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Society

From multigenerational living to tiny houses. And from informal care to residential care homes. The way we live together in society is subject to trends and challenges. Read all about it on this page.

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Income
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63 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:
APG expands collaboration with non-profit organization JINC to Amsterdam

APG expands collaboration with non-profit organization JINC to Amsterdam

Published on: 3 June 2022

APG stands for a society in which your background does not determine your future. As a partner of JINC, APG therefore invests in the talent development of children in South Limburg. This collaboration will be extended to Amsterdam, where employees will volunteer for the various projects of the non-profit organization. Annette Mosman, CEO APG, signed a new collaboration agreement for this. “Young people are the future, so if we can make a difference for a number of young people, we have made the world a little more beautiful.”

 

JINC is fighting for a Netherlands where the zip code is no longer a predictor of success on the labor market. The non-profit organization speaks of hundreds of thousands of Dutch children who grow up in an environment with a lot of unemployment and few role models. With the new cooperation agreement, APG is now also giving concrete form to social involvement in the Amsterdam region and helps to give children a good start in the labor market. For APG, the expansion is a very logical step. Annette Mosman: “I learned from home that you have to be there for your neighbors and people in your area. APG's roots are in Amsterdam and Heerlen, which is why I think it's so cool that, in addition to all the great things we already do as an organisation, we also want to make an impact in our immediate environment."

 

Boss of tomorrow

APG employees who work at the Heerlen office have been working on various projects on a voluntary basis in the South Limburg region since 2019. During the Lightning Internship, pupils from primary school, pre-vocational secondary education and practical education visit a number of departments of the organization. During the job application training courses, APG employees teach young people how to prepare for a job interview. And on the day of the Boss of Tomorrow, a student may take the place of a manager. In this context, APG received fifteen-year-old Danique from Kerkrade this week.

 

Hidden Qualities

Mosman notes that the collaboration with JINC cuts both ways. By dedicating itself to JINC, APG also invests in the talent development of its own employees. Mosman: “For example, they learn how to get young people on board with simple language, humor and the ability to put things into perspective. In addition, employees learn about society, about young people, but also about themselves. Because anyone who starts working as a trainer or coach often comes across all kinds of hidden qualities.”

 

Make a difference
The collaboration is also in line with APG as a pension provider. “We work with pride and conviction for the 4.6 million participants of our funds. We want to make a difference for these participants by ensuring a good pension and by making our contribution to a liveable world. Our pension system contributes to reducing income inequality. So making a contribution to reducing social inequality suits us very well.”

 

In addition, the extension of the contract fits in with APG's sustainability ambition. Local social involvement is one of the four topics that the organization focuses on. Mosman: “We want to support a liveable, vital and inclusive society with a sponsor budget and the voluntary commitment of employees. JINC's activities fit in well with this.” At the forefront, however, are the more than 65,000 primary and pre-vocational secondary education students who are given the opportunity to grow through the efforts of companies. As a result, they discover which professions exist, which activities belong to them and what they like and dislike. “And that's important,” adds Angelique Middeldorp of JINC. “Children have to choose where to go at a young age, and many of them barely know what's for sale in the labor market.”

Volgende publicatie:
"Money doesn't make you happy, but worries about money do make you unhappy"

"Money doesn't make you happy, but worries about money do make you unhappy"

Published on: 31 May 2022

In the Netherlands, too, the current inflation rate means that a growing number of people are rapidly getting into financial difficulty. And that doesn't just affect their finances; it also affects their peace of mind. Making people financially resilient is important, according to Experts. Especially now and employers have a role to play here too. That's why Heleen Kuiten, managing director of HR at APG, took part in a roundtable discussion on this topic. "We can help employees to set up their financial picture in the best possible way.”

Geldvinder, APG's very own startup, is holding a roundtable discussion on Tuesday, June 7, focusing on financial fitness among employees. The current economic climate is a current reason for this, says Richard Coonen, CCO & Business Developer of the online platform. "Just when we can spend our money anywhere again after the corona crisis, many families are struggling financially. 62% of employers have employees with money worries and 46% are experiencing wage garnishments." But working on financial fitness is not just about solving problems, Coonen explains. "It's about making and keeping people financially resilient. So that they can deal well with financial setbacks and windfalls.”

 

On June 7, Richard Coonen and Heleen Kuijten, managing director of HR at APG, will discuss why financial fitness is so important during an online webinar with other HR directors, scientists, and experts. Two questions will be central: why is financial fitness just as important as physical and mental fitness? And: how do you pay attention to this as an employer? With, as an extension, an equally important question: what happens if you do nothing?

Responsibility
To start with the answer to that last question: according to Kuijten, doing nothing is actually not an option for an employer. “Employees are responsible for what they do in their private lives. And therefore also responsible for their finances. What we can do is help to get the finances in order as well as possible. To prevent people from dropping out.” According to Kuijten, this attitude fits well with being a good employer, but also with the social role that APG wants to fulfill.

Despite this personal responsibility, Kuijten knows that money problems cannot always be foreseen. She mentions inflation, student debt, or divorce as possible causes. "In the Netherlands people with an average and higher income currently end up in debt counseling and people with a job increasingly knock on the door of the Voedselbank. In the newspaper, I read about a woman who lives with three children in a caravan. She thought she had it all together: marriage, house with excess value. But after her husband's divorce, it turned out that they couldn't buy two houses from that excess value after all. And there she was.”

Beyond the front door
In her immediate surroundings, Kuijten "fortunately" sees no distressing cases. But she is concerned about friends who work as self-employed workers. "They earn well, but what about when they retire? If you are employed, you are obliged to save. But a self-employed person might have to sell his house to make ends meet later on." Kuijten also sees those cases come up when she looks at APG. "The general, but generalist, image is of course that you earn a great living at a company like APG. But we also know that these kinds of problems take place right behind the front door. And in the cases where we do know, employees are struggling with wage arrears or have a partner who, as a self-employed worker, saw their income disappear due to corona.”

Three Pillars
Often you only find out what is going on in someone's life when that employee drops out, says Kuijten. And where physical symptoms are initially thought of, she says mental and financial health definitely plays a role as well. "You don't drop out on one piece; it's a combination of those three pillars that gets pulled out from under you." The managing director of HR illustrates this with a personal experience. "When my father went bankrupt, I saw as a child what that entailed. The grief, the worry... Money doesn't make you happy, but worries about money do make you unhappy. And you take that with you all day long. Especially if you are a breadwinner and have children, it is constantly in your head, and in your body.”

Periodically
As far as Kuijten is concerned, it is quite simple to give an employee a helping hand. "Of course, as an employer you can say, 'you earn enough, how can this happen?' But we have to take this issue seriously." Kuijten then thinks for example of a periodic financial examination. "Just like you have the periodic medical examination. Have you graduated and do you have student debt? Are you getting divorced? Is your retirement in sight, and do you want to stop working earlier? As an employer, you can offer the employee to start the conversation at those moments. You can also offer a financial planning course or a session with a money coach. At APG, employees receive a vitality budget with which they can go to the gym. And we also offer employees the opportunity to use Geldvinder in our current collective agreement.”

"This online platform was developed by APG in co-creation with 20 employers, 3 employers' umbrella organizations, and trade union representation," adds Coonen. "It shows employees how they stand financially now and in the future, what the financial consequences of certain (career) choices are, what they can improve and how they can do so. And this by providing insight into matters such as income and expenditure, buffers and risks, assets and debts." And also pensions stresses Coonen: "The pension system is subject to major changes in the coming years and a more active role is required from people. Geldvinder helps to find a way through this tricky matter.”

