

“There are plenty of people working here who are able to calculate the contribution themselves, that's true. But we also have participants whose UPO, the Uniform Pension Overview, is immediately tossed into a drawer. There are of course also people working here who are involved in other things than pension administration, such as IT or data management. Moreover, our communication also has to be understandable to partners and children of participants. This means we are just sharing all the basic information. At the same time, a relatively high number of participants have indeed more knowledge on pensions than the average company. So, at times we have to look for the proper level of communication. That is also one of the reasons why I like to engage in those personal conversations. Those conversations provide an opportunity for a more in-depth explanation.”

 

Why has PPF-APG not opted in the new pension system, given that higher level of knowledge, for the Flexible Contribution Scheme in which the participant bears more responsibility?

“The social partners have provisionally opted for the Solidary Contribution Scheme (in which investments are made collectively, ed). The decisive factor in this decision was the importance of solidarity. The Flexible Contribution Scheme does not allow for the sharing of investment risks. The choice is not final though, it is a working hypothesis. We do have the intention of switching to the new system as one of the first funds in the Netherlands, per January 1, 2025. A dual challenge: not just for us as the fund, but also for APG as the employer and administrative organization.”

An as high as possible pension at the lowest possible cost. That is what I am looking to achieve for our participants

Do you feel confident about that transition, wearing your hat of fund manager?

“I have no doubt whatsoever that the people within APG will be able to manage the transition to the new system. All the knowledge and expertise needed is available. And as a fund we are small and agile enough to ensure a smooth transition. We don't mind playing the role of pioneer. On the contrary, as the staff fund of APG we want to be a showcase for the transition. We are already making all the preparations. The new Law on the Future of Pensions requires, for example, that we ask participants about their view on handling risks in their pension. We will be conducting that risk preference survey in January. The next years will be busy because, being a small fund, we don't have an executive office. We get support from APG, but there still is a lot left for us to do ourselves.”

So, you almost have a second job you don't get paid for. What is your motivation as a pension manager? You wanted to become a physician once?

“Yes, I studied medical nursing care for a year, but that wasn't my thing after all. It was my childhood dream to become a physician, just like my four-year-old son is absolutely certain he wants to become a fire fighter. I do see some common grounds though between the medical world and the pension industry. Both industries revolve around the well-being of people and that's something I can also contribute to as a pension manager.”

 

With a sizeable dose of stubbornness, as you characterized yourself once. Is that hindering or helpful?

“Both. I am not easy to convince. But if I act too stubborn, there are plenty of people in the management board who can push me back into my place. My managerial position has also provided me with more appreciation for other arguments and insights. Not everything is a battle which is something I had to learn. My conviction has disadvantages, but also advantages. I truly stand for my opinion. People always know exactly what my opinion on certain matters is. If you don't take a stand, it will get you nowhere. Results are especially achieved when there's a certain level of friction during the discussion in order to obtain an as high as possible pension at the lowest possible cost. That is what I am looking to achieve for our participants. In addition, I also have a personal mission: being an accessible management board, really taking the time for our colleagues, regardless of whether good or bad news has to be conveyed about their pension. We are moving in the right direction, but there is always room for improvement.”

Who is Emile Toes?

His mother cut out an advert in the regional newspaper back in the days, seeking trainees for ASW, the pension fund for housing corporations. The company was looking for school-leavers without any knowledge of pensions. Emile Toes (1986) was perfectly fitting that profile. After a few years, ASW fused with Cordares, the pension fund for the construction industry, that in turn fused with APG. Toes moved along every time. His first pension role was employee Customer Team, fifteen years later he holds the position of business consultant at APG.

 

Gloves off

At the age of thirty Toes already was the (employees’) chairperson of the Accountability Council, advising and annually assessing the management of PPF-APG. As of February 2020 he has become a manager of the company pension fund on behalf of the employees of APG and five affiliated organizations. He inherited his discussion techniques from his home background, growing up as the youngest (and half of a twin) in a family with five children in Blaricum. Sharing thoughts during dinner about all kinds of topics: it was the order of the day.

Volgende publicatie:
“It's still nice not to be called a money-grabber”

“It's still nice not to be called a money-grabber”

Published on: 24 January 2022

Who are those people choosing to work in the pension industry? What is it they do all day for your pension? And do they truly enjoy their work? We take you with us to have a look behind the scenes.

Julian Steenman (26) is quant portfolio manager at APG. “People wrongly assume that a quant is a numb machine who is programming all day sitting behind a monitor.”

 

What does the work of a quant portfolio manager entail?

“A portfolio manager manages an investment portfolio. I work within the real estate team and participate in managing a real estate portfolio of APG.”

 

OK, and what is a quant?

“Quant stands for quantitative. It is a rather broad and vague concept in the investment world but in general, a quant is someone who looks at potential investments in a model-based and mathematical way. We try to explain the things happening on the stock exchange by means of mathematical relations, and cause and effect. In addition, we try to make sensible statements on what the future will hold. The field I am involved in specifically, is systemizing the investment process within the real estate team.”

 

How does that work?

“What we do within the real estate team, simply put, is answering the question: Do we want to invest in this? with either Yes or No. And ‘this’ can be a hotel for instance. The answer is always based on substantiated arguments and convictions. A large part can be standardized. We are working on a type of decision tree which has the question whether or not to invest at the top and that works its way down to more detailed information on why we should or shouldn't. By systemizing the process that way, you make sure everyone has to go through the same steps when making decisions. It also makes it easier to compare those decisions with one and other.”

 

How does one become such quant?

“If you studied mathematics or econometrics, the label ‘quant’ is easily applied. I studied mathematics at the university and gradually found out my interest for the financial world.”

 

Yet, ‘the financial world’ sounds a bit flashier than ‘the pension industry’. How did you end up at APG?

“I never really thought about the pension industry to be honest, but accidently ended up at APG to write my graduation thesis. APG is the largest asset manager in the Netherlands; that scale and complexity cannot be found anywhere else. I enjoyed it here so much that I decided to stay. So, I did a two years’ traineeship and have been working in this new job since October.”

 

 

And, no regrets yet about the choice you made?

“Absolutely not, I have definitely made the right choice.”

 

What do you love so much about this job?

“Multiple things. I consider the investment process a challenging, interesting puzzle. I also very much enjoy concretely contributing to the process itself, in together making sure that it gets increasingly easier to compare why we invest in hotel A and not in hotel B. That makes the process better to explain and also more transparent. And it's a pleasing plus that we serve a public interest. Yes, we are busy making money and we want to realize that by means of investments, but there also is an idea behind the reason. We do this to make sure the people will be receiving sufficient pension payments. I enjoy contributing to that goal, although that wasn't the initial reason for me to choose the pension industry. It's still nice not to be called a money-grabber.”

 

What drives you in your work?

“The fact that we invest for the pension of millions of people. That is quite different at many other asset managers where you try to earn money for a small number of millionaires. When I chose to write my thesis at APG, that wasn't my main motivation but I started to identify more and more with the missions of APG throughout the years. APG is a leading company within the financial industry in terms of sustainability, for example. Sustainability is important to me as well. I became a vegetarian a couple of years ago for environmental reasons. What drives me specifically in my work is unravelling that extremely complicated process involved in making an investment decision. And then to come up with smart, quantitative solutions gives me great satisfaction.”

When I am with friends, we always talk about my work at least once. They believe it's very interesting

How do people react when you tell them what kind of work you do?

“Well, they believe it's very interesting! I notice that many people started investing privately in the past years. So, everyone in my inner circle is very interested in what I do. Every time my friends and I come together in the evening, we always talk about my work at least once. They ask me, for example, what I am currently doing and how the entire investment process at such large asset manager goes.”

 

Good question, how does that investment process go?

“Being a private person, you click on a button and you purchase a share. But there are many steps preceding such decision at an organization like APG. You conduct a due diligence investigation, as they call it within the real estate world: you gather as much information as possible. Just to stick to that hotel example: say we consider purchasing a certain hotel, we will first analyze such hotel entirely. How old is the building, what is the state of the rooms, does it require renovation, is the management reliable? We look at a company-specific level, but also at the location. What is our expectation of the development of rental prices of hotels at this location and of the inflation? We then put all of those pieces of information together in a valuation model. The goal is to use the outcomes to apply a valuation tag to that hotel, enabling us to assess whether or not it is an attractive investment. If the answer is Yes, we present it to an investment committee where all of our arguments are looked into once again. Is our expectation of the room prices realistic, for example? Only if we are able to properly substantiate why something is a good investment, we get the green light and are allowed to submit an offer.”

 

How much money are you actually managing?

“The total value of APG's real estate portfolio is somewhere between 50 and 60 billion. We manage those funds globally with a team of a little over fifty people. If you look at it that way, we manage 1 billion euros per person.”

 

Do you invest privately as well?

“Yes, but only within the spectrum allowed within APG. Because we are professionally involved in investing, we are not allowed to buy individual shares in private. If you invest privately in a certain company, such as Philips, that could affect your decisions at work, or the other way around. We are allowed to invest in funds and trackers (‘baskets’ of shares following the price of the entire AEX Index, ed.), so that is what I am doing.”

 

What does your workday look like?

“I often start my day reading the news related to the stock exchange and real estate, so I am aware of what is happening. Then I make a To-Do list of the two or three most important things I want to finish that day. Those priorities always involve that valuation model I was talking about earlier or systemizing the investment process. We have five to ten people in our team working on those matters.”

 

Are you tied to your monitor all day?

“Good heavens, no. That is the image many people have of quants, that they are numb machines programming and modelling little things all day at their computer. But that idea would be horrifying. I am fortunately also interacting with colleagues multiple times per day. That is very important to me. No, I don't recognize myself in the stereotypical image of a quant at all.”

 

What do you do in your spare time?

“I exercise a lot and like to run. I also enjoy reading, like to play chess and am a big fan of travelling – too bad the latter isn't possible at the moment.”

What are the character traits making you fit for the work you do?

“Apart from the fact that I truly understand quantitative matters and are able to think in an abstract way, I am good in creating the bridge with people with a lesser numerical background. Explaining complicated matters as simply as possible is something I am rather good at.”

 

What do APG customers specifically notice in terms of your work?

“That would eventually result in the amount of pension paid every month. If our investment results are good – even though real estate is only a small part of the whole – customers notice that in the fact that we don't have to cut down and that indexation takes place. And systemizing the process, what we are currently doing, leads to us eventually being able to make even better decisions and making those choices even better to explain.”

Volgende publicatie:
Americans have to rely on themselves, also when it comes to pension

Americans have to rely on themselves, also when it comes to pension

Published on: 20 January 2022

The second-best pension system in the world. That's what we have in the Netherlands, according to the annually published Mercer CFA Institute Global Pension Index, in which 43 countries are included. Are the other countries really performing that poorly? Every two weeks and during twenty weeks, we delve into the system of a specific country. We cross the ocean for episode six, to the country of unlimited possibilities: America.


America – 19th on the Mercer ranking with 43 countries - is known as a country where a good social safety net and good health insurance are not taken for granted. The more you can afford, the more you have to fall back on. The more (entrepreneurial) risk you are willing to take, the more benefits are to be reaped in a financial sense. That is to say: as long as you succeed. Because Americans who are less financially successful, appear to be getting a rough deal. And that mentality is also to be found in the American pension system. Have you not or hardly accrued any pension, an old age in poverty awaits which cannot be compared to what we consider poverty in the Netherlands.


Inadequate

A reasonably sustainable system with an on average inadequate pension. That's the picture of the US, as portrayed by the scores in the Mercer Index. Every American who has worked for approximately ten years is entitled to Social Security, the government pension, in his or her old age. The average amount is 1540 dollar per month (18,500 dollar per year). The payment depends on the salary earned during your working life and the contribution paid, and amounts to a maximum of 3113 dollar (2733 euro) per month. There is no minimum benefit level. Only when you reach the pensionable age, the full benefits will be paid. In 2022 that age is 67 years old for people who are 62 years old or younger at that time. You are allowed to make a claim to Social Security at the age of 62, but then you will receive less (maximum 2324 dollar, or 2040 euro). Do you have an average income? Only half of that amount will be paid as pension in the US.


The Social Security system is progressive: participants with a high income receive a smaller part than participants with a low income. An American earning three times the average, does not even get paid 29 percent of that Social Security system as pension from the government. This means that the more you earn, the more you have to arrange yourself - for example by participating in the pension scheme of your employer - to avoid a massive decrease in income upon retirement. On average, the pension in America is 40 percent of the earned salary.

No mandatory participation

Approximately half of the employees in the American private sector participate in a pension scheme that's partly paid by the employer (in comparison: only one out of ten employees does not accrue any supplementary pension in the Netherlands). The US, contrary to the Netherlands, does not have mandatory participation in a pension scheme when you enter into service at a certain company. Periodic payment of pension therefore is no automatism, but something you choose consciously, although increasingly more auto-enrolment takes place (meaning you participate in the pension scheme automatically, unless you opt out).

These schemes usually entail a so-called defined contribution scheme. For these types of pension provisions, the contribution is a fixed amount but your pension payment is highly dependent on the performance of the stock exchange at the time of retirement. This is contrary to defined benefit pension schemes that offer way more security on the payment amounts upon retirement.

Short time of enjoyment
In the public sector (the government), all employees participate in a pension scheme that's partly paid by the employer. This is arranged by each state separately. It mainly concerns defined benefit funds but it currently is a trend to introduce defined contribution elements.

Although the US is the largest pension market in the world in terms of managed assets, the coverage ratio of the pension funds is much lower than in the Netherlands. And they also use a more favorable calculation method, according to Rob Bauer, Professor Institutional Investors at the University of Maastricht, in a previous article on apg.nl. The largest pension fund of America has a coverage ratio of approximately 70 percent. However, that coverage ratio would only be 30 percent should it be calculated based on the Dutch legislation.

Americans only have a relative short time to enjoy their pension: men for 16.4 years and women 19.8 years. The replacement rate is 70 percent which is comparable with the Netherlands (71 percent).


Insolvent funds

The pension funds in the US also don't shy away from taking risks and the American legislation provides these funds with plenty of room to take those risks. With disastrous consequences if things don't go as planned. American history shows quite some cases of pension funds going bankrupt, with an overrepresentation in the funds of airlines. The fund of United Airlines for example in 2005, with an outstanding amount in liabilities of 7.4 billion dollar, or US Airways in 2003 (2.8 billion dollar).

The American pension system:         Facts & Figures

Valuation in the Mercer CFA Institute Global Pension Index 2021: C-Grade, in this case C+ (C-Grade means “a system with some good features, but also major risks and shortcomings. If these issues are not addressed, the question is whether the system will be tenable and adequate in the long term.”)


Funding:
  Based on pay-as-you-go (first pillar) and capital funding (second pillar)


Adequacy (Mercer ranking):                   
27th       

Durability (Mercer ranking):                    10th

Integrity (Mercer ranking):                      37th

 

 

0.5

0.75

1

1.5

2

3

             

Net pension

32.2 

41.3

50.5

63.0

71.6

78.3

Net replacement rate

61.0

53.5

50.5

44.3

39.0

28.9

Total net pension assets upon retirement

10.7

9.3

8.8

7.7

6.8

5.1

 

Explanation table:

The column ‘1’ represents the situation for someone with the average net income. The column ‘0.5’ displays the situation of someone with half the average net income, et cetera.


Net pension: the net pension someone receives as a percentage of the net average income.


Net replacement ratio: the net pension remaining, expressed in a percentage of the total wage of the individual concerned.


Total net pension assets: value of the anticipated payments as a multiple of net annual income.

Volgende publicatie:
‘Most people don't understand what it is that I do’

‘Most people don't understand what it is that I do’

Published on: 11 January 2022

Who are those people who are consciously choosing to work in the pension industry? What is it they do all day for your pension? And do they truly enjoy their work? We take you with us to have a look behind the scenes. Latifa el Haddar (40) is all-round pension employee at APG. “To be honest: it sometimes drives me crazy altering an account number for the sixtieth time a day. But, luckily, not every day is this boring.”

 

‘All-round pension employee, that sounds like a jack of all trades. What is it you do exactly?

“I work at the department BTER, which stands for Bedrijfstakeigen regelingen (industry-wide schemes). I am engaged in all the additional schemes employers and employees of the BTER funds are able to utilize as per the CAO (Collective Labor Agreement). An example is the Tijdspaarfondsregeling (time saving fund scheme), intended for people covered by the CAO Construction & Infrastructure. Their holiday allowance and vacation days are deposited into a pot and we manage that pot. We are also involved in the Zwaarwerkregeling (heavy-duty labor scheme). That scheme, allowing employees to stop working sooner, can be applied for through our department. We will then make sure they get paid benefits until they are entitled to receive AOW (state pension). These people often use those benefits together with an early retirement. Participants currently receiving sickness or unemployment benefits, can also contact us to apply for a supplement arrangement. Our department is involved in a total of fifteen schemes.”

 

Does this mean your work is only indirectly pertaining to pensions?

“Yes, that's correct.”

 

Yet, you work in the pension industry. That industry is not known for being the most vibrant line of business.

“LOL, let's be honest: it can be extremely boring at times. It sometimes drives me crazy having to enter sixty account numbers in one day. But fortunately that's not the case on a daily basis.”

 

What is it you enjoy about your work?

“I enjoy being quite autonomous as a team. Our team consists of eight members and, if we believe things have to be done differently, we are able to take decisive decisions quickly and easily. The lines towards the management are short. I also very much enjoy the freedom I have. As long as you work the hours you are hired for, it doesn't really matter when you do this. A colleague of mine starts at five o’clock in the morning – rather her than me. You are able to log in whenever you want and if you go outside for a while in between, that's all good. There is no 9-to-5 mentality. That suits me.”

 

It probably wasn't your childhood dream to work at APG. How did you end up here?

“It came on my path really. After my HBO study, that I didn't complete because my parents decided to move back to Morocco in my third year and I had to face reality on my own, I worked for many temporary job agencies. At some point I was invited to a job interview at APG, or Cordares back then. During that same period I also had a job interview at Wibra, for the position of branch manager. I had to make a choice when both companies were willing to hire me.”

 

Why did you decide to opt for APG?

“After due consideration I decided it just wasn't my thing to open a store every day and to have full responsibility for such business. APG seemed like a nice employer offering plenty of prospect for the future. And that proved to be true. I have been working here for fifteen years now and was allowed to complete many training courses. I was able to obtain my green belt, for example, by learning to recognize improvements within processes. I am now holding the position of improvement specialist at my department. It is never an issue if people want to follow a training course or education. So, I am still glad to have chosen APG back then. Prior to my position at the BTER department starting four years ago, I worked at the customer service and was involved in pension for the construction industry, cleaning industry and housing corporations. I have meanwhile also joined the works council as a member. Every department has taught me something about myself. That entire journey through the company has shaped me into who I am today.”

 

Every department has taught me something about myself. That entire journey through the company has shaped me into who I am today

What do you tell people about your work at parties?

“Most people don't understand what it is that I do. If you say you work for a pension administrator but your work does not involve pensions that much, you already see some people raising their eyebrows. When I say I am an improvement specialist, the eyebrows are raised even higher. ‘Does this mean you are improving people all the time?’ People immediately think about karate when I mention my green belt.”

 

What does your workday look like?

“I usually start work around eight thirty. I work 28 hours per week and on Monday I check what else needs to be done apart from the standard production. We divide the work based on a sheet created upon my initiative. Everyone is free to pick up everything he or she wants to do. I usually opt for all the different flavors in order to keep my work as varied as possible. The questions we get have to be answered within ten workdays, but we always try to come up with a reply sooner. Now that we are all working from home, we make sure to organize a video call every day and to really switch on our cameras just to see one another. Other than that, we all perform our own tasks.”

 

When does your department move into action?

“The moment we receive a question from an employer or employee. Those questions are processed through the customer contact center, but also through portals of employers and through email. We have a separate inbox for every scheme. Participants do not call us directly, but I often contact them by telephone to handle certain matters. I find that more personal.”

 

What are the questions you receive most frequently?

“The top 3 is a bit embarrassing. What is my password? What is my login name? And: can you alter my account number? We have arranged the website in such a way that people should be able to find that information themselves quite easily, but apparently it is not the location for most construction workers to look for that information. They seem to find it easier to give us a call or to send an email.”

 

That doesn't seem like the most challenging work.

“No, and that's why you have to vary a little. Some questions are more challenging though. Employees in the construction industry, for instance, often want to know why their employer has not yet deposited money in their Tijdspaarfonds, or they ask about the procedure to provide their choice of trade union. Another example are employers asking how a certain calculation has come about. We have many schemes for which calculations have to be made, so not everything is easy. It is very diverse actually.”

 

What is it that gives you satisfaction?

“When I manage to implement a change my team supports and derives energy from.”

 

What would your immediate colleagues say about you if we would call them now?

“That I am very straight-forward. You can leave it up to me to name the elephant in the room. I am not afraid to give feedback and regularly ask for it myself. I am clear in what I need and I am very open. That also ensures a connection, I think. According to my manager, I am a natural driver within the team. I have no problem making people understand why certain things have to be done. It is not hard for me to set priorities; I actually enjoy it. I am good in maintaining an overview.”

 

What else do you do in your daily life?

“I am quite a busy bee. I am a member of the participation council at the school of my children, three girls aged 16, 14 and almost 10. That's how I get a better understanding of how education works and what is going on. I also volunteer at the karate club, as I enjoy being involved with young people. They call me ‘miss’ at that club, while I am only taking care of the membership administration and sometimes attach a belt if the children cannot do it themselves. I don't practice karate myself, but I am practicing kickboxing. I also attend spinning and zumba classes. I am actually always doing something. What I do to relax? Practicing sports is relaxation to me. But I also enjoy reading. I am a huge fan of Stephen King and own all of his books.”

What do pension participants specifically notice in terms of your work?

“Not much. We sometimes receive questions from participants. Whether they are allowed to use the money from their Tijdspaarfonds to retire early, for example.”

 

And, are they allowed?

“No.”

Volgende publicatie:
Spanish pension is generous, but unsustainable

Spanish pension is generous, but unsustainable

Published on: 7 January 2022

The second-best pension system in the world. That's what we have in the Netherlands, according to the annually published Mercer CFA Institute Global Pension Index, in which 43 countries are included. Are the other countries really performing that poorly? Every two weeks and during twenty weeks, we delve into the system of a specific country. We make our way south to the country of Dalí, Picasso and tapas: Spain.

 

The amount Spain is paying on pensions is tremendous. Apart from Greece, the total amount paid on pension is the highest in Europe. That is mainly due to the fact that Spaniards with low- and middle-incomes receive no less than 90 percent of their earned wages in pension. So, it will not be due to a lack of adequacy of the pension (on that aspect Spain takes 12th place on the Mercer ranking containing 43 countries) that the country's pension system holds 24th position on this ranking. The problem may rather be attributed to the financing of the Spanish system.

 

Storm
The mandatory state pension – on which most pensioners in Spain depend – is based on a pay-as-you-go scheme. In other words: the working population pays for the pensioner's old age. And as the population in Spain is aging as well, the pension of a growing group of pensionados must be funded by a decreasing group of workers. It doesn't take a mathematical genius to see the storm coming: the Spanish pension system is unsustainable in the long term. On that aspect - durability - Spain is listed in the lower reaches of the Mercer index (39th place). In comparison: in terms of durability the Dutch system holds 3rd place, while it beats the Spanish system when it comes to adequacy of the pension (2nd).

The fact that the Dutch system offers a higher pension compared to the Spanish system and is more sustainable at the same time, has everything to do with the funding. Whereas the Spanish system is almost entirely based on pay-as-you-go, that only applies to the AOW (state pension) in the Netherlands. A significant part of our pensions (the second pillar) is capital funded. That means the employee accrues his/her own pension through a pension fund. And even though the Netherlands is also aging, the negative effect thereof is not proportionate to the impact of an aging population on a pay-as-you-go funded pension system.

Redesign
So, the system will also be thoroughly redesigned in Spain. The pre-pension will be made less attractive, for instance, a financial incentive will be implemented for people postponing their pension and the pensionable age will be increasing during the years to come. The pensionable age now is 65, and this should be increased to 67 by 2027. On average, Spaniards stop working at the age of 62.1. Until recently, men enjoyed their pension for 21.7 years on average and women for 26.6 years.

The pension reforms, commenced in 2011, are not accepted by the pensionistas without a struggle. The pension payment of more than five million of them is less than 700 euro, making it very difficult to make ends meet. Regular - and sometimes mass – demonstrations have been taken place in a number of large Spanish cities since 2011, demanding the right to receive a decent pension payment.

In order to be eligible for retirement pension at all in Spain, you must have paid contributions for at least 15 years. In 2018 the legal pensionable age, at which you will receive a full pension, was 65 years and 6 months, that is to say for the Spaniards who had paid contributions for less than 36 years and six months. By 2027, the legal pensionable age will be 67 years old. Did you pay contributions for 38.5 years or more? That full pension, if desired, can already be received at the age of 65.

 

Continued employment awarded
People continuing employment after the pensionable age is awarded in Spain. For employees who have paid contributions for 15 to 25 years and continue their employment after the age of 67, the pension increases by 2 percent (of the calculation base) for each extra year worked. This ‘bonus’ amounts to 2.75 percent after 25-37 years of payment of contributions and an annual increase of no less than 4 percent is in prospect for those who paid contributions even longer.