Embarrassment
Taking the step to actually use such options can be big, Kuijten realizes. " Embarrassment can play a role. By naming it as an employer and opening the door for a conversation, you show that it can happen to anyone."
There are limits to offering help, though, adds the managing director of HR. "Of course, it's someone's right not to report financial concerns. But as an executive, you do hope that the bond of trust with your team is so good that people raise the alarm in time.”

Roundtable event Financial Fitness - Tuesday, June 7 at 15:00

The conversation will be recorded in a studio and can be attended via live stream. Sign up via this link: Webinar - Financieel fit zijn, net zo belangrijk als fysiek en mentaal (geldvinder.nl)


Seated at the table are Heleen Kuijten (CHRO APG), Richard Coonen

(CCO & Business Developer Geldvinder), Paul-Peter Feld (Chief HR Officer Enexis), Renée-Andrée Koornstra (Director HRM Occupational Health & Environment VU Amsterdam), Tinka van Vuuren (Professor in Strategic Human Resources Management and Vitality Management), Clairette van der Lans

(Project leader financially fit employees at Wijzer in Geldzaken), Dr. Darya Moghimi

(Senior Human Resources Business Consultant  Work & Organizational Psychologist), Anouschka Laheij (Conversation leader).

Volgende publicatie:
“I don’t need to make a lot of money and I created that luxury position myself”

“I don’t need to make a lot of money and I created that luxury position myself”

Published on: 17 May 2022

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 setting things up for your future yourself, or do you belong to a pension fund? Sandra Boon lives as a “digital nomad” and can work anywhere in the world – as long as there is Wi-Fi.

Sandra Boon (30)

Profession: online entrepreneur

Works how many hours a week: between 20 and 40

Income: between 1500 and 2500 euros (net)

Savings: 10,000 saved, 15,000 invested

Pension set up? Yes

 

What exactly do you do?

“I am an online entrepreneur, and I do web design and online marketing, among other things. I also have a blog, I wrote a book about how I deal with money and I teach a course on dealing with money. I started my own business at 16 and taught myself everything from building websites to coding. I never had a paper route or a side job in a supermarket.”

 

How many hours a week do you spend on your business?

“It varies. When I’m in the Netherlands it’s usually full time, but when I’m on the road it’s more like twenty hours a week. I earn part of my income passively through affiliate links on my blog, among other things. When people buy something through those links, I get a certain amount. And when people buy my book, it is sent by another company. That brings a lot of peace of mind. I love being able to plan my own time, it feels very free. When you travel, you don’t always have the option to work; if you’re an online entrepreneur and there’s no Wi-Fi, that’s it. I have a small camper that I travel around in. I just spent over five months away, with my dog, who unfortunately passed away a few weeks ago. The fact that I can now take some time to deal with this is also one of the benefits of the way I’ve arranged my life.”

 

How much money do you make?

“On average between 1500 and 2500 euros a month, net.”

The less I spend, the less I need to work

Are you happy with that?

“I think it’s absolutely fine. I did earn more before; there were months when 8,000 euros came in, but then I would spend just as much. I traded in my old Toyota for an Audi, we moved from a small social housing unit to a large semi-detached house. Everything was upgraded, but that didn’t make me happier. I had to work very hard for it and outrun myself. It just wasn’t worth it to me.

 

A few years ago, when my relationship ended, I realized that I had nothing to show for all that hard work. That’s when I then changed my whole lifestyle in order to manage my finances a little better. I started saving for my retirement, bought a small house and started to watch my spending. Now I’m in the position of having things pretty well sorted out. That gives me a lot of peace and freedom. I don’t need to make a lot of money. The less I spend, the less I need to work. People who don’t know me think I’m a bit of a slacker. And there actually are weeks when I don’t do anything, but I can afford that. I created that luxury myself. I’m very glad I made that choice, because otherwise I’d still be living from paycheck to paycheck, so to speak.”

 

How much do you have in savings?

“I usually keep around 10,000 euros purely as savings, and in addition I also have about 15,000 euros invested.”

 

What are your basic monthly expenses?

“In total, they amount to about 1250 euros. The largest part goes to housing costs, my mortgage at 750 euros a month and the VvE at 125 euros. I also pay 105 euros a month for electricity, 89 euros for health insurance, 38 euros for insurance for my camper and I have subscriptions to Spotify (10 euros) and Netflix (8 euros). Depending on what I earn, I also put some away every month for my pension or on my investment account. But that’s not a fixed amount every month.”

 

What else do you spend money on?

“Mainly on travel, groceries and fun things, like eating out with friends or a day trip. I usually keep around 500 euros for variable expenses every month. When I'm traveling, I don't necessarily spend more than I do in the Netherlands. I have more fuel costs, but otherwise the costs remain fairly similar. I often stay at free campsites and I really don’t eat out three times a week. You can make it as expensive or cheap as you want. As much as possible, I want to spend my money on things that really make me happy.”

 

What do you save on?

“On anything I’m not interested in: clothing, makeup, getting coffee from a coffeeshop, furnishings, subscriptions, insurance. When it comes to energy in the house, I’m also super frugal; I take quick showers and rarely turn on the heating. But I would never sacrifice my quality of life to save money. You don’t have to, it’s up to you. You just need a lot less than you think. I noticed that again during my travels in the past few months. I didn’t have much with me, but I didn’t miss a thing.”

I want to live well and enjoy life, now and in the future

Are you making arrangements for your old age?

“Yes, for a number of years now I have had my annual margin invested by a pension provider for entrepreneurs. I have been working on it a lot lately, but not so much that I am putting in a fixed amount every month. I believe I have deposited 7,000 euros in two years so far. I put it off for a long time before, thinking I'd start putting in more when I was earning more. But instead of putting it into my retirement pot, I would spend it. It didn't feel right that I hadn’t accrued anything yet, so now I’m catching up in a big way. I don’t want to be poor when I get older. I want to live well and enjoy life, now and in the future. One doesn’t have to preclude the other.”

 

Do you see any improvement points with respect to your pension?

“I’m not where I want to be yet, I plan to put in more in the near future. But I think I’m on the right track and things will work out. Including the state pension, I’ll probably end up with around 2000 euros a month, and by that time I’ll have paid off my house, so I’ll be able to make ends meet.”

 

How do you picture your life by then?

“I would like to be on Gran Canaria or something, living the good life. Eating out a lot, doing things; anything but sitting at home and getting a cup of coffee at the snack bar once a week.”

 

Does money make you happy?

“Yes, especially because of the freedom it gives you. But it is a means, not an end in itself. Because I got my finances in order and rearranged my life, I don’t have to worry about money. As a result, I was able to escape the winter with my dog and experience the last chapter of his life with him in a special way. This would not have been possible if I had been penniless.”

Volgende publicatie:
'I sometimes long for the old days, without all those technological gadgets'

“I sometimes long for the old days, without all those technological gadgets”

Published on: 3 May 2022

Was everything better in the past, or does “now” also have its advantages? Different generations discuss social themes on the basis of propositions. This time, Karin van der Hulst (61) and her daughter Lotte Korpershoek (30). 