 

 

The Spanish pension system:  Facts & Figures

 

Valuation in the Mercer CFA Institute Global Pension Index 2021: C-Grade (“A system with some good features, but also major risks and shortcomings. If these issues are not addressed, the question is whether the system will be tenable and adequate in the long term.”)


Design:
System with one pillar, pension based on period of service and income


Funding:
Almost entirely funded based on pay-as-you-go


Adequacy (Mercer ranking):
12th (the Netherlands: 2nd)        


Durability (Mercer ranking):
39th (the Netherlands: 3rd)


Integrity (Mercer ranking):
19th (the Netherlands: 3rd)

 

 

0.5

0.75

1

1.5

2

3

             

Net pension

47.9 

67.8

86.7

122.4

135.8

135.8

Net replacement rate

82.3

87.0

86.7

86.0

74.7

52.8

Total net pension assets upon retirement

18.0

19.1

19.0

18.8

16.4

11.6

 

Explanation table:

The column ‘1’ represents the situation for someone with the average net income. The column ‘0.5’ displays the situation of someone with half the average net income, et cetera.

Net pension: the net pension someone receives as a percentage of the net average income.

Net replacement ratio: the net pension remaining, expressed in a percentage of the total wage of the individual concerned.

Total net pension assets: value of the anticipated payments as a multiple of net annual income.

Volgende publicatie:
In France, early retirement is still sacred

In France, early retirement is still sacred

Published on: 24 December 2021

The second-best pension system in the world. That's what we have in the Netherlands, according to the annually published Mercer CFA Institute Global Pension Index, which includes 43 countries. Are other countries doing so badly? Every two weeks, for twenty weeks, we delve into the system of a specific country. Episode four: the Netherlands' most popular summer holiday destination, France.

 

In la douce France, they enjoy their retirement the longest. Men on average 22.7 years, women 26.9 years. By comparison, in the Netherlands the figures are 18.6 and 23.4 years respectively. The fact that the French are living longer is mainly due to the low retirement age: on average, French people stop working at age 60.8. And the French would like to keep it that way. The government wanted to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 a few years ago, but the unions blocked this with weeks of strikes. In France, carrying out reforms is seen as political suicide, so few dare to get their fingers burned.

 

Macron
However, President Macron is not content with this, as pay-as-you-go pensions (where working people together pay for the old age of the pensioners) are now costing France a lot of money: 14 percent of the GDP. By comparison, in the Netherlands, the state pension (also financed on a pay-as-you-go basis) amounts to “only” 5.4 percent of GDP (to which we should add the premiums for the supplementary pension). This is unsustainable in a system that is almost entirely based on pay-as-you-go. Because France is ageing, the pensions of a growing group of pensioners have to be paid for by a shrinking group of working people. As far as sustainability is concerned, France occupies the 33rd place (out of 43 countries). This problem is much less acute in the Netherlands, because a large proportion of the total pension (the second pillar) is based on capital funding. In this case, the employee accrues his own pension through a pension fund.

 

A thousand euros
In France, pensioners generally receive 50 percent of their average income through the first pillar - i.e., government pensions. The government wants everyone who has worked a full career to be entitled to at least 1,000 euros a month in retirement.

In France, a French citizen with an average income receives 73.6 percent of that average income as a net pension (see chart under “1”). If you earn twice the average wage, you can look forward to 64.4 percent of that total wage as a net pension (see chart under “2”). And if you earn one and a half times the average income, you will accrue a total pension pot of 14.4 years' salary (see chart under “1.5”).

 

The French pension system:    Facts & figures

 

Rating in the Mercer CFA Institute Global Pension Index 2021: C-Grade, in this case C+ (C-Grade refers to "a system with some good features, but also major risks and shortcomings. If these are not addressed, it is questionable whether the system will be sustainable and adequate in the long run.")  

 

System:  System with one pillar, with pension based on employment period and income.

 

Financing: Almost entirely funded on a pay-as-you-go basis

 

Adequacy (Mercer rankings): 6th       

 

Durability (Mercer rankings): 33rd

 

Integrity (Mercer rankings): 38th

 

 

0.5

0.75

1

1.5

2

3

             

Net pension

39.4 

58.5

73.6

97.1

116.9

156.6

Net replacement ratio

71.4

76.0

73.6

69.0

64.4

60.9

Total net pension assets at retirement

14.9

15.8

15.3

14.4

13.4

12.7

 

Notes on chart:

The column under "1" reflects the situation for someone with the average net income, The column under 0.5 reflects the situation of someone with half the average net income, etc.

Net pension: the net pension someone receives as a percentage of net average income. 

Net replacement ratio: the net pension that someone is left with, expressed as a percentage of that individual's total wages.

Total net pension assets: value of expected benefits as a multiple of net annual income.

 

Volgende publicatie:
“Cleaners deserve more respect”

“Cleaners deserve more respect”

Published on: 22 December 2021

Pragmatic and cost conscious, allergic to red tape and formalism: Tarik Uçar fights for every pension euro in his role as executive director of the cleaning industry pension fund. And for more social decency: “People often don’t even greet cleaners.”

 

Tarik Uçar is actually more than just a pension fund director, he is also an employer in the cleaning industry. For three hours every week, he has a maid clean his house. During the Covid-19 lockdowns, he continued to pay her as normal. Later, he heard that he was the only one of her employers to do so. “She lost most of her income virtually overnight, putting her in acute financial problems. What possesses these people not to continue to pay her?” he says outraged.


The lack of social decency and the collective disdain for people in the cleaning industry, that’s what he intends to help change. As well as ensure a good pension for the members of the pension fund he is a director of, the pension fund for the cleaning and window cleaning industry (BPF Schoonmaak). Among the pension fund’s 529,000 (former) members and pensioners, there are many migrants, a vulnerable group in society. “They are only vulnerable financially, they are otherwise actually very strong people,” says Uçar, who is of Turkish descent himself, to add some nuance.

 

First of all, how has the Covid-19 crisis affected the cleaning industry?
“Hospitals and schools need extra cleaners, while hotels, bars, and restaurants need fewer. Cleaners in the hospitality industry working on an on-call contract then have zero income and, consequently, no contributions toward their retirement pension either. For employers in the cleaning business who serve industries such as hospitality, it’s also sink or swim. That’s why it’s so good that the government has stepped in, because the industry cannot do it on its own. Looking at my own household help, self-employed cleaners are also bound to struggle.


The vaccination rate among the migrant population is below the average in the Netherlands.
“Vaccination issues are not within our remit as a pension fund. Research shows, however, that our members are generally hit hard by Covid-19. Over the past year, a considerably larger number of cleaners died than in pre-pandemic years. Excess mortality in the cleaning industry is higher than in the rest of the Netherlands.”
Should cleaners be able to retire earlier than at age 67?
“Occupational disability levels are high and grave in this industry, with rates of between 80 and 100 percent. Cleaning simply is very strenuous work. It is, therefore, an illusion to think that you can do this job full time from age 20 to age 67. In fact, you cannot expect full-time cleaners to work more than forty years.”

 

But then you would have to pay them a retirement pension over more years...
“At present, many cleaners become unfit for work well before they reach retirement age, and that also costs money. And their life expectancy is shorter. As a society, we should increase sustainable employability in strenuous professions such as cleaning, so that more people can work through to retirement age. You could, for example, cut the hours that older cleaners work, increase training, and work smarter by using new technology. One example of the latter are the sensors that can be used in cleaning to tell us whether a toilet needs cleaning, and if so, when. Robotization can also help make cleaning work less strenuous.”

What do you see as the biggest challenges in pensions for cleaners?
“Wages in the cleaning industry are low. People often have to stack several part-time contracts to get by. Low wages also means low retirement pensions. As a pension fund, we try to offer people a certain quality of life in retirement and to prevent them from falling by the wayside along the way.”


How do you go about that?
“We try to keep our costs down as much as possible. One of our core values is affordability. Every year, we have talks with APG about whether the pension administration fees can come down further. By working together to see if we can do things smarter, simpler, and therefore more economically. We’re not dealing with invisible money here, but with the pensions of cleaners, and they need every single euro they can get. For these people, I always want to go the extra mile.”


Would that be different if yours were a pension fund for, let’s say, medical specialists?
“Then I would feel as if what I do mattered slightly less. The other day, I heard a cleaner say that at C&A you can get pants for 10 euros. And so, those 10 euros make the difference between new pants or no new pants. That’s what makes my work valuable. Each euro of each retirement pension we pay matters. So, we can do without frills.”


Such as?
“The pension world is rather good at launching all kinds of campaigns to raise awareness among members or harvest email addresses. A year later, however, everyone is still as unaware of their retirement pension and the email addresses are outdated, but they did spend a great deal of money on it. We consider that pointless and simply don’t do any of that. Another thing is that some funds have already gone into overdrive in informing members about the new pension system. We don’t do that either. We are going to wait until the new pension agreement has fully taken shape, otherwise you’re only communicating uncertainty and that will only create confusion.”

“People aren’t focused on later, they’re focused on now”

But isn’t communication actually very important for this industry, given the large number of low-educated workers and migrants?
“We have 170 nationalities working in the cleaning industry, command of the Dutch language is often not good. My mother has been living here for 47 years, but her Dutch is poor, although she would say otherwise. A letter about her retirement pension would be completely incomprehensible to her. So yes, communication is a challenge in this industry. We communicate at A2 level, very low threshold. Besides, their pension is not something that’s on our target group’s mind. In fact, research has shown that the word ‘brick' triggers more brain activity than the word ‘pension’. I once held a pension consultation at a mosque in Rotterdam where people could ask me anything about pensions. Most questions were not about pensions at all, but about occupational disability legislation, child support, and health insurance. People aren’t focused on later, they’re focused on now.”


How do you then still get through to your target group?
“We believe that digital communication is the best way, because you can then also use visuals. The idea is to link that to translation apps in the near future. In principle, we communicate in Dutch only, but for an animated video about pension reduction we had subtitles made in six languages. Such an important message simply has to get across properly. Digital communications are cheaper, more sustainable, and more effective. This ties in with our second core value: understandability. We do, however, need our members’ email addresses to be able to communicate digitally. This is why we, as the only pension fund in the Netherlands, have made it mandatory for employers to share these email addresses with us.

 

Isn’t that prohibited under the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)? After all, you would then be able to link income data to persons.
“In all honesty, we did have that discussion with legal experts to assess whether we are allowed to do this under the GDPR. As a pension fund, we think we are. We also have our members’ social security numbers and income data because that is deemed essential data for pension payments. Why then would we not be allowed to ask for email addresses as well? We consider those just as essential in keeping pensions affordable and understandable for our members. Another example of the formalism we face after the introduction of the GDPR: our service desk is no longer allowed to give out information about payment amounts, on account of the verification of whether the caller is actually the member in question. But the very reason people call us is to find out these amounts. You have to always ask yourself: who are we here to serve? Our members and not the GDPR.”


Do people in the pension industry think you’re difficult?
Laughingly: “I recently talked to a new employee at APG. On his first day, he already heard people talking about me and say, ‘He’s a valued, but very critical client of ours.’ I take that as a great compliment, yes.”

 

A rebel against the rules?
“Whenever members find themselves in a situation of hardship, we pull out all the stops. But sometimes rules stand in the way of our changing their situation. That’s something that occupies my mind, I must admit. We have also sent a letter to the relevant government minister about regulations around bankruptcies. From the moment a company is declared bankrupt, the Dutch employee insurance agency (UWV) takes over payment of the pension premiums for the companies’ workers. The thing is, however, that these workers have to apply for that themselves, we cannot do it for them. Seven in ten cleaners never do that, while they do pay taxes toward this safety net for workers. Isn’t that just ridiculous? It’s completely unacceptable as far as we are concerned. We are taking real action to get this changed.”

 

How do you, as a pension fund, deal with cleaning companies that do not pay their pension premiums?
“Without mercy, both in collecting outstanding payments and in applying for bankruptcy. We also hold directors personally liable. That’s necessary because we don’t want any cowboys in the market. And it works: since everyone is aware of our tough approach, pension premiums are generally paid properly.”

About the new pension system... What choices are you making as the board of the pension fund for the cleaning industry?
“We want to switch to the new system as soon as possible, because there is a real threat that we are going to have to cut pensions under the current rules. After we switch to the new system, our members can finally see their pensions increase. Other than that, we have made a conscious choice not to adopt the flexible premium agreement that requires members to make their own pension choices. Call it paternalistic, but we believe you shouldn't bother people with that. You can centralize those choices and make them as an institution. This is why we have chosen the solidarity-based premium scheme (this differs from the flexible premium agreement in the fact that more choices are made collectively – by the fund and the social partners – and risks are borne collectively, eds.). This solidarity-based system is also a good fit with the culture in the cleaning industry: if something happens to one person, the other is ready to help.”