Lotte about herself: “I’m basically the rebel of the family; I do what I want. For example, I recently had my entire neck tattooed. Many people think that's intense, but I like it. Although my appearance might suggest otherwise, inside I am a soft-boiled egg. I work in home care three days a week and I am the mother of my 6-year-old daughter Saar.” 

Karin about her daughter: “It bothers me sometimes when she gets another tattoo - as a parent you think, is this what you really want to do? But on the other hand, it suits her and she can take anything. Besides, I used to be like that myself. I had a very short haircut and got my ears pierced, and my parents didn’t like that at all. Lot and I are very much alike. We have an incredible bond because of that. She lives in the same town and works just down the street, so we see each other almost every day. I admire Lot’s warmth and spontaneity. She always has an eye for what others need.”  

 

Karin about herself: “I am married to Peter and we have four children and seven grandchildren together. For many years I worked in childcare at a swimming pool, but when it closed during Covid, I decided to take early retirement. I figured I’d worked enough.” 

Lotte about her mother: “My mother is very sweet to me, and she is always there for me. We only need half a word to understand each other. It’s true that we are quite similar. Unfortunately, we also share our worst trait: we have zero patience.” 

 

Proposition: A good life is attainable for anyone in the Netherlands 

Lotte: “Yes, I agree with that. If you really want it, it is possible.” 

Karin: “The social safety net is generous. Maybe even a little too much. I think that some people abuse it sometimes. One of my daughters is a single mother with four children, but she works almost full time to make ends meet, while in her street there are many people sitting at home all day, doing nothing. I see cars parked outside their doors and I think: how is that possible? That bothers me sometimes.” 

Lotte: “Yes, I notice that too. Especially the slightly older generation, who benefit from a certain favorable scheme that they would lose if they went back to work. I don’t think that’s fair. I don’t understand why they don’t check it more carefully.” 

 

Proposition: Technological progress is inherently good  

Lotte: “In this day and age, when we are all so busy, we hardly know how to live without technological advances. I am already happy that there is a delayed start on my washing machine, for example, so that I can time it so the laundry is ready exactly when I get home from work.” 

Karin: “It’s all a bit much for me at times. I sometimes long for the old days, without all those technological gadgets. Everyone is on their phone all the time, children are often gaming on their iPads. Go outside, I think. It’s nice to have a washing machine, but I don’t use the dryer. I prefer to hang my laundry outside on the line, that makes me happy. All these things have been invented and we can’t go back. I sometimes regret that. Doing the dishes used to be quite an event. We did it together, we sang at the top of our lungs and had good conversations, so special. Those were good times.” 

Lotte, laughing: “Well, we were not all that excited about doing the dishes. But seriously: you did take the time to really listen to each other back then.” 

 

Proposition: People used to watch out for each other more 

Lotte: “For us, when I talk about our family, that doesn't apply. We look out for each other and for others a lot. But I do notice that outside of that, it’s not so much like that. To give an example: when I see someone eating, I always say ‘Bon appetit’. But when we were walking in the city the other day and I did that, the person I said that to just about fell off his chair in surprise.” 

Karin: “But we just keep doing that anyway. I have noticed that, especially since Covid, people live more in their own little world. That worries me.” 

Lotte: “I think, in any case, people could be a little more considerate of each other. The world would be a much better place for it.”  

 

Proposition: You have to be so careful when you say anything these days 

Karin: “Yes, at least it is said more often that you should not say something. People take everything personally and many subjects are sensitive. Sometimes you don’t mean anything wrong, but it is misunderstood. I think tolerance is hard to find.” 

Lotte: “Yes, you think extra about everything: is it okay to say this? Is it okay to do this? For example, my daughter will soon be having an event at school, with the theme ‘come as what you want to be’. She wants to wear an army outfit, but I find that a bit sensitive, with the war in Ukraine. That kind of thing.” 

It is practically impossible to live on one income as parents nowadays.

Proposition: We are very prudish nowadays 

Karin: “When I look at today’s video clips, they don’t look prudish to me. I was not very prudish myself, even though I was raised that way.” 

Lotte: “You didn’t raise us to be prudish either.” 

Karin: “Well, I seem to remember that we had no problem with nudity, and you were the one that had a problem with us wanting to put a new glass shower door in the bathroom.” 

Lotte: “Hmm, I don’t know where I get that from, but I’m always conscious of what I want to show or not show. That is also how I am raising my daughter. I don’t mind if she makes videos for TikTok, but only fully dressed and she always has to show them to me first. Decency is important to me. Especially since I became a mom, public nudity seems to bother me more. I would never lie down topless on the beach, for example. I don’t consider that decent.” 

 

Proposition: The gap between the rich and the poor keeps getting bigger  

Lotte: “Absolutely. They should take more money from the rich. If you have a lot, you can afford to give more, I’d say.” 

Karin: “Then again, I find the discussion about taxing home ownership a tricky one. My husband and I have almost paid off our mortgage and have worked hard for years to do so. It wouldn’t feel fair to us if we were suddenly taxed more. But, on the other hand, it’s not fair for our youngest daughter to pay 2000 euros a month in rent and not be able to buy. I think that is really awful.” 

Lotte: “I have a good life. But it is getting more and more expensive. It’s practically impossible to live on one income as parents, nowadays. You both have to work, or you won’t be able to make ends meet. We basically spend an entire month’s wages on basic expenses like mortgage and utilities, and we don’t even have that big a mortgage.” 

Karin: “I had the luxury of being able to stay home when the kids were little. Once they were all in school, I went back to work. I’m noticing that we are often asked to babysit the grandchildren now. I love doing it and I love them, of course, but sometimes I think: my husband and I want to do things for ourselves too, now that we have reached this age. These days, there is a lot of pressure on grandparents because the parents work so much. And I see a lot of grandparents at the school, picking up the kids. I don’t think we are meant to be the ones raising the grandchildren.” 

In the neighborhood we live in now, hardly anyone watches out for each other

Proposition: Kids these days, they will never amount to anything 

Karin: “I think every generation lumps the young people together. Our parents said the same thing: those kids will never amount to anything. And although you think you’ll never say that yourself, you end up doing it anyway. You are still inclined to think that it was better in your time. But I don’t really believe that today’s youth is so hopeless.” 

Lotte: “There are always a few bad apples; that’s just the way it is. But if I encounter a nuisance from a group of young people, for example, then I try to talk to them, in a positive way. To get them to change their minds. For example: hey, I understand that you are here and you’re having a good time, but would you mind toning it down a bit? Then the problem is solved. Everyone should have a place to develop themselves, especially young people.” 

Karin: “Lotte also went through a phase where she was hanging around the mall with a group of friends. I would hear about that from other people.” 

Lotte: “It was just fun.” 

Karin: “Other people didn’t like it. They’d say to me: I’d drag her out of there by the hair. But I knew: she’ll probably be into something else again in a couple of weeks. She was searching. I think we should put ourselves in their shoes more. If we all do that and we are all a little more considerate of each other, everything will be fine.” 

 

Proposition: Everything was better in the past 

Lotte: “I was a lot more relaxed when I was a child. Now I constantly have this sense of agitation and I experience quite a bit of stress. We used to communicate very differently and we used to enjoy playing outside. Yes, my experience is that things were better in the past.” 

Karin: “I think so too. We lived in a “woonerf” (living street); you don’t see those anymore either. The whole neighborhood played together, the children were always outside. In the neighborhood where we live now, hardly anyone watches out for each other. I don’t even know who our neighbors across the street are. That really bothers me. More and more municipalities are merging, which means that the village feeling of everyone knows everyone is disappearing. It is all becoming so impersonal.” 

Volgende publicatie:
Exchanging a religious holiday gives room to all faiths

Exchanging a religious holiday gives room to all faiths

Published on: 25 April 2022

What if an employee wants to be free on the day that Muslims celebrate Sugar Feast and wants to work on Good Friday, for example? No problem at APG. We stand for an inclusive work environment where everyone can be themselves. This also includes celebrating religious holidays. And not just on the days that Dutch employees have officially off. Colleague Mohammed Elfayda is very happy with that. “I really get all the space to exercise my faith.”

 

This Ramadan is a very special one for Mohammed Elfayda, Product Owner Swift & Payment Services at APG. “Because corona is 'over' and we are now at home with the three of us instead of the two of us. For my family it is really a month of reflection and self-reflection.”

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar and it started on April 1 this year. It is a very important month. "During this period, Muslims commemorate Muhammad receiving his first message from God. Everything that God told him was written down in the Quran. And we do that commemoration by fasting; one of the five pillars of Islam, in addition to profession of faith, prayer, almsgiving and a pilgrimage to Mecca. And that means that we Muslims do not eat or drink anything between sunrise and sunset. No, not even a drink of water."

 

His work does not suffer from fasting, says Mohammed. "We are allowed to set our own working hours at APG and that is ideal, really. So, during this month, I get up before dawn to have something to eat, which means that my nights are always broken up during Ramadan. But then I have the freedom to start work an hour later. Another advantage is that I have the opportunity to do my prayers in Heerlen as well as in Amsterdam."

No, not even a drink of water

Set tables
When Mohammed thinks back to the old days, he automatically gets a smile on his face. "The whole family together, long, set tables and everyone was happy. The last two years were different because of Covid. And this year is still not like before; everyone is still cautious. And rightly so. This year we have been sharing meals only with my parents or parents-in-law and not with the whole family. And we do that only at our house. Because our 9-month-old son is used to going to sleep around eight o’clock. And because sunset is currently around 8:45 p.m., the family comes to our place."

 

Fixed traditions

According to Mohammed it is a tradition to break your fast with a glass or milk and a date in the evening. Followed by a cup of soup. "That may be traditional harira or a tomato-vegetable soup. My own tradition is to have some bread with Bufkes party sauce on it, with the soup, haha. Once I finish that, I’m pretty full. About an hour and a half after dinner, we go the mosque for evening prayers."

 

A lot of sweet stuff
Now that Ramadan is almost over, Mohammed is looking forward to the Sugar Fest. That may take place on May 2, the exact day depends on the new moon. “Around the last days of Ramadan, people check whether the new moon has been seen. When it is Eid, you actually only know the night before. On that morning of the first day of the tenth month, called shawwal, we get up early, take care of ourselves and go to the mosque. After the prayer, something is eaten, for example dates or other sweets, to indicate that the fast is really over. Then the party begins. We visit family, eat more sweets and exchange presents. And if possible, we also visit the graves of deceased loved ones.”
In terms of work, nothing stands in the way for Mohammed to celebrate the Sugar Fest. “APG has launched a diversity day. That means that every employee can exchange Good Friday for a religious holiday of their choice.”

Volgende publicatie:
Can housing be made affordable again?

Can housing be made affordable again?

Published on: 14 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: Head of European real estate Robert-Jan Foortse talks about the question of whether housing can be made affordable again.

New homes threaten to become unaffordable for many people, warns the Home Owners Association (VEH) on Monday. The same day, the government says it wants to do something about the steep rise in rents in the free sector. The question arises whether housing can be made affordable again, and how. According to Foortse, there is only one solution, and that is to build more homes. A lot of homes. 

Rental Rates
“I think the solution is a bigger housing supply. Other measures may be counterproductive. One example of a counterproductive measure is limiting rent increases. After all, if rents are no longer allowed to rise, why would investors invest in Dutch homes? One consequence may be that large investors invest their capital in the housing market of the countries around us, where often the same problems apply as in the Netherlands. After all, part of the problem is partly the result of the monetary and fiscal policy pursued in recent years.”

When it comes to rental housing, corporations also play a role. “They could divest part of their rental housing in the free sector to institutional investors in order to focus entirely on social rental housing.” Foortse does not think that will send rental rates in the free sector through the roof. “Institutional investors generally invest in residential properties because they have a fairly low investment risk and are therefore a stable part of their portfolio. Residential investments have a somewhat lower return but if the rent increases are around the inflation level, I think it works well for investors. For this year, the largest Dutch investors, in consultation with IVBN and the Ministry of the Interior, have decided to limit the rent increase to 3.3%, despite higher inflation. A limited rent increase reduces competition because it makes private equity firms, which want to increase rent as much as possible in a short period of time, lose interest. Thus, you reduce the stress on the market and prices do not go through the roof. Long-term investors benefit most from a stable, predictable housing market.”

Investors are also looking at accessibility for housing in the large cities for workers such as teachers and medical staff

New buildings
The Dutch housing market now consists of 57 percent owner-occupied housing and 43 percent rental housing. Investments for new rental homes will have to come partly from investors, but the money for owner-occupied homes will have to be raised by private buyers. “Newly built homes are now in the 300 to 500,000s, but that is a price that few people can afford anymore, according to VEH. The question is how to build houses in the 200 to 250,000 range. They will either be much smaller than the current new construction, or they will be in places that are less desirable,” Foortse says. There are two major components in the price structure of a house that make it difficult to build much cheaper. “There are the construction and material costs, which are rising by the day due to high inflation, and there is the price of the site. That is often calculated by municipalities. It is difficult for them to offer the site cheaper, because then they are left with a hole in their budget and can no longer finance other projects.”


Last month, Housing Minister Hugo de Jonge did indicate that he can intervene with a so-called “designation” with local authorities to enable additional residential construction. To date, such a designation has rarely been used, and not without reason, Foortse believes. “That is considered a draconian measure in the Netherlands, because you touch the hierarchy that we have in this country with a national, provincial and municipal government. I understand that the cabinet wants to coordinate the solution to this problem centrally, but I can also understand if there is local resistance to new constructions projects here and there.


Finally, according to Foortse, the construction of new homes is not only hindered by the sharp increase in land and material costs, but also by the strict(er) laws and regulations regarding sustainability. Examples are regulations on insulation, on the disconnection of gas networks and on emissions of CO2 and nitrogen. "This limits the possibilities to designate new housing locations and often leads to higher construction costs. Institutional investors also have the task of investing heavily to make the existing housing portfolios more sustainable. The latter does contribute to lower energy costs for tenants."

Upgrading
There are several sides to the concept of affordability, Foortse explains. “For example, you can ask yourself for whom new construction should be affordable. If new houses are built for around 450,000, we can at least ensure that anyone currently living in a house valued at 200-300,000 could upgrade to a new house. This will create more supply in the lower segment for first-time buyers. In recent years, the supply in the 450,000-range lagged behind, which prevented people from advancing in the housing market. After all, if there are no better-quality new homes, why move? Traditionally, a person moves from a single to a double household and eventually to a family home. People generally look for more space in their next home.”