 

The solidarity buffer to absorb financial setbacks comes from investments, among other sources. That means you need returns on your investments, but society also calls for sustainability...
“Sustainable investment does not necessarily have to go at the expense of yields. We owe it to society to put sustainability on the agenda. Even for a small fund like ours, which has ‘only’ seven billion euros in equity. Our third core value is ‘engagement’. This is reflected in the three spearheads for our asset management efforts: labor standards, human rights, and the climate. We do not buy government bonds in countries where human rights or labor standards are not respected.”

 

The Dutch general pension fund for public-sector workers (ABP) has decided to stop investing in fossil fuels? How about you?
“This is not on the table for us yet. I do think, however, that ABP has sent a powerful message. We are still looking into what will have the biggest impact. If you divest from fossil fuels, you cannot exert influence as an investor anymore either. And, if I’m honest, we are under less pressure from society than ABP.”

“The white middle class in this country talks the diversity talk, but no one walks the walk."

Social equality is another social theme. What is your stance on that?
“Among the 170 nationalities in the industry, there are also highly educated Syrians, who are only allowed to do cleaning work in the Netherlands. The white middle class in this country talks the diversity talk, but no one walks the walk. We want to change that. We expect our partners, such as APG, to embrace diversity. And we want to set the tone for that on our own board. We have three directors with a migration background. Anita is of Surinamese descent, Semih and I are of Turkish heritage. And our intern Laila is a young Moroccan woman. Our suitability plan requires the board to have members with a migration background. That same provision should also be included in the Pensions Code. I’m also in favor of a quota for people with a migration background, because it won’t sort itself out.”


As an advisor to VCP, the federation of trade unions for professionals, you’re dealing with people who earn a lot more than cleaners do. How does that feel, wearing two such different hats?
“Whichever hat I’m wearing, I know who I am and I speak my mind. Whether I’m dealing with managers, police officers, pilots, or cleaners. Their interests are essentially the same. All workers want a good pension that is adjusted for cost of living. All workers want their spouse taken good care of after they die. The question is, however, if that should be a lifelong pension, given that the breadwinner model has now made way for double-income households. And most workers want a collective safety net for people who end up in financial difficulties. The solidarity idea is still very much alive, albeit slightly less so than in the past.”

 

Does that lead to more people falling by the wayside?
"Yes. When my mother was left without an income and didn’t know that there was such a thing as ‘welfare’, she was lucky that she could fall back on the Turkish community in our area. People brought us food, so that we wouldn’t starve. When the sh** hits the fan, you need an arm around your shoulder. Solidarity is important, just like respect. Society often looks down on cleaners: it’s work that we don’t want to do ourselves and we don’t want to see others doing it either. Cleaners are expected to their work invisibly. It always strikes me how rude people are to cleaners: they often don’t even greet them. While cleaners themselves do rightfully take pride in their work. Society would do well to show some decency and gratitude in return.”

Who is Tarik Uçar?
Tarik Uçar was born in the town of Hengelo in the eastern part of the Netherlands in 1976. His father had come to the Netherlands as a guest worker in the late 1960s. Tarik’s mother and two older brothers joined his father later. Briefly after Tarik was born, his parents got divorced. The family lived in poverty at the time, because his mother did not know what authorities to turn to for support. Later, too, the family still struggled to make ends meet.

 

Young Tarik went to law school and subsequently joined the Pension and Welfare Council, which provides financial support to the victims of World War II and their surviving dependents. His next jobs were at the insurance company Zwitserleven and the Pensions Federation. After that, he became an advisor to the hospitality and catering industry pension fund and held supervisory roles at the pension funds for hairdressers and the drinks industry. In 2019, he became an executive director of the cleaning industry pension fund (BPF Schoonmaak). Alongside this role, he is a pensions consultant at VCP, the federation of trade unions for professionals, and supervisory officer at the pension fund for millers.

Volgende publicatie:
“I have to make do with 40 euros a week”

“I have to make do with 40 euros a week”

Published on: 17 December 2021

How do you handle work and money for now and for the future? Do you live hand to mouth or are you consciously planning your financial future? And are you taking care of your future yourself, or are you part of a pension fund?

Renia Mers (64) absolutely wants to get away from financial assistance.

 

Renia Mers (64)

Profession: Beginning budget coach

Hours worked weekly: 24 hours

Income: Financial assistance of 1016 euros net

Savings: None

Pension set up? Yes, accrued pension through previous jobs

 

What kind of work do you do?

“I’m an independent budget coach. I recently registered with the Chamber of Commerce as a business owner for the second time with my company. I’m planning to start facilitating workshops and creating budget plans for clients from January 1 on.”

 

What did you do prior?

“I worked at various banks full-time for 37 years. I was mainly involved with complaints and quality. When my department was eliminated during a reorganization, I decided to retrain as a budget coach. But just after I started my own business, my whole life fell apart. My relationship ended, so I had to move out of our jointly owned home and in the years after that I had a stroke twice. It was a difficult and stressful time, during which I was not able to establish my new company. Hopefully it will be successful this time.”

 

How much money do you make now?

“I don’t have an income from my own business yet, so for the time being I’m getting financial assistance of 1016 euros a month net. In addition, I receive a health care allowance, but I don’t get to keep any of that, of course. My last salary at the bank was about 2200 euros a month net, so this new income took some getting used to.”

 

How do you manage with that amount?

“As a budget coach, you figure out how to handle money at some point. I give myself a weekly 40-euro budget. Once that’s gone, that’s it. No, it’s not a lot. But I don´t want to be in debt, so I don´t have a choice. I’ve been having to get by on this amount for the past five years, so I’m used to it by now. It’s hard to get out of financial assistance once you’re in the system. Once you’re past 50, it’s really hard to get hired anywhere. I did some volunteer work at times, where I got a 100-euro-a-month honorarium. But other than that, you’re not allowed to earn any more, before they start taking it off your benefits. It is through the project ‘part-time business owner on social assistance’ by the municipality of Utrecht that I’m able to do start this business now. I’m very happy with this opportunity, because it makes it a little more dignified to be on financial assistance. Plus, I’m assuming that my company is going to be a success.”

 

What are your monthly expenses?

“My rent is 673 euros. My phone subscription is 28 euros a month and I pay 90 euros for gas and electricity. Quite a bit. And internet, TV and phone calls cost me 70 euros a month. In addition to my health care insurance and liability insurance, I also have funeral insurance at 15 euros a month.”

 

I have learned that you should do things not just for the money, but that they should also give you some joy

What else do you spend money on?

“Groceries; those 40 euros a week are mainly spent on that. I also spend money on books, because I want to keep up with what’s happening in the world. And I have a newspaper subscription at 15 euros a month, because I think it is important to be informed about what is going on in the world. Occasionally, I go to the cinema or the theater, or have lunch with friends or my daughter. I also have an annual museum pass.”

 

What do you do to save money?

“I started eating less meat, because that is expensive. I also buy seasonal vegetables and fruit, because they’re often cheaper. I pay attention to promotions – especially since everything has gotten more expensive again. Pricey things, like laundry detergent, I buy in bulk when they’re on sale. That’s how I save money. I can wear the same clothes for years, particularly coats and shoes. Although, I just had to buy a new coat, because my old one had become too big; I lost a lot of weight when I was sick. The things I kept after my divorce, like the washer and dryer, are still operational, thank goodness. So, I won’t have to spend any money on that for a while. Plus, I try to do as many free things as possible, like taking courses through the union.”

 

Do you have any savings?

“No, not anymore. I used the buffer I had – 800 euros – to create an online environment for My Sweet Steps, because I am determined to get out of financial assistance. I hope I can recreate my buffer once I have clients. I’ve always taken care of myself and I want to be able to do so again. It is important to me to be financially independent.”

 

Were your parents well-off when you were growing up?

“No, I’m from a big family with eight kids. I’m the youngest. When we still lived in Aruba, my dad always had two or three jobs. But when he lost his steady job, there was simply not enough money to take care of all of us. As a child you are aware that there is no money, but at the same time, you don’t really notice it. Not until other people start making comments, and then you realize that poverty is apparently something you should feel ashamed of. It shaped me. My parents wanted a better future for us. That’s why we moved to the Netherlands when I was 14.”

 

Are you planning for your old age?

“Yes, I’m getting close. In 2024, I’ll be eligible for a pension. Fortunately, I accrued some pension when I worked for the banks and I’ll be getting my Old Age Pension, plus a little pension through my ex. In total, I think I will be getting about 2,000 euros a month. Compared to what I have now, that will certainly be enough.”

 

How do you envision your life at that time?

“I’m just going to keep working, because I enjoy it and I don’t know what else I would do, if I stopped. Just sit at home all day? I’d rather do something useful with all the knowledge I have acquired over the years. The only other thing I would like to do is to travel. I did a lot of that in the past, but when you don’t have money, that’s not an option. So, yes, as soon as I can travel again, I’m certainly going to do that.”

 

What is the most important thing you have learned about money?

“That you should do things not just for the money, but that they should also give you some joy. Everyone needs money, but it doesn’t always make you happier when you have it. I have less now, but I am happier than I was when I was still working full-time. I would leave the house at seven in the morning and get home at seven in the evening. All I did was work. There was no time to really enjoy anything. Except the annual vacation, but that would be just two or three weeks. I noticed I was always short on time. Now I have more time and less money, and I’m happier.”

Volgende publicatie:
In Denmark, they stack pensions on top of pensions

In Denmark, they stack pensions on top of pensions

Published on: 10 December 2021

The second-best pension system in the world. That's what we have in the Netherlands, according to the annually published Mercer CFA Institute Global Pension Index, which includes 43 countries. Are they faring so badly in other countries? Every two weeks, for twenty weeks, we are delving into the system of a specific country. Episode three: Denmark.

 

After two countries that have it a lot worse (Germany and Italy), it is time for a country that, like the Netherlands and Iceland, has an 'A grade' (see box) pension system. There are therefore quite a few similarities between our pension system and that of the Danes. They also have a kind of government pension (OAS). And in Denmark, this "first pillar pension" is also financed on a pay-as-you-go basis (employees all pay for the old age of the pensioners). Denmark differs from the Netherlands in the way the amount of the state pension is determined.  In the Netherlands it is a fixed amount (the AOW), but in Denmark the pensioner receives a basic pension plus an income-related supplement. So, the more you earn, the less state pension you get.  

 

Mixed model

And in this first pillar, there is another difference between Denmark and the Netherlands. Because here we do not have a pension scheme that all employees participate in on a mandatory basis, as is the case with the Danish ATP. ATP is a national scheme to which employees contribute a fixed amount each year (over 450 euros per year) and which is invested in a low-risk way. From the moment of retirement, the retiree receives a periodic benefit. The Danes call it a first-pillar pension, but it is actually a kind of hybrid because it is funded on the basis of capital coverage (where the employee builds up his own pension through a pension fund).

 

In Denmark, there is also a second pillar (which is mandatory for most employees) with a supplementary pension based on capital funding. Just as in Denmark, this pension is set up collectively by employers and employees. The administration is often placed with an insurer. The only difference is that the premium is deposited in a personal pension account instead of a big pot. Danes can choose between various investment risks. At the time of retirement, the money in the pot is converted into periodic payments. A portion can also be taken as lump sums (such a lump sum scheme is also in the works in the Netherlands). Ninety percent of all employees are members of such a fund.

 

Physically demanding professions

The retirement age there will rise gradually to 74 in the coming years (expected in 2070). Self-employed and employees without a collective agreement are, as in the Netherlands, not obliged to save for retirement (with the exception of ATP). The government is working on a plan to allow Danes with heavy occupations to retire as early as age 61 starting in 2023. The replacement ratio (the ratio of pension benefits to final salary) is just slightly higher in Denmark at 74 percent than in the Netherlands (71 percent). Danes typically contribute 15 percent of their salary to pension contributions (in the second pillar).

 

Gender gap

What is striking is that the "gender pension gap" - women on average receive a lower pension than men - is a lot smaller in Denmark than in the Netherlands (4.9 percent versus 14.1 percent, based on 2018 figures). An important reason for this is the exceptionally high proportion of part-time work in the Netherlands (37 percent) in women's total employment. In Denmark, it is 19 percent. 

In the third pillar, the Danes work extensively with insurers (the company then outsources the pension scheme to them). This is more common than in the Netherlands, where third-pillar participants often receive supplementary pensions via the fund from which they also receive their second-pillar pensions.  

The Danish pension system:    Facts & figures

 

Rating in the Mercer CFA Institute Global Pension Index 2021: A-Grade ("A first-rate and robust system that results in a good pension, is future-proof and demonstrates a high degree of integrity.")


Structure:
three-pillar system


Funding:
partly capital funded, partly pay-as-you-go funded


Adequacy (Mercer ranking):
4th             


Sustainability (Mercer ranking):
2nd


Integrity (Mercer ranking):
13th

 

Volgende publicatie:
“Due to Covid, I didn’t have any income for a while”

“Due to Covid, I didn’t have any income for a while”

Published on: 8 December 2021

How do you deal with work and money for now and for the future? Do you live hand to mouth, or are you deliberately planning your financial future? And are you taking care of your future on your own, or are you part of a pension fund?