Building more is thus the long-term solution. There are, however, a number of concerns that Foortse believes should be taken into account. One is to ensure that the government does not scare off large investors by limiting rent increases. As far as new construction is concerned, consideration must be given to whom it is being built for: for those moving up to the higher segment or for first-time buyers. And in the case of new construction, it will be a balancing act for the government to remove any local resistance to new construction projects. "In the shorter term, we can investigate whether we could make better use of the existing housing stock, as was recently suggested by some economists. This could be done by further stimulating cohabitation, or at least not making it more financially unattractive. The number of single-person households has been rising for years. For the affordability of the housing market, it would be good if that trend could be stopped. In addition to affordability, institutional investors are also looking at accessibility for housing in the large(r) cities for so-called 'key workers', such as teachers and medical staff. This can be done by introducing priority arrangements."

Volgende publicatie:
Is the Dutch shopping street making a comeback?

Is the Dutch shopping street making a comeback?

Published on: 30 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: Head of European real estate Robert-Jan Foortse, about the future of the Dutch shopping street. “In the past, people mainly went there to buy things. Today, consumers want more.”

In the first year after opening, the Mall of the Netherlands, a shopping center in Leidschendam-Voorburg, attracted 13 million visitors, despite two lockdowns. That was more than expected. This tells us that big shopping malls seem to be faring well, but the Dutch shopping street, on the other hand, is struggling, and has been for some time, Foortse says. “Although it does make a difference whether you are talking about the Kalverstraat in Amsterdam or a shopping street in the somewhat smaller provincial town. The trend from physical to digital sales has been going on for a number of years, and Covid has accelerated that trend.” Still, Foortse sees opportunities for the shopping street, although it will require a transformation.

Fragmented

Investing in shopping streets to help them get back on their feet is not so easy. “The problem with shopping streets is that ownership is extremely fragmented. It is therefore very difficult to create a proposition for a shopping street because there are so many stakeholders and owners. For example, one owner may want to invest in his own property but not in the infrastructure, while another may not want to invest at all. Because of this fragmentation, APG, about fifteen years ago, chose to invest primarily in shopping malls and outlets, such as, for example, Batavia Stad Fashion Outlet. This is actually a replica of a Dutch shopping street. Because we have full ownership, this shopping street can be managed and controlled in the same way as a shopping mall. We have influence on the range of stores, the parking facilities and whether it is safe and well maintained. We don’t have that influence in an ordinary shopping street. Visitors in Batavia Stad notice that it is a pleasant environment for shopping, although the outlet discounts also play a role, of course.” 

 

Because the traditional shopping street has so many stakeholders with different interests, it takes a long time to find a new use for it, says Foortse. “This is primarily a problem that, in my opinion, lends itself to a public-private partnership. The various stakeholders must come together and design a joint vision of the shopping street of the future.” Because the function is changing. “In the past, people used to go there mainly to buy things. Today, consumers want more. I think people still want to go to the shopping street, but it’s more to buy something tasty from the deli or to visit a pop-up store. You have to create something that appeals to people, and that is no longer just offering items to buy. Experience may be a word that is being overused, but it really is about that. Post-Covid, we are once again noticing that people are social beings after all and like to go somewhere where there are other people.”

A transformation of the shopping street is afoot, but it is happening slowly

Transformation

Of all purchases, about 75 percent are still made in physical stores. The remaining 25 percent is done digitally; a percentage that will only get higher. The average shopping street of the near future will therefore need fewer square meters of retail space. “The shopping street still has quite a few qualities to offer, but we may have to reinvent it and find a new approach. One of those qualities is that they are often centrally located in a town. Also, there is often parking nearby. If flexible working becomes a permanent part of our lives, retail space can be converted into workplaces. People who don’t have a suitable workspace at home will then be able to go there, but they will still not want to have to deal with traffic jams to the office outside the city.” The location in the city center and the parking facilities also argue in favor of converting stores into homes, Foortse believes. “But it can easily take several years to get the zoning changed. That does take away the incentive to create something new in a shopping street. That’s where I see a role for politicians. They should ensure that this process can be accelerated.”  

 

It appears that the Dutch shopping street will be able to make a new start, but it will look very different in ten or twenty years than it does today, Foortse believes. “I think you’ll see much more of a mix of today’s traditional stores, places to eat and drink, offices where you can rent workplaces and residential spaces. That will be true for all cities, although there will be differences in emphasis. For example, Amsterdam’s Kalverstraat will remain primarily a shopping street while the shopping street in a smaller town will include more housing. A transformation of the shopping street is afoot, but it is happening slowly.”

Volgende publicatie:
'If you have too much money, nothing is special anymore'

"If you have too much money, nothing is special anymore"

Published on: 30 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? In this Money Week, we let a couple of young people have their say. Marek (16) puts some money aside every month, but doesn't mind spending the rest. 

 

Marek Hankel (16) 

Income: 500 euros per month 

Savings: about 700 euros 

 

Do your parents give you any money? 

"Yes, 30 euros pocket money and a 50-euros clothing allowance each month. My friends get about the same amount. Sometimes my parents give me a bit extra, like the last time during carnival. They gave me 50 euros and they let me spend it on whatever I wanted. But if I get something, my brother and sister want the same, of course, so my parents have to draw a line." 

 

Do you think it's enough? 

"Not for what I want to spend it on. You know, I can buy a shirt at a cheap store for 15 euros, but I prefer a shirt from Daily Paper for 50 euros. I just have expensive taste. That's why part of the money I earn from my second job is spent on clothing, and I often ask for designer clothes on my birthday and holidays." 

 

Do you have any other sources of income? 

"Yes, I work at the till at Jumbo, about fifteen hours a week. That earns me 5.60 euros per hour, on Sundays double that. On a monthly basis, that's about 250 euros net. I also get an internship allowance of 180 euros per month. I do a disabled care internship two days a week. All in all, I get just over 500 euros per month. I think that's quite a lot." 

 

What did you parents teach you about money? 

"My parents are quite frugal, they don't spend their money on 'silly' things. For example, they don't understand why I need a shirt from Daily Paper so badly, I might as well buy a cheap shirt, right? I have a different opinion about that, but I do understand them. They also taught me to save enough so you always have some money for a rainy day." 

 

How much have you saved? 

"Between 600 and 800 euros, I think. I pay about 200 euros into my savings account every month. I don't think saving is easy, but I know it's wise, so I'll do it. My parents have also set aside a certain amount for me for later."  

Do you have a specific savings goal? 

"Yes, I would like to buy a scooter. You can't get it for less than 1500 euros, so I have to keep saving for a bit." 

 

Are you good with money? 

"Fairly, sometimes I have to control myself. The thing is, I like to buy things. I can put a lot more in my savings account, but what will I gain with that? When I have a real salary later, those few hundred euros will mean nothing. I'd better have a good time with my earned money now than have it just sitting doing nothing in my savings account." 

The thing is, I like to buy thingsThe thing is, I like to buy things

What do you spend your money on, apart from designer clothes? 

"Driving lessons, I have to pay half of that myself, my parents pay the other half. Going out is also quite expensive. The supermarket also gets some of my income; I often go get a sandwich with a can of Red Bull during my break, and it all adds up. And I bought a PlayStation, for example, and a new phone. They're not cheap either." 

 

What do you want to be later in life? 

"I want to do something in social care. Maybe care for the disabled, or in a juvenile detention center. I'm not quite sure where exactly. But I want to work with people anyway, help people." 

 

That's not a sector known for good earnings, do you find that difficult? 

"Well, of course you work to get paid, but if you're only working on the best income, I think you're doing something wrong. I would be very unhappy if I earned 10,000 euros a month and had to sit in an office working on a laptop all day. I'd much rather help people. If that pays less, so be it." 

 

Does money make you happy? 

"Yes, I'm convinced of that. For a large part, at least. At my age, it would be nice if I really had a lot of money so I could just buy a scooter and not have to worry about what I was spending when I go out. But I can't imagine someone like Jeff Bezos being happy anymore. If you have so much money, nothing is special anymore. It'll be very special for me to be able to buy a scooter, because I've worked very hard for it. But if you can buy everything without thinking, the fun's gone." 

 

Are you worried about your financial future? 

"I wouldn't say worried, but I do think about it. Everything's getting more expensive. Sometimes I think you need to have a high income to be able to join in with the fun. I also think I'll be living at home longer than I might like. We just moved to a nice house, my friends can come by often. Then why would I sit in a room of 10 m2 for an extremely high amount of money? I don't see myself leave at age 18, that's in less than a year and a half. No, I wouldn't mind leaving the house until I'm 21." 

 

Your retirement is still a long way off, have you ever thought about it? 

"I make a lot of jokes about retiring soon when I'm busy. I also sometimes think about what I would do by then, but I'm not yet planning anything for when I'm 70. I'll see what I have left by then. I don't see myself stop working at 50, as some people intend to do. You have to save up everything and not spend a single euro. I do want to be able to go on holiday and go out for dinner now and then - enjoy myself."  

Volgende publicatie:
“Financial questions by young people are really all about now”

“Financial questions by young people are really all about now”

Published on: 29 March 2022

On 28 March, Money Week kicked off. The starting signal was given from the Kunsthal in Rotterdam, by Queen Máxima, honorary president of platform Wijzer in geldzaken (Wiser in money matters). Finance Minister Sigrid Kaag was also in attendance. Together they talked to four guest lecturers spread across four locations in the Netherlands by video link. Among them was DaCapo College in Geleen, where APG’s Head of Growth Management Anne-Marie Le Doux was teaching at that time.


Which class did you give the guest lesson to?
Anne-Marie: “These students are thirteen to sixteen years old and are in practical education phase two, also called the internship orientation phase. This phase is about awareness of talents - for example through internships - but attention is also given to, for example, independent living. Everything is geared towards the prospect of being able to work in retail, hospitality, facility services or technology, at the end of this phase.”

Money Week, like the guest lesson “Now for later”, is held under the umbrella of Wijzer in geldzaken (Wiser in money matters). This platform is an initiative of the Ministry of Finance, and is aimed at promoting financial fitness in the Netherlands. To achieve this, partners from the financial sector, science, government and educational, information and consumer organizations join forces.

In this 11th edition of Money Week, extra attention is being drawn, through Friday April 1, to the thousands of guest lessons and workshops offered at primary and secondary schools by people working in the financial sector. The guest lectures and workshops are held throughout the year. This year’s theme is “From Doekoe to Digi” and is about the increasing digitization of money (e.g. contactless payments, internet banking, digital payment requests and online investing).

What did you talk to them about? “I gave the guest lesson 'Now for later', developed by the Pension Federation. PGGM and APG were asked to delegate teachers for this. The lesson was created to get students thinking about their financial future. It is about what you can do now and in the years ahead to make sure you can continue to live comfortably after you retire. The lesson also gives insight into what pensions actually are, how they are accrued and what are important moments to watch out for when it comes to your retirement.”


Isn’t it difficult to get students in this age group interested in retirement?
“What you notice is that retirement is still very far from their minds. Their questions are really all about now. For example: how does the tax return for my side job work? How does my DiGiD work? Do I need my own health insurance? And how do I get that set up? I really had to adjust my narrative to that. Fortunately, the lesson is very well structured, it is very interactive and can easily be adapted to the level you are dealing with.


I did notice that as a teacher you really have to be a jack-of-all-trades. Teacher Debby knew all the students from top to bottom, knew exactly what was going on during the lesson, while at the same time keeping an eye on their energy levels, and knew how to make my story even livelier for her students. That is quite impressive. It is also nice for a guest lecturer when someone like that is available, even if they are just in the background.”


How did you build that bridge to pensions?
“For example, by talking about saving for a moped. We discussed that just as you can save for a moped, you can also save for unforeseen expenses - and thus also for retirement. We talked about the importance of looking ahead, using the example of a phone plan. We discussed ‘how to deal with your expensive phone subscription if you lose your side job’. The conclusion was that you really need to avoid debt or arrears, and you definitely want to stay away from a BKR registration. Attention to that is incredibly important because more than 37 percent of young people are in debt and one in four are already in arrears.”


Did you also talk about pension funds?
“Not so much about pension funds, but about the distinction between pension accrual as a self-employed person and pension accrual as an employee. A number of these students dream of starting their own hairdressing salon, or being self-employed in the construction industry. So how you accrue a pension as a self-employed person and what you need to set up for that is very relevant to them. This is a group that often starts work at a relatively young age. The sooner they start making healthy financial choices, the better they can live now and in the future.”


How did the conversation with Queen Máxima and Minister Kaag go?
“That was a bit chaotic because there were problems with the sound. As a result, none of the four conversations actually went very well. Too bad, but the teacher did tell me that her class really enjoyed the conversations with the Queen and the Minister. Feeling ‘seen’ is not something that comes naturally to this group.” 

Volgende publicatie:
What happens when a country goes bankrupt?

What happens when a country goes bankrupt?

Published on: 25 March 2022

Topical issues in the field of economy, (responsible) investment, pension and income: every week, one of APG's experts provides a clear answer to this week's question.

 

In this edition: Sjacco Schouten, Head of Emerging Market Debt, about the consequences when a country such as Russia is no longer able to fulfil its payment obligations. “Also in an economic sense, it is a scenario with only losers.”

 

In the beginning of March, a number of credit rating agencies expressed the expectation that Russia would possibly no longer be able in the short term to fulfil its payment obligations (interest and redemption of the national debt) due to the Western sanctions. Russian government bonds were given a so-called ‘junk’ status, which more or less means that creditors deem it very likely that a large part of their money will not be repaid. This raises the question what happens to a country in case of such ‘bankruptcy’. In what case is this applicable? And what are the consequences?

 

The first question appears to be relatively easy to answer. Schouten: “The interest payment and redemption of government bonds usually takes place on pre-established dates. If a country misses such date, a grace period takes effect first during which the country is given the opportunity to still make the payment. When that doesn't happen, the country officially goes in default.

 

Virtually zero

The answer to the second question – about the consequences of such default – is much more complicated as it entails quite some ifs and buts.

 

“When a country is officially in default, all kinds of processes are activated. A government will usually propose a restructuring to the bondholders and make agreements on ‘how to continue’. These agreements depend on the conditions of the bond and the legislation of the country where the bonds are issued. In the most extreme case, when a country is truly unwilling or unable to pay, the bondholders are possibly forced to fully write off their bonds, to virtually zero. The price will not be entirely zero, because you can never rule out for a hundred percent that some money will still be repaid at a certain time.”

 

Russia has not yet achieved that point. The country has not missed any payments until now. Should that be the case in the future, it will rather be due to the sanctions making payment transactions impossible or Russia's willingness to pay than its ability to fulfil the financial obligations. “Given Russia's oil revenues, the country should be more than capable to fulfil its obligations. Whether the country is also willing to do so in the long term, is a different issue. In that respect, a distinction in conditions could arise between investors who are willing to participate in restructuring and bondholders who are unwilling or unable to do as a result of the sanctions. This provides Russia with the opportunity to give ‘friendly’ countries more favorable conditions than ‘unfriendly’ countries.”