Dorotheé Beens (47) likes to save money in a creative way. “It’s much more satisfying to me to find a real treasure at Marktplaats or Vinted, than to just buy whatever is on display at Ikea.”

 

Dorotheé Beens (47)

Profession: Business Owner

Hours worked weekly: 32 hours on average

Income: Pays herself 1350 euros a month

Savings: 8000 euros

Pension set up? Accrued pension with ABP until age 41

 

What kind of work do you do?

"I have two companies. With one, Eigen-Wijsz, I work a few hours a week as a coach and training advisor for social services. The focus is on my second company, Verschil in Zaken (Difference in Business). With this company I work with entrepreneurs who want to do business with integrity and sustainability, with a certain mission. I help them communicate their message, among other things."

 

What is your background?

“I worked as a trainer and purchase courses for a municipality. I taught course and helped develop them. I kept seeing more and more points for improvements in other people’s performance. That is how I got the idea to start offering courses and presentation techniques independently. My employer totally supported me in taking that step. I left on very good terms. That was over six years ago now.”

 

How much money did you make at that time?

“Working three days a week, I was making more than my husband at 36 hours a week. I think it was something like 1600 euros net, with the collective health care insurance for myself and my husband already deducted.”

 

And how much do you make now?

“My income fluctuates a lot, especially during Covid times. I immediately noticed I had fewer orders. For a few months, I had no income at all. But lately it’s been steadily going up again. My gross annual turnover last year was close to 26,000 euros. I’m expecting to get to 40,000 euros this year. But not matter what my turnover is, I always pay myself 1350 euros net every month. Including last year, despite the decrease in orders. I had a 20,000-euro buffer, which I was very proud of. But it has now shrunk quite a bit, thanks to Covid.”

 

Are you happy with your current income?

“When I started my own business in 2015, we chose to rigorously curb all our spending. All the extras fell away. One of my kids didn’t like that too much, to put it mildly. It meant no more ice cream. I bought a museum pass with the money I had earned from some extra jobs, so we could still have some outings. Now I can pay myself more and I can live just fine on what comes in. But I would like it to be just a bit more generous, so that I have a bit more disposable income. My father-in-law has two warehouses, and my husband and I want to take over one of them in the future and rent it out. That will bring us maybe 150 to 200 euros a month, not much, but that will then be passive income.”

 

How many hours do you work?

“On average about 32 hours a week. I keep weekends free and I don’t make any appointments on Wednesdays. That’s when I pick up whatever is left to do from Monday and Tuesday, but I also make sure I take the time to do something fun. I went through a period where all I did was work; I enjoyed it that much. But at some point, that didn’t feel good anymore. Since I’ve been scheduling leisure time for myself, I have been more effective with my time and it’s easier for me to decide what to do and what not to do.”

 

How do you share costs at home?

“We are in a joint ownership marriage, so everything private goes into one big pile. I am the one who manages the finances. Our salaries go into our joint account. At the beginning of the year, I make budgets for various expenses: mortgage, insurance, groceries, gifts, eating out, vacation, hairdresser, sports, parking, et cetera. Together we determine what we can spend on them and each month I write down what we have actually spent. The plan is better than the execution though, we break the budget quite often.”

 

How much do you have in savings?

“The buffer I had is mostly gone, but since then I managed to save up some more and I was able to make a 10,000-euro investment for my second company. My business savings account is back up to about 8000 euros.”

 

Are you good at saving?

“I always try anyway. I always put half of a paid invoice into my savings account. I can then use that to pay sales tax and income tax and I don’t touch what’s left. For our two children’s education, we have been putting aside 20 euros a month for each child since they were born. They didn’t know about it. We first got them to calculate how much it their education would cost and how much they would need every month. They were shocked. That same night, we surprised them with the message that we would be paying for half of their study costs. It was important to me to teach them the value of money. Mission accomplished, because we had a great discussion about it.”

 

We don’t skimp on domestic help. 25 euros a week and it saves a lot of haggling over who does what

How much are your regular monthly expenses?

“The mortgage is 1100 euros, including life insurance and things like that. Health insurance is 320 and other insurances 215. TV, internet and phone subscriptions are 94 altogether. And then I have a ANWB membership at 14 euros a month. Gas and light are 156 euros, water is 30 euros.”

 

What else do you spend money on?

“Vacations are important to me, but a week is enough. For me it’s primarily about the freedom to explore. We also don’t skimp on domestic help. They come for two hours, twice a week and that keeps everything tidy. 25 euros a week and it prevents a lot of haggling about who will do what. I also really enjoy a nice dinner out once in a while. But that doesn’t need to be every month. I only appreciate it more if we do it just once a year. For outings and eating out, we basically have a budget of 100 euros a month, but that’s not always enough.”

 

 

What do you save money on?

“I ride my bike more. That saves a lot on parking and fuel costs. I try to change savings into something positive, I look for a creative and sustainable twist. For example, I regularly get food through TooGoodToGo, an app where stores and restaurants sell discounted products that are close to their expiration date. I enjoy not knowing what you’re going to get. Sometimes I get three days’ worth of meals out of it. I don’t buy everything second-hand, but I have noticed that it’s much more satisfying to me to find a real treasure at Marktplaats or Vinted, than to just buy whatever is on display at Ikea.”

 

How did you set up your pension?

“I accrued a pension at ABP till I was 41. My husband is still accruing a pension, and we both have a life annuity of 10,000 euros. We are toying with the idea of selling our house in the future and buying two tiny homes with the proceeds. One to live in and other one to work in, have the kids and grandkids over, or to rent out. Self-sufficient, with solar panels and water catchment. Then we’ll barely have any expenses and we can live in a green environment – my ultimate sense of freedom.”

 

How much is your pension going to be, you think?

“Let’s see... 666 euros a month, 8000 gross a year. And Old Age Security on top of that, of course. I’m not totally sure I’ll be able to make do with that in the future. But we don’t really need to worry either. My husband always says: we are living now; we could be dead by then.”

 

How do you envision your life after you retire?

“I want to spend a lot of time in nature, puttering around, enjoying the birds. That outdoor feeling is what makes my husband and me the happiest. I think we will also go on a lot of outings, like biking, hiking, traveling in a motor home or on the train. Going on explorations together. I think that will be wonderful.”

Volgende publicatie:
“The fact that we want to reform the system shows courage”

“The fact that we want to reform the system shows courage”

Published on: 29 November 2021

The Netherlands has one of the best pension systems in the world. This is what Mercer has been stating for years. But if you ask the average Dutch person if he has confidence in it, only 4 out of 10 people reply that they do. Are we spoiled in the Netherlands? Or is there something else going on?

 

“Pension funds try to provide security in an uncertain world. That is practically impossible.” These are the words of Harry van Dalen. He is a professor of economics at Tilburg University and senior researcher at the NIDI research institute. Some people will remember him from his previous columns in the Volkskrant and Zin Magazine. He regularly conducts research on confidence and pension choices for knowledge institute Netspar.

 

Do we still have some confidence in it?
“In 2004, we started to measure what people think about banks, insurers, brokers and pension funds. At that time, 6 out of 10 people had confidence in the pension funds. If you ask the question now, only 4 out of 10 people express that confidence.”

 

Does that apply to everyone?
“Young people clearly have less confidence than older people. For people who have not yet retired, the money is only something they see on a pension overview and it is pretty abstract. Retirees see the money showing up in their bank account every month, so for them it is something concrete.”

 

 

And does it apply to all funds?
“Yes, that applies to nearly all pension funds. Incidentally, confidence in pension funds is higher than in banks or insurers. And people’s own pension fund often also “scores” better than the pension system in general. You’re more familiar with your own fund. We asked people if they would change to a different pension fund if they had that choice. That is an indirect way of inquiring about confidence. 20 % said they would consider it, so that means 89% would not.”

 

What mainly affected people’s confidence?
“Anything that feels like a breach of contract. After the credit crisis, starting in 2008, securities fell away. Funds were no longer able to index. Some funds even had to reduce their pensions. When the government then also raised the eligibility age for Old Age Pensions, people were fed up. Especially people who were almost 65 at the time.”

“Since then, confidence has bounced back a bit. Now we’re talking about a new pension system and things are going to change again. We’ll have to see how that works out in terms of confidence. What we know for sure is this: people hate uncertainty when it comes to money.”

 

This is already a time of uncertainty…
“Yes. People are sitting at home, there is pandemic, prices are rising. Economists are saying that is just temporary, but in the meantime, people are feeling the crunch. And then there is the discontent regarding that you have the displeasure of that huge pension pot, while no indexation is possible. The regulator’s rules are strict, but they are there for a reason. Pension funds have to be able to pay not only the pensions of today’s retirees, but also those of future retirees.”

“And don’t discount the ‘radiation effect’ of declining trust in government and politics either. Issues around supplements contribute to this. And our research shows that groups that have lost all confidence in the government also have very little confidence in pension funds.”

 

Yet, Mercer says: the Netherlands has one of the world’s best pension systems.
“Mercer looks at how well pension systems around the world prevent poverty among the elderly, as well as at their integrity and future-proofing. For participants, of course, only the Dutch situation matters. It does not matter to them that things are a fraction better in Iceland. To them, a pension fund is nothing more or less than a system for saving for the future. They don't see what else the fund provides and what risks the fund covers for them collectively.”


Can you give an example of that?
“One example would be the “risk” that you live longer than you had expected. Say you set up your own pension pot and you live 7 years longer than you had anticipated. The amount of money you need for that is almost enough to buy a house. When you’re part of the fun, you share that risk with the other participants.”

“As an employee, your employer often pays most of the premium. People often don’t see that, because it’s not on their pay slip. That is why self-employed people find a pension very expensive. After all, you are an employer and an employee and you pay the full price.”

 

Are we spoiled in the Netherlands?
“That’s a hard question. I’d say: count your blessings. The pension system is complex and maybe it isn’t perfect. I still think the mix of Old Age Security and a supplementary pensions is valuable. And to get to the point: pension funds try to provide security in an uncertain world. That is practically an impossible task. The fact that we are thinking about reforming the pension system shows courage, because you have to face the reality of an aging society.”

Volgende publicatie:
La dolce vita, but not for the pensionado

La dolce vita, but not for the pensionado

Published on: 26 November 2021

The second-best pension system in the world. That's what we have in the Netherlands, according to the annually published Mercer CFA Institute Global Pension Index, in which 43 countries are included. Are the other countries really performing that poorly? Every two weeks and during twenty weeks, we delve into the system of a specific country. Episode two: Italy.

 

Would there be a better place imaginable to spend your old age than in the country where la dolce vita was invented? Italians enjoy their pension on average for a long time: men 20.7 years and women 25.7 years. That partly has to do with a high life expectancy but is also due to the fact that Italians stop working at an average age of 64. Since 2019, the statutory pensionable age has been set to 67 for everyone. Previously, men were able to retire at the age of 65 and women, remarkably enough, already at the age of 60.

 

The sky is the limit

Until 1992, the sky was the limit in Italy. People were allowed early retirement after 35 years of work (civil servants already after 20 years and married female civil servants even after 15 years)  with continuing payment of the last-earned salary. Nowadays men must have paid contribution for 42 years and 10 months in order to claim early retirement, and women for 41 years and 10 months.

 

The same as in Germany, the Italians predominantly rely on pension from the first pillar for their old age. This first pillar consists of a basic old-age pension (‘vecchiaia’) and an allowance depending on people's employment record and contributions paid (‘anzianità). Recent adjustments have made the future benefits less solid. The risk of the actual allowance being lower has therefore increased. The share of the second pillar pension (accrual of pension through a pension fund related to the business sector or enterprise) in the total pension amount is very small in Italy (1 percent).

 

Aging of the population takes its toll

The pension expenditures put a big strain on the Italian government budget. Estimates of the Court of Audit show that a peak of 15.9 percent will be reached in 2022 of the gross domestic product. In the Netherlands, the state pensions (AOW) are slightly less than 5.4 percent of the gross domestic product (2020) and this number is expected to increase to a little over 6.5 percent in 2040. And as the largest part of the Italian pensions is funded based on turnarounds (the working population pays for the old age of the pensioners), the aging population in Italy takes a toll on the government budget in the years to come. This is due to the fact that an increasingly smaller working population has to provide for the pension of a growing group of pensioners.

In terms of ‘durability’ Italy has the lowest score in the Mercer Index of all (43) investigated countries. That's a very unattractive perspective for young people. Time will tell whether the pension pot is still sufficiently filled when it's time for them to retire.