 

Preferential treatment

However, the pari passu principle applies to bondholders, meaning they should be treated equally. Schouten: “In principle, bondholders from a certain country cannot be given a preferential treatment. But the conditions of bonds issued under local legislation may differ from the conditions of government bonds issued under international legislation. In addition to the legislative aspect, many other factors play a role in a possible restructuring of the Russian national debt. For example, the currency in which a bond is issued - dollars or rubles. Moreover, for certain investors it is simply forbidden to still receive payments from Russia or to make payments to Russian entities. All of those factors combined make restructuring very complicated when it comes to Russia.”

 

Consequences

What are the consequences should Russia decide to no longer pay its bondholders?

 

“In that case, the country would become even more isolated and restricted in gaining access to the capital markets. In the short-term Russia is able to absorb a lot through its oil reserves and proceeds from oil and gas supplies. In broad lines, the country is still able to keep its economy running reasonably well. But in the months to come, the Russian economy is expected to shrink and the financial situation of the country will become more problematic. To what extent the country will then be able to hold back the economic contraction depends on the willingness of other countries to help Russia. That willingness cannot be excluded. Even if all Western countries - such as the US - ban Russian oil, Russia can still sell oil to other countries.”

 

‘Adding insult to injury’

Nevertheless, it looks like Russia will be facing a doomsday scenario in an economic sense. “In terms of food, Russia should for a large part be able to continue to be self-sufficient. But once the supply of everything the country imports stops - technology, computers, chips, and so on – large parts of the economy will come to a standstill. The average Russian will go back in time. He or she may possibly overcome the fact that a visit to McDonald’s is no longer possible, but access to technological knowledge and certain parts for instance, is of great importance to keep an economy running and developing.”

 

Adding insult to injury, that's what it comes down to should Russia become a defaulter. Schouten: “The sanctions are already causing damage to the economy. The population already prefers having dollars instead of rubles. In the event of a default, a major cycle is triggered after which the Russian economy is expected to end up in a deep recession with high inflation. Also in an economic sense, it is a scenario with only losers.”

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:
Will the economic outlook change, now that Covid appears to be here to stay?

Will the economic outlook change, now that Covid appears to be here to stay?

Published on: 3 December 2021

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 on whether the economic outlook should be adjusted now that it seems that Covid will be with us for the foreseeable future.

 

Just under two years after the Covid outbreak, the Netherlands is again in lockdown due to increasing infection rates. At the same time, reports are coming in from southern Africa of a new Covid variant. At the end of 2020, we still thought that vaccines would get the virus under control, but now that hope seems to have faded. How will the new developments around Covid affect government policy, consumer confidence and financial markets? "If the government decides to stop the support, it really becomes a less positive story and an economic blow with bankruptcies and rising unemployment is inevitable," said Knaap.

 

Impact

When Covid first took hold, the Netherlands benefited greatly from the support measures of the Dutch government. Central banks also took action, so the impact on companies and financial markets was lower than expected. In fact, the number of bankruptcies is historically low to this day. Investors did not lose their money because companies were able to survive thanks to the support. Knaap: "Government support measures make sense in a temporary crisis, as Covid was considered to be, until recently. But understandably, there will come a point where the government may think, 'enough is enough'. After all, you can't keep companies afloat until the end of the century if their existence is no longer feasible in the new situation." So, for the economic outlook, a lot depends on what the Dutch government and other countries decide in the coming period.

 

The longer the lockdown remains in place, the worse it is for economic dynamism. "At the end of the day, you need people to engage in business. But who is going to open a restaurant in this day and age? The economy is getting a hit regardless. That also argues in favor of not phasing out the support measures, so that at least the existing companies don't go bankrupt," says Knaap. The advantage for the Netherlands is that it still gets money when it issues bonds. "We can continue to do that for years to come without being affected," he says. For other countries, and certainly emerging economies, the situation is more dire.

 

Consumers

Consumer confidence also plays a role in the economic outlook. "Economic growth occurs when companies make a profit, and they do that when they sell enough of their products to consumers. This has been difficult in the recent period due to problems with product supply. However, there was a lot of demand for products and services recently because consumers hoarded money during Covid by not being able to go to the pub or go on vacation," Knaap said. "The new lockdown still constitutes another setback for many people, with the hairdresser and theaters having to close earlier. That leads to less consumer confidence, making consumers more cautious in their spending. And that's never good for the economy."

 

Shock

The news of the omicron variant had already led to falling stock prices. What does that say about the prospects for the stock market? "Investors always have the previous shock still in their minds," states Knaap. That was in March 2020. But after first going down sharply, stock markets rose to record highs. It is possible that investors expect that the new outbreak will not lead to an economic crisis. Still, Knaap takes into account that it will turn out differently than last time. "The falling prices could now persist for a longer time, because we no longer see Covid as something temporary." Should we therefore adjust economic expectations? "The storyline is changing now. The previous storyline started with the pandemic after which the vaccinations followed and we expected economic recovery with rapid growth within two years." With these latest developments, that chance of rapid recovery now suddenly seems a lot further away."

 

The next few weeks will show whether this is a last hiccup of the virus and this will be a short lockdown. If so, there is a good chance that the positive economic expectations of a few weeks ago can be sustained. This is also due to the fact that the government can still intervene for a long time and stock prices have not fallen extraordinarily hard after the emergence of the omicron variant. Still, the new lockdown is creating uncertainty, including among consumers. The longer Covid remains among us, the more likely it is that at some point the government will stop its generous support policy, causing bankruptcies and unemployment to rise and stock markets to take a hit as well. The story is not over yet.

Volgende publicatie:
“What is the relevance of trade unions these days?”

“What is the relevance of trade unions these days?”

Published on: 12 November 2021

Topical issues in the field of economy, (responsible) investment, pension and income: every week, one of APG's experts provides a clear answer to this week's question. This edition: the number of trade union members in the Netherlands has never been this low since 1996. Peter Gortzak, Head of Policy APG and former Vice President of the national trade union center FNV, about the question of whether or not the trade union is still relevant. “The figures are falling, according to the survey conducted by the CBS (Dutch Central Statistical Office). But if you look at the number of members, the trade union is the largest association in the Netherlands. An association committed to combat exploitation and standing up for the underlying party in our labor relations.”

 

The number of trade union members in the Netherlands has never been this low since 1996. The share of pensioners increases, while the group younger than 25 years of age is becoming smaller and smaller. And only a quarter of the members is 45 years or younger, while that group encompasses more than half of the working population in the Netherlands. These are recent figures published by the Dutch Central Statistical Office (CBS) which leaves room for only one conclusion: the trade unions are aging rapidly. The outflow is no longer compensated by young increment and the lasting members are getting older every year. The number of members decreased with approximately 6 percent compared to 2019. FNV is top of the list: in two years’ time this trade union has nearly 10 percent less members.

These are figures Peter Gortzak learns about with great sorrow, but to which he also likes to add a comment. “The decreasing number of members is portrayed quite negatively in the media. That's a pity as it does not reflect today's zeitgeist. And, of course, based on the decreasing numbers it is possible to trivialize the value of the labor movement, but it still is the largest association in the Netherlands.”