The Italian pension system: Facts & Figures

 

Valuation in the Mercer CFA Institute Global Pension Index 2021: C-Grade (“A system with some good features, but also major risks and shortcomings. If these issues are not addressed, the question is whether the system will be tenable and adequate in the long term.”).

 

Design:               System with three pillars

 

Funding:            Largely financed based on turnarounds. For a very small part capital funded, involving Defined Contribution (DC) schemes enterprises take care of individually (in case of a DC scheme, the height of the pension payment is determined at the time of retirement, depending on the contributions paid and the investment return realized on those contributions).

 

Median pension: 80 percent of the average wage income. Median in this case means: half of the pensions is less than 80 percent of the average wage income and half of the pensions is more than 80% of the average wage income.

 

Median pension first pillar (2019):        13,194.35 euro

Average pension second pillar:              close to zero

Adequacy (Mercer ranking):                   16th       

Durability (Mercer ranking):                   43rd (last)

Integrity (Mercer ranking):                     22nd  

Volgende publicatie:
“If I don’t find work soon, I will have to apply for unemployment benefits”

“If I don’t find work soon, I will have to apply for unemployment benefits”

Published on: 25 November 2021

How do you handle work and money for now and for the future? Do you live hand to mouth or do you deliberately plan your financial future? And are you setting up arrangements for the future yourself, or are you a member of a pension fund?

 

Nikki Dix-Stork (26) worked full-time in a supermarket after her studies, but ended up at home due to burnout. “I just started to really hate the work,” she says.

 

Nikki Dix-Stork (26)

Profession: Beginning entrepreneur

Works weekly: About 40 hours a week

Income: Up to December 1, € 1972 gross from employment, after that, probably € 1636 unemployment benefits.

Savings: None.

Pension set up? Accrued a bit of a pension at her previous job.

 

What kind of work do you do?

“I am currently unemployed. Or actually, I recently started my own company, but that is not earning me any money yet. After I completed my leisure management studies two and a half years ago, I couldn’t find a job in that field. So, I went to work full-time in the supermarket where I worked part-time as a fresh employee since I was 16. I thought an employment contract like that was pretty great. Mindless work, make money and save some. Until I was just done with it.”

 

Why were you done with it?

“After a while, I just started to hate it. I was not being challenged, I had lost my ambition and I was feeling like I was being lived. I increasingly started to think, I have a degree; what am I doing here? But, you know, finding work in my field was not easy, especially since the Covid outbreak. I applied for about ten jobs, but I didn’t hear back from most of them. And the few times I did get a job interview, they didn’t pan out. Most of them required more work experience.”

 

What did you do then?

“At one point, I was at home, due to burnout, which happened because of a bunch of things piling up. I was mentally and physically exhausted. After a month on sick leave, my employer and the company physician told me I had to start getting back to work. I told them several times that I couldn’t do it, but that fell on deaf ears. It made me feel absolutely miserable. Finally, in consultation with my employer I decided to end my contract. I quit on October 1 and will be getting paid through to December 1. I was supposed to get a new job by that date, but it doesn’t look that’s going to be happening. So, I will have to apply for unemployment benefits. That’s not the end of the world, but it kind of scares me.”  

 

Do you actually want to be looking for a job when you’ve just started your own company?

“I am applying for jobs, but to be honest, I’m not at all excited about it. I love being at home. I finally have time for the household and our kittens, and I get to invest a lot of time in my company and my recovery. But I’m not making any money yet, so the smart thing to do would be to have a job until I can live full-time on my enterprise. On the other hand, that does cut into the time I can put into my company. It’s hard to get motivated to get a job. I still haven’t completely recovered from that burnout and if I start pushing myself, that’s not going to get better.”

What kind of company did you start?

“I’m going to be helping entrepreneurs with their visual brand identity and online visibility on social media. Having my own business really energizes me and I enjoy helping other people. I hope to be able to do this full-time in the future and that it will lead to financial freedom for me. But first, I have to work really hard for a while.”

 

How much did you make, working at the supermarket?

“On average, between 1700 and 1800 euros a month. During busier time and with overtime hours, it often went up to 2000 euros.”

 

Were you happy with that?

“No, it was a bit tight, every month. But it did enable my husband and me to buy a house in the center of Utrecht last year. We got a 270,000-euro mortgage, which we paid 271,500 for. If we sold it now, I think we could make a big profit already. In a year’s time; bizarre. But we’re going to stay there for a while.”

 

How do you currently make ends meet?

“The supermarket gave me a 3500-euro gross compensation. It wasn’t much, but it’s something. And I’m still getting paid until December 1, although that is considerably less than when I was still working, because I was doing a lot of overtime hours then.”

 

What are your regular monthly expenses?

“Our mortgage payments are 937 euros, and household, legal and travel insurance all together about 100 euros. We each have a 140-euro health insurance and a phone subscription at 40 a month. We pay 66 euros for TV and internet. Energy will be 98 euros. And we lease a car, and that costs us about 400 euros a month, including insurance.”

 

What else do you spend a lot of money on?

“I invest a lot in myself and my business. I take self-development courses and masterclasses to increase my knowledge. We also order in dinner about once a week, but that doesn’t mean we get 50 euros worth of sushi. It’s often just picking up some French fries or pizza or take-out food. I don’t think we can save a lot of money on that on an annual basis. We also enjoy eating out, but we only do that when we can afford it, so we don’t do that every month.”

 

How do you keep your expenses in check?

“We don’t take a lot of vacations. During my burnout time, we went to Curaçao, because we really needed it, but that was the first time in six years that we went somewhere together. When we have more money to spend, we would like to travel all over the world. I also save money by only going to the hairdresser once or twice a year. Oh, and we have Netflix, Videoland, Amazon Prime and Disney+, but we share the costs for that with relatives. So, everyone has one subscription and with each other’s passwords we can watch everything.”

From age 68 on, I will get 250 euros in pension payment. That was pretty startling.

How much do you have in savings?

“Nothing. We have a joint savings account that we each put 500 euros into every month, but we never end up saving it. All we saved up before – about 10,000 euros – we spent on our trip to Curaçao, by being cheated, and on buying a house.”

 

Wait, what? Cheated?

“Yes, a few years ago, the lease on our old house expired and we were desperately searching for a new place to rent. I had put an ad in Marktplaats, saying we were looking for a home. That’s probably how they found me. He replied, ‘Thanks for your interest in the home.’ I had responded to so many ads I didn’t think twice about it. He said he lived in Sweden and had bought a house in the Netherlands as an investment. It sounded very plausible. So, the story was that we could book the house for a month through Airbnb, to see if we liked it. Through an Airbnb website – fake, it turned out in retrospect – we paid 2500 euros. We never heard from them again. I know, it sounds really stupid, but at the time, we just really wanted to believe it. It was a hard lesson.”

 

Another topic now: are you making any arrangements for your old age?

“Now that I have my own business, I am going to have to figure out exactly what I have to do for that. I don’t know much about it yet, except that I have to cough it up myself. I accrued a little bit at the supermarket, but that doesn’t amount to much.”

 

Do you worry about that?

“Yes, a little. Especially because I am still in the beginning stages of my company. I will need an income in the future.”

 

How much would you get per month if you retired now?

“According to my pension overview, the expected amount is 1,558 euros a month. But that is probably what it would be if I stayed in that job till retirement. Oh, wait, up till now, it is 177 euros a month net, it says. Starting from when I turn 68, I will get 250 euros a month. That’s pretty startling. But I try not to worry about it too much right now. I’m sure it will be okay. I have already started small-scale investing with Peaks. They let you do it with change. And I do want to find out more about investing for when my company is financially more robust. Then I will also put aside a portion of my profits towards an old age reserve or I will apply for life insurance.”

 

How do you envision your life after you retire?

“I hope we will still both be healthy, that we will have saved up some money and will be able to enjoy our life without worries. Maybe buy a cottage in Curaçao or Italy: that would be great, wouldn’t it?”

Volgende publicatie:
“The way I’m living my life makes me feel like I’m already retired”

“The way I’m living my life makes me feel like I’m already retired”

Published on: 9 November 2021

How do you deal with work and money for now and for the future? Do you live hand to mouth or are you intentionally planning your financial future? And will you make arrangements for your future yourself, or are you part of a pension fund? 

Mariëlle Renckens (50), has been working with horses, as a volunteer, since she lost her job after a reorganization.

 

 

Mariëlle Renckens (50)

Profession: volunteer

Hours per week: nearly full-time

Income: zero

Savings: zero

Pension set up? Yes

 

What kind of work do you do?

“I work as a holistic trainer and coach, on a volunteer basis, for the foundation I started, Natuurlijk Kind en Paard (Natural Child and Horse). The foundation was gifted four discarded horses and we are using them to teach kids how to treat the animals. This has a calming effect on kids with ADHD, for example, and it helps fearful children to develop courage. It is also our mission to prevent accidents with horses. In the Netherlands, there are 68,000 accidents with horses every year, largely because people still don’t understand horses very well. These accidents are generally serious, because a horse is so big.  When you get a dog, you have to take a course before you can take care of it; this should also be the case for a horse. We are offering that training. I have also written a book about the basic tenets.”

 

Where does your interest come from?

“I was in a serious accident with a horse once. I had to get dug out of the arena. If the horse had rolled over me, I would not be sitting here right now. I was black and blue from head to toe; I didn’t know a body could be discolored in so many places. After that, I stopped horseback riding for a while. But when my daughter started to show an interest in horses when she was just three years old, and I was afraid to let her ride, I realized I had to deal with my fear. I learned the intricacies of classic and natural horsemanship at DressuurNatuurlijk. When my daughter was 8, she got her own horse and that is how it all got started. I created the foundation in 2010.”

 

How many hours a week do you work there?

“I think, altogether, including taking care of the horses and training them, it is about forty hours.”

 

What did you do before this?

“I worked in the business office of Algemeen Maatschappelijk Werk (General Social Work), taking on new clients. I did that for thirteen years, until a reorganization made me redundant. There was no place for me anymore. It was done in a very inhumane way. It didn’t make me feel dispondent,  but the way it was done obviously affected me. I felt overpowered, as did many others in the organization. I did receive a sum of money: gross EUR 10,000, which leaves you with EUR 5,500.”

What did you do with that money?

“I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. To see if there was any oomph left in my body. Well, I made it to the top and that’s quite a feat. That was really great. After that, I decided to focus full-time on what I love most: helping other people with the horses.”

 

How do you survive without an income?

“I get 150 euros a month for my volunteer work, which is tax-free. I use that to pay for my health insurance. And I have the good fortune that my husband has his own company and he pays all the household bills. We also board other people’s horses, for which we charge 220 to 250 euros a month each. That money all goes to the care of our own horses. The income from the lessons I give and from the sale of my book, goes to the foundation and the horses. I use it to pay for hay, water, electricity, the vet and maggot cures. Keeping horses is not cheap, but it’s okay to have some expenses for a hobby.”

 

What are your regular expenses?

“We pay about 700 euros a month on our mortgage. Electricity is 200 euros a month, groceries around 500 euros. We are going straight to the farm more often now. You pay a bit more there, but you get valuable products, while helping the farmer.”

 

What else do you spend a lot of money on?

“The vet and the equine dentist are big expenses. A dental treatment is about 250 euros per horse, so that adds up to 1000 euros a year. We also have a holistic vet that comes every year on a preventive basis, in order to avoid the huge expense of injuries. For four horses, that also costs us 100 euros. And then there is all the tack you need. Sadles, reins, stirrups, maintenance of the equipment. Having a saddle adjusted, which has to be done when a horse gains weight, for example, also costs 250 euros. So, it all adds up. But we pay for everything out of the money raised by the foundation. It is a circular system.”

 

Do you have anything left for yourself?

“Not really, but when you’re happy with what you have, you don’t need that much. I’m not interested in luxury clothing, and I’m not someone who buys expensive make-up. I enjoy a nice scent, but I’ve been using the same one for years and ask for it for Christmas, when it’s on sale. There’s also this day cream I like and I ask my kids to buy it for me for my birthday. My husband and I love wine, but if you know a little bit about wine, you can do just fine with a tasting of wines from Lidl. My husband has a catering business and also works in restaurants. When food is nearing its expiry date and can no longer be sold, he sometimes brings it home with him. That’s how we bring a bit of luxury into our lives.”

“I think we are moving towards a world where value is expressed in other ways than just money”

How much do you have in savings?

“Nothing.”

 

What does money mean to you?

“When you’re young, you think money is the most important thing. But remaining authentic is much more important. If you know what your value is, you can trade it for something else anywhere. As long as you have the courage to express your creativity. I think we are moving much more towards a world where value is expressed in other ways than just money. What do you have to offer as a human being? How can you help each other without paying for it in money? For example, I can give lessons, and my neighbour has an apple tree in his garden. A lesson from me can be worth as much as the neighbour’s bag of apples that I get in exchange.”

 

Are you planning for your old age?

“My husband and I both have our pensions reasonably in order. When we were 25, we both worked in the catering industry in Amsterdam, where we were offered a nice savings plan. It was called the supplementary pension, not to be confused with the usurious policy that has been the subject of much debate. My husband has a pension through the hotel and catering industry and I accrued a pension through the hotel and catering industry as well as a healthcare pension for years. In addition, our house is mostly paid off. And we have life insurance. If one of us dies, that’s a pension for the other one.”

 

How do you picture you life in the future?

“I think I will have the same life as I have now. As long as I can go for an outdoor ride every day, I’m happy. I feel like I’m retired already. I’m very fit and I’d like to keep it that way and live to be 100. I am grateful that I can organize my life in this way. That doesn’t mean I’m not willing to roll up my sleeves when I need to. If I can’t manage financially, I can always go and pick fruit. There is enough work here in the Groningen area, I don’t mind. But if I don’t have to, I’m very happy spending my days doing what I’m doing now.”

Volgende publicatie:
'Rentenversicherung' is not a money-maker

'Rentenversicherung' is not a money-maker

Published on: 5 November 2021

Retirement abroad episode 1: Germany

The second-best pension system in the world. That’s what we have in the Netherlands, according to the annually published Mercer CFA Institute Global Pension index, which includes 43 countries. Are other countries doing that poorly? Each week, for ten weeks, we will delve into the system of a specific country. For the first episode, we start close to home: Germany, which Mercer ranks 18th.

 

Like ours, our Eastern neighbors’ pension system rests on three pillars, the first of which is pay-as-you-go funded. I.e., employees collectively pay for the old age of the pensioners - comparable to our Old Age Security. Employer and employee each pay half of the premium. But unlike our system, the German pay-as-you-go system consists of two components. The first is a system where employees accrue pension points based on the number of years worked and the premiums paid. More points means more pension. The second component consists of a low-level minimum pension, as a safety net for people who have not worked or have worked very little. In the Netherlands, by contrast, the first pillar consists of fixed Old Age Security payments for everyone. In the second pillar, employees are obligated to save for a supplementary pension through an industry or company pension fund. And in the third pillar - the private Altersvorsorge - people can take out supplementary insurance on a voluntary basis, for example through an annuity policy.

 

Under pressure

Unlike in the Netherlands, the German state pension accounts for as much as 80 percent of the total pension sum. And because the ageing population means that ever more pensions have to be paid for by ever fewer employed people, the sustainability of the German system is under pressure. The same applies to our Old Age Security, but here the average employee relies much more on his or her supplementary pension, accrued through the employer. And because this second pillar is not financed on a pay-as-you-go basis but is capital funded (where the employee builds up his own pension through a pension fund), the Dutch system is much less vulnerable to an ageing population than the German system. 

 

Until 2029, the retirement age will be raised by one month each year (two months from 2024 on), eventually reaching a retirement age of 67. In reality, Germans stop working on average at 64. Men enjoy an average of 19.1 years of retirement thereafter, women an average of 22.5 years. Germans pay about 19 percent of their gross monthly salary in contributions for the state pension - the Rentenbeitrag. The government does not add any more money to this.

 

Assistance level

In Germany, the more you earn the more you pay, but the amount of your pension also depends on your salary. The bigger your salary, the bigger your pension. For most people, however, this is not very much: the average payment from the Rentenversicherung is currently around 1,200 euros. And that’s optimistic because a significant number of Germans receive pensions below the minimum income. By comparison, in the Netherlands, the Old Age Security for partners is 838 euros per person (net) and 1227 euros for a single person. But often the self-accrued pension is added to this: according to the CBS, only 6 percent of Dutch pensioners receive 250 euros or less in supplementary pension per month.

Last year, Germany announced the introduction of the Grundrente, a basic pension for the lowest incomes. Elderly people who have worked for 33 years or more and nevertheless have a pension below the welfare level receive a supplement of up to 405 euros a month.

The German pension system: Facts & figures

 

Rating in the Mercer CFA Institute Global Pension index 2021: B-Grade (“A system with a solid structure and many good features, but has a number of areas for improvement that keep it from being in the A-grade category.”).

System:              three pillars

Financing:         partially pay-as-you-go funded, partially capital funded

Median pension: 50% of average wage income, of which 37.5% is through first pillar (pay-as-you-go funded) and 12.5% through second pillar (capital funded). Median means: half of the pensions are less than 50% of the average wage income and half of the pensions are more than the average wage income.

 

Average pension first pillar:                   1200 euros

Average pension second pillar:              400 euro

Adequacy (Mercer rankings):                 5th       

Tenability (Mercer rankings):                 21st

Integrity (Mercer rankings):                   4th

Volgende publicatie:
Dream & Deed: “Only when you are happy yourself, you can mean a lot more to others”

Dream & Deed: “Only when you are happy yourself, you can mean a lot more to others”

Published on: 27 October 2021

But he did not kill her, because in between dream and act
there are hindering laws and practical issues,

(from: Willem Elsschot, The Marriage)

 

Pension may be considered as something for the distant future by generation Z, yet they are the generation of the future. What are their dreams? What are they doing to achieve these? And what is standing in their way? This series is intended to let young people speak about the way now and later on is perceived by them.

Maggy Schaap (27): “Putting yourself first is not selfish, it will eventually benefit the world”

 

Who: Maggy Schaap (27). She describes herself as an enthusiastic woman of feelings with a positive attitude, who is not afraid to rely on her intuition.

 

Lives: in a rental apartment of 57m2 in Amsterdam she shares with her boyfriend. “We had to earn approximately four times the monthly rent to be able to rent it. Buying was an option back then as well but weren't sure whether we wanted to stay in Amsterdam or not. Now that we have both started our own business, things have become a little less uncertain. But I am trying not to let the news about the housing market get to my head too much. I could be worrying about the future but who knows, the situation may be entirely different again in a couple of years.”

 

Works: as self-employed coach (https://www.instagram.com/goheartflowhard/). She gave up her job in sales to start this new business. “I had a good salary, managed a team of twelve account managers at a certain point; everything went really fast. Yet, something was bothering me. Was this job what I really wanted to do or did I do what I believed society was expecting me to do and what I, unconsciously, expected of myself? That feeling grew stronger and stronger. I followed an education to become a coach and quickly felt that this was what I really wanted to do. I quit my job a year ago and started to work as an independent coach. I mainly coach millennials who are experiencing a similar situation to the one I was in. I try to make them aware of limiting beliefs and try to make them become happier.”

 

Loves: travelling, walking, connecting with nature, running, cooking and self-development.

 

What do you dream of?

“I often work with people one-on-one at the moment, but eventually I would like to make an impact at a larger scale. My ultimate dream is for everyone to start listening to their inner selves and not to be scared to follow his or her heart. We want to meet expectations, set by ourselves and society, but we sometimes forget what it is we really want to do. Putting yourself first is not selfish, but actually contributes to a better world. Only when you are happy yourself, you can mean a lot more to others. That's the message I want to convey to as many people as possible. I am already quite active on social media and, as of recently, started recording a daily podcast, but I hope to be able to grow some more in that field. If at all possible. I also want to be financially independent. Follow my heart's desire without feeling the urgent need to work in order to make ends meet. I would like to dare dreaming bigger in that respect. You don't necessarily have to work in paid employment and retire at the age of 67; there are other ways as well.”

 

How do you envisage your future?

“I want to further develop my coaching activities and I hope to be able to help a great deal of people. I have faith that my company is able to grow in a somewhat effortless way. People often say that you have to work hard in order to make your dreams come true. I have nothing against that, but it is also possible without getting ahead of myself. It would be wonderful should I be able to have another house in Spain or something later on, or to travel more. And I would really like to have children someday.”

 

What does your dreamed of pension look like?

“I don't really think about that just yet, to be honest. I live in the moment. Once I earn a bit more money, I will start putting money aside or open an investment account for my pension. My parents are both entrepreneurs as well. When I see how much enjoyment they still derive from their work, I think I also want to continue working well into my old age. But less hours though. That would be amazing I think. And other than that, enjoy travelling, nature and, who knows, my children and grandchildren.”

 

What is your dream for the Netherlands?

“The Netherlands is a privileged country, but I believe it still has a lot of unhappy people. The basis is solid: we have enough to eat and there's actually not a lot to complain about. It would be great if the Dutch were somewhat happier with everything they do and dare to express what it is that makes them happy, without encountering other people's judgments.”

 

What do you believe goes well in our society?

“The fact that we are way more aware of, among other things, food. It could be my Amsterdam bubble, but there is an increasing amount of people who eat vegetarian. That's a good development in my opinion. I also feel as if the Netherlands offers increasingly more room to be yourself. My mother is married to another woman, and that doesn't cause any problems. As a child I was feeling a bit ashamed, but now it seems weird to me that I felt like that before. It seems not to be an issue anymore when you are attracted to people of the same sex. But it's very difficult for me to assess whether the tolerance in that area has truly improved.”

 

Another thing that also concerns me at times, is the fact that so many people are unhappy. Even young people are faced with a burnout sometimes.

What could be improved in the world?

“We should be a bit less judgmental about others and about ourselves. It would make a huge difference if we don't always come up with an opinion about someone else's behavior. That really frustrates me sometimes. I believe people should first take a look at themselves. It's only human to judge, I am not a saint myself, but at least I am trying to be conscious about it. You never know what goes on in other people's lives.”

 

What are your matters of concern in view of the future?

“The climate crisis. I don't delve into the subject to an extreme extent, but I am trying to contribute wherever I can. We cannot just close our eyes and pretend it's not there; we have to be even more aware of what's going on with our planet. Another thing that also concerns me at times, is the fact that so many people are unhappy. Even young people are faced with a burnout sometimes. But I am optimistic in general, I feel as if everything will work itself out in the end.”

 

What makes you angry?

“The way animals are treated in the bio-industry. That truly bothers me. I eat and drink a plant-based diet as much as I can and inspire my parents to do the same.”

What is standing in the way of realizing your dreams?

“I think what's mainly standing in the way is your own self. I have limiting beliefs and thoughts as well. It's sometimes difficult for me not to let myself be guided by the opinion of others. Fortunately, the responses I get on social media so far are positive, but I notice that I post my messages in a very nuanced way and find it hard to express my opinion on certain matters. Probably because there's not a one-fits-all solution and I am always trying to look at a situation from different perspectives. But maybe it can be the case that I also let myself be limited sometimes out of fear for other people's opinion.”

 

What do you do to realize your dreams?

“I jumped in at the deep end to make my dream come true. That is not always easy. I have left behind a certain form of security, although security is also subjective of course. I am very busy working on my personal development which is important to stand my ground. I am committed to grow on a daily basis, although I don't see the result of my efforts every day. Yet, I am trying to hold on to that commitment.”

 

And what do you do to make the Netherlands and the world better?

“Have my company grow, so I can contribute to making people more themselves and having them do what it is they really want more often. The more happy people in the world, the better equipped they are to take care of the world we live in.”

 

Volgende publicatie:
“We shouldn't focus too much on that first place”

“We shouldn't focus too much on that first place”

Published on: 21 October 2021

The Netherlands has the second-best pension system in the world according to the Global Pension Index. This ranking of national pension systems is published every year by research agency Mercer. The Netherlands has beaten its score from last year but lost its lead to newcomer Iceland. Denmark completes the top three. What does the Netherlands’ second place mean? We let our experts do the talking. “The Netherlands’ pension system is still world-leading.”

 

Iceland scored better than the Netherlands on various measures, including household savings and household debt, the minimum retirement age, and mandatory pension accrual if someone is disabled and cannot work or is on maternity leave. “In practice, the latter will often be regulated at fund level, but not by law,” says Strategic Policy Officer Tinka den Arend. The Netherlands also performs slightly worse on the employment rate of people over 55 and government spending on pensions.

Actuarial Director Alexander Paulis warns that we shouldn’t focus too much on that first place, pointing out that the Netherlands even scored better than last year. The Netherlands dropped one place because Iceland was included in the list for the first time this year. “It’s not that we’re doing less; we’re actually doing better and are also working on all kinds of things to increase the sustainability of our pension system.” He also stresses that the ranking is less global than you might think. For example, it now covers the pensions of 65% of the world’s population (that percentage was lower before) from 43 countries.

Iceland is particularly strong in terms of the sustainability of its system, scoring 84.6% compared with 81.6% for the Netherlands. Mercer looks primarily at the ratio of national debt to gross national income. “While we’re doing fine on that front in the Netherlands, Iceland outperforms us. Our take on sustainability also differs from Mercer’s,” said Paulis. “We think of sustainability more in terms of the new pension system and the options it offers. I think this is much more important than getting bogged down in the details of whether or not the national debt is one percentage point lower. As far as I’m concerned, things are looking good for the Netherlands. And we’re still world-leading, alongside Iceland and Denmark.”

 

Recommendations
Eduard Ponds, Senior Strategist Research & Analytics who is also associated with Tilburg University, also emphasizes the Netherlands’ high score of 87.9 for integrity. “The governance of the Dutch pension system appears to be very well organized.” Ponds does question Mercer’s assertion that the Dutch pension system will improve further if the people in the Netherlands save more. “I don’t quite follow that recommendation.” One of the Netherlands’ major weaknesses is a lack of flexibility. Mandatory mortgage repayments partly explain why the Netherlands is a country of excessive savers, which leads to a high net worth. Higher-income earners definitely have more money than they can spend in their lifetime. I think ‘flexibility’ would’ve been a more logical recommendation for the Dutch pension system.”

Mercer also believes that, given the increase in life expectancy, the Netherlands can do more to keep older people in work for longer. Both Ponds and Den Arend praise the country’s efforts to keep older people in employment for longer. “The Netherlands has adopted a very successful policy in this regard: firstly by raising the retirement age, and secondly by abolishing early retirement payments before state retirement age. This also shows the relativity of the ranking,” concludes Ponds. “The rise in the actual retirement age in the Netherlands has been extremely rapid,” adds Den Arend.

 

Gender Gap
The Mercer study also highlighted the gender gap. This means that women in the Netherlands generally accrue less pension than men, as women are more likely to work part-time. “It makes sense that if women work less, they also accrue less pension,” responds Den Arend. “The question is how pension funds respond,” says Paulis. “Do you say something about it? Or could you even solve the problem? Personally, I don’t think the solution lies primarily with pension funds, but they can contribute to it.”

 

Volgende publicatie:
“I don’t need that money; I’d rather have our mom back”

“I don’t need that money; I’d rather have our mom back”

Published on: 15 October 2021

How do you deal with work and money for now and for the future? Do you live one day at a time or are you consciously planning your future? And are you making your own arrangements for the future or are you part of a pension fund? In ‘Work & Money’, we let people have their say about their finances.

Tamara Straatman (38) won the jackpot in the State Lottery a few years ago.

 

Tamara Straatman (38)

Profession: independent entrepreneur

Hours worked weekly: about 30 hours a week

Income: 4000 euros net a month

Savings: 1.2 million euro

Pension set up? Yes

 

So you became an instant millionaire?

“Yes, I won the jackpot in the New Year’s Eve lottery of 2017/2018. Ten million euros. I was at a friend’s house when my dad called me, jabbering something about the jackpot. I didn’t believe it for a minute; I thought he’d had one too many. But a little while later, my brother called me, crying, to say it was really true. My first reaction? ‘I don’t need that money; I’d rather have our mom back.’ She had died earlier that year and it was her tradition to buy tickets for the state lottery for the whole family. That jackpot felt like a gift from above, even though I had mixed feelings. I’ve always said I’d be a millionaire by the time I was 35, but I never expected it to happen this way. I thought my business plans would bring in money, but it turned out to be the other way around.”

 

What did you do with that money?

“I parked a portion of it in various saving accounts and used the rest to set up my own business, and to invest. I also traveled a lot and bought a house. In spite of this, I have hardly drawn on it. What I have used up in living expenses over the past few years, I have earned back through my investments.”

 

What kind of work do you do?

“I am an entrepreneur. Through my platform JoinTheStribe.com, my team and I connect entrepreneurs, investors and consumers to each other. It is completely focused on sustainability. Sustainable entrepreneurs can pitch their business to us and we try to find investors. Part of the platform is an academy with training courses aimed at personal development and business insight. I myself will soon be giving one of those training courses: Invest with Success. I have gained a lot of experience with this in recent years and I want to pass on my knowledge.”

 

You don’t think: I’m just going to sit back and stop working?

“I don’t think that’s in my DNA. I’m used to working a lot. I used to work sixty to eighty hours a week. Plus, the work I’m doing now, sort of feels like a calling. I would love to improve society with my money, and leave behind an impactful, blooming business when I’m gone. I also enjoy challenging myself intellectually and bringing out the best in myself. I’m now working five days a week, about six hours a day. I usually work a bit on the weekend too. I’m just not the kind of person that wants to sit on the patio with a glass of wine all weekend. I’d rather be doing something useful.”

 

How much do you earn?

“I pay myself a salary and also rent out an office at home. All together, I earn about 4000 euros net a month. I used to have to get by with 2000 euros net and that was not a problem, so this is certainly enough for me.”

 

What are you fixed expenses?

“I have a high energy bill of nearly 800 euros, because I live in a detached house with a heated swimming pool in the yard. A lot of it is generated by solar panels and collectors, but it’s still quite a bit of money. And then there’s the standard things, like health insurance, internet, mobile phone, TV, etc. I also haven’t paid off my mortgage yet, because that works better in terms of taxes. The expenses for that are about 56,000 euros a year, but I don’t count that as one of my monthly expenses.”

 

 

I can afford more luxuries than before, but I still enjoy a discount

What else do you spend a lot of money on?

“I think mostly on just the comforts of life. I have a beautiful fairytale garden with goats, chickens and a dog. There is a Japanese gingko tree with my mother’s ashes under it and there is dazzling sea of flowers. There is always something blooming. It feels like I’m on vacation every day in my own house. I love living here.

In terms of business, I invest a lot in my company and in acquiring knowledge. For example, before Covid, I had a platinum membership with coach Tony Robbins, with a financial component. You get training from the best investors in the world there. Very valuable. That membership costs me 85,000 dollars a year, and then there are still all kinds of events you can go to. Including the flights and hotels, that adds up to about 130,000 a year.”

 

Has your spending pattern changed since you became a millionaire?

“I no longer have to figure out if I can afford things, that’s different from before. I can afford a bit more luxury. But I’ve never been someone who bought expensive brand name clothing, and I still enjoy a discount. I really enjoy being able to eat out more often now, but I don’t dine in five-star restaurants every week. If you do that too often, it ruins the fun.”

 

What did that jackpot bring you?

“Happiness, freedom, independence, but also a ton of problems. You end up in an unfamiliar world you then need to discover. Your whole life is topsy turvy. Money does a lot to people. They start having expectations of you, they see you differently and approach you differently. It also made me lose friends, both directly and indirectly. That really hurt.”

And are you planning your old age?

“Not really. I got the pension I had accrued during my employment paid out and I’m not accruing any pension now. Unless my entire capital evaporates, that is not relevant to me anymore. I invested 3.5 million and in my own life, I probably won’t even need that.”

 

How do you envision your life at that time?

“I think I will still be involved in the business world. I want to have earned my stripes in business and leave something good for society. I hope to still be healthy and fit at that time. If I become a mother in the next few years, I hope I will have raised a balanced person, who can stand on their own feet in society. And it would be great if I had a long-term relationship then and if I were just as in love with that person as at the beginning. I think everyone has the same dreams: whether you’re earning 2000 a month or you’re a millionaire like me. Everyone wants to be happy with their loved ones, everyone wants to be healthy, and do something meaningful for society. I think that is universal.”

 

Does money make you happy?

“It certainly contributes to your happiness, although not all rich people are happy by any means. I like the idea of being financially independent. It gives me a lot of freedom. Of course, being healthy is more important than being rich, but if you’re sick, you’re better off sick and rich than sick and poor. What makes me happy is knowing that I can make an impact with my money and I can use it to make the world a little better.”

Volgende publicatie:
What ‘Prinsjesdag 2021’ Means for Pensions

What ‘Prinsjesdag 2021’ Means for Pensions

Published on: 22 September 2021

‘Prinsjesdag 2021’ – traditionally the day on which the Dutch monarch addresses the States-General of the Netherlands and the state budget is presented to the House of Representatives – won’t go down as revolutionary in terms of policy choices or new budget measures. The government’s caretaker status means the budget is void of new policies, and instead focuses on the implementation of current policy. So, not many surprises in that respect or in terms of pensions – everything still revolves around preparations for the new system.

 

This year’s Prinsjesdag was overshadowed by the impasse in The Hague. But this isn’t necessarily detrimental to the new pension system, says strategic policy officer at APG, Nick van de Sande, who has worked together with his team to produce an annual preliminary analysis of the Prinsjesdag documents. “In terms of progress on the pension system, this caretaker status does provide a little more certainty. After all, a new government and a new Minister of Social Affairs and Employment would still need to come out with the focal points of their policy. Although Minister Koolmees’s leadership should effectively feed that drive to successfully conclude the matter, it’s good to remember that efforts had already been made to galvanize broad political support. There’s an awareness that several changes of government are needed before the new contract can be implemented.”

 

Future Pensions Act

With the current government still in its caretaker position, this year’s Prinsjesdag offered no surprises, says Van de Sande. “The government reiterated that the commitments in the pension agreement and the standardization of the surviving dependents’ pension [surviving dependents’ pension will always be on a risk basis in the accrual phase from now on, ed.] are expected to be submitted to the House of Representatives in early 2022.” The plans for the new system are currently set out in a new bill, the wet toekomst pensioenen (Future Pensions Act), which should enter into force on January 1, 2023.

Transfer of accrued benefits

Sustainable employability will also be promoted. This will make it possible, between 2021 and 2025, for employers to offer an ‘Early Retirement Scheme (RVU, ‘Regeling voor vervroegde uittreding’) to employees retiring early, without paying tax. The Prinsjesdag documents also mentioned the aim to enable pension providers to automatically transfer all types of small pensions from January 1, 2022. In other words, small amounts of pension accrued at other funds would automatically be added to your current pension. “If automatic transfer of accrued benefits isn’t possible, it should be possible to commute these ‘small pensions’,” explains Van de Sande. In addition, the agenda sets out that the law on pension distribution in the event of divorce or separation should enter into force on January 1, 2022. This means that the retirement pension accrued during a marriage or registered partnership would be distributed between both partners, regardless of the marital property regime. “Obviously, further parliamentary developments will determine whether that schedule will be met.”

Volgende publicatie:
“I’m good at making money. That’s why I had the courage to quit my job”

“I’m good at making money. That’s why I had the courage to quit my job”

Published on: 7 September 2021

How do you deal with work and money for now and for the future? Do you live one day at a time, or are you consciously planning your financial future? And are you making arrangements for the future yourself, or are you part of a pension fund? Ilse quit her well-paying job: ”I want to contribute to a better world in a different, sustainable way.”

 

Ilse Ligthart (40)

Profession: was lead business developer, is now “in between jobs”.

Works how many hours a week: currently not working.

Income: previously 4700 euros net (36 hours), currently none.

Savings: 50,000 euros, plus 60,000 euros invested, with her husband.

Pension set up? Accrued pension for fifteen years through job, but currently not accruing any.

 

What kind of work do you do?

“I’m currently figuring out how best to spend my paid time. I’m really doing a kind of sabbatical right now. I worked at Bol.com until April of this year. I was part of the management team of a department that was responsible for developing new propositions and earning models. I earned a ton and a half a year there, including a bonus, but after about five years, I started to feel uncomfortable. I felt like there was something missing in my world. We never did great things to make the company grow and to make shareholders and consumers happy. It was mostly all about selling new things as much as possible. But I personally no longer believe that all those things make anyone happy. I want to contribute to a better way in a different, sustainable way. That’s why I quit my job.”

 

That’s a big step. I imagine you spent some time thinking about it before taking it.

“Yes, I thought about it for a long time and had extensive discussions with my husband about it. I was the breadwinner at home – my husband doesn’t work – so that cancelled the entire family income. I thought I should have another job before I could quit working at Bol.com, but my husband convinced me that we had a good buffer for emergencies. He said, ‘Maybe the real emergency is that you are no longer happy doing the work you are doing.’ That gave me the courage to take the plunge.”

 

How big was that buffer?

“About 60,000 euros.”

 

Do you regret your decision?

“No, not for one minute. And I’m really happy I didn’t wait any longer. That financial security gives us peace of mind. We are using our savings, but I’m not worried at all. In the beginning I was still thinking in terms of obstacles instead of opportunities. Now I’m enjoying the freedom I get to experience. For example, we went on an extra-long vacation, just because we could.”

 

In the beginning I was still thinking in terms of obstacles instead of opportunities

What else have you done since you quit your job?

“I have been enjoying spending a lot of time on personal development through coaching and courses. I also immediately registered with the Chamber of Commerce as a self-employed person, initially in the field of advice and consultancy. I have a background in consultancy, so I could start with that tomorrow if I wanted to. And I’ve tried a few things, like, for example, helping entrepreneurs with a concrete problem within 90 minutes. You can learn from that. In this case, that 90 minutes is not enough and that this is not necessarily my style. I’m still trying to figure out what is.”

 

What would you like to do, in an ideal world?

“My dream is to have a company that contributes to a more sustainable, happier world, that I can make good money with. That’s as concretely as I can express it at this time. My focus for the next few years will be on entrepreneurship. That is new to me. It may be a little ambitious to have solved a world problem in less than six months. It is mor