Gortzak describes that spirit of the times as follows: “Just look at the churches and broadcasters, the sports and music clubs, people are less likely to become a member of anything these days. In addition, the contribution for young people with a flexible job is quite high. It's also difficult for them to recognize what the trade union can do on their behalf.” Higher educated and better paid employees think they are able to do it better themselves and therefore don't need the trade union. ”And all of those factors together, partly explain the decline in numbers.”

There is, however, something the unions can do about these falling figures, Gortzak says. Trade unions could do more to convey the need of their existence. A more innovative and broader message seems to be necessary to persuade young people. That story is also more often told by FNV: themes such as climate change, the housing market, combating the growth of flexible contracts and problems with supplements and benefits receive more attention. As far as Gortzak is concerned, the labor movement should show their true value more often. “Tell people why you are fighting for the construction worker who is a self-employed person. Show the considerations made during negotiations. And not during a members’ meeting, as your members are already attending those events. Show your story and your face to people who are not a member yet.”

 

FNV and other trade unions are now relying mainly on traditional members. The member base, as shown by the CBS figures, consists for three-quarters of people older than 45 years of age. Most of them are working in sectors such as education, government, transport, construction and industry. They often became a member of the union based on the idea of holding a strong position towards their own employer. The core task of the union appears to be most important to them: a good Collective Labor Agreement and a good pension. Gortzak points out that not everything should be indicated in a macro figure: in some sectors he actually sees a high level of organization, meaning the number of memberships within a certain sector. “Don't just look at the outcome of the survey, as that is macro-thinking. Also look at the number of members per employer, per sector. Unfortunately, new sectors are emerging increasingly often in which hardly any union members are present.  But there are also sectors in which the membership of trade unions is flourishing. Just look at the Dutch Association of Journalists, or the police, with no less than an 85 percent level of organization, and the fire department in which the labor movement is well represented.”

The falling figures say nothing about the importance of the trade unions. Their added value continues to remain intact, according to Gortzak. “Let's say there is no trade union representing worker's interests. You wouldn't dare to imagine that every employer has to negotiate with every employee separately about the contents of the employment agreement. It is in the interest of the Netherlands, of the employer and the employee that these negotiations take place collectively, in the form of Collective Labor Agreements.

It's not the job of the trade unions to win converts

Another example. “No advice in the Social-Economic Council is taking effect without the contribution of the trade union. And what about the many lawsuits initiated by the trade unions against companies such as PostNL and Deliveroo. That latter case was actually initiated to improve the position of those young people delivering food on bicycles. And there are self-employed people working for PostNL who are in fact in paid employment but who, for example, have to make a costly investment to purchase a van for mail delivery. Their position is also one of the positions the trade union is trying to improve.”


The same trade union is currently performing a difficult balancing act. The labor market includes plenty of people who would greatly benefit from the help of a trade union, such as migrant workers and young people with flexible contracts. But it's actually these groups who are rarely a member. Gortzak believes that will not stop the labor movement from trying to help them. “The trade union is trying to turn the tide. Not to win converts, because the labor movement is not a goal in itself, but to provide a better position for employees. So even if not a single employee of Deliveroo is a member of the trade union, the labor movement will still stand up for the working conditions and labor conditions of the people working in that sector. Because it's truly exploitation.”


The fact that the labor movement is defending the interests of people no matter what, does not always benefit the membership level. Gortzak calls employee who benefit from these services without being a member free riders, as they are free riding the bike racks of a member. “And that too is representative for the current zeitgeist. Everywhere it's just me-me-me and if something goes wrong, it's always someone else's fault and the solution lies with the other. But what if something within a Collective Labor Agreement is not to their liking? They complain! Don't do that, not if you're not a member yourself. People who want to make a fist and want their voice to be heard, join the labor movement.”

 

Gortzak is however concerned about the falling figures. Because, as he says, in one way or the other, the employee is the underlying party. “It is and continues to be extremely important to build a proper defense around them. And things can only be achieved with the help of the majority.”

Volgende publicatie:
“What are the chances of ‘Glasgow’ producing concrete results?”

“What are the chances of ‘Glasgow’ producing concrete results?”

Published on: 28 October 2021

Current topics with regard to the economy, investment (responsible investment in particular), pensions, and income: Every week, an expert at APG provides a clear answer to the “Question of the week”. This week: Joost Slabbekoorn (Senior Responsible Investment & Governance Manager) examines the probability of the Glasgow Climate Summit producing concrete results. “Financial support of developing countries will be one of the most hotly disputed items.”

 

On the eve of the Glasgow conference, news items are following one another at a hitherto unprecedented pace. If one thing has become clear from this cascade of reports, it is this: We are not in good shape. The countries participating in the Paris Climate Conference in 2015 had agreed that the global temperature should not rise by more than 2 degrees by 2100, and ideally by no more than 1.5 degrees. If we continue at our current pace, we will reach that 1.5-degree rise as early as in 2030. The UN’s UNEP environmental program warned that the 2.7-degree mark will even be in sight by 2100 if we do nothing.

 

First Step

There is plenty of work to be done. However, the question is: Who will be taking the first step? “Historically speaking, responsibility for CO2 emissions lies primarily with Western countries. Nevertheless, countries such as China and India, above all, are currently registering a rapid increase in CO2 emissions. These countries cannot develop in the same fossil fuel-driven way as Western countries did in the past. They are simply too big for that. However, the rapid increase in CO2 emissions in those countries can also be attributed to the relocation of European steelworks to China!”

 

Countries such as India and China are able to partially shore up their development with renewable energy. Western countries at the Paris conference pledged 100 billion euros per year in climate development aid to support them in this. That promise has, however, not yet been kept. Slabbekoorn explains, “Chances are that this will also be one of the most hotly debated topics in Glasgow. Developing countries want rich countries to provide them with financial support in order to restore confidence. The ‘trade’ in targets between countries will be another topic of discussion. In this scenario, rich countries contribute to the reduction of CO2 in developing countries, because it is cheaper and easier to reduce these emissions there than on their own territory. Unambiguous rules are needed to facilitate this trade and to be able to verify it.”

 

Priorities

Slabbekoorn can identify a number of points on which action is needed. “One of the most important priorities is to phase out the use of coal for the production of electricity. Coal produces quite a lot of CO2, even though a good alternative is available: green electricity. Deforestation is another source of huge CO2 emissions. A third priority is to set a realistic price on CO2 and to stop funding the fossil fuel industry. It is remarkable that people in the Netherlands are currently provided government support to pay their energy bills. This is understandable, given the current situation, but it does mean that the government is indirectly funding fossil energy. Rising energy prices are also making many countries reluctant to accelerate the termination of coal use. And combating deforestation requires the support of Brazil. Unfortunately, Brazil currently has a president who is a champion of the logging sector. In short, things are not looking good in Glasgow when it comes to these three priorities.”

 

With the current gloomy outlook, it is inevitable that some measures will be impacting the lives of consumers. Slabbekoorn explains, “It is imperative that consumers are inconvenienced; otherwise, they will not change their behavior. And the sooner the transition to a more sustainable world is initiated, the less money and effort it will cost. Ultimately, this will also be more pleasant for the consumer. If we don’t take action now, we will have to intervene much more strongly later on. Then the break with our current way of life will be a lot more dramatic, through significantly higher costs for governments and consumers, for example.”

 

Reluctance

If the outcome of summit produces few or even no results, further global warming appears to be inevitable. “But there are many more roads leading to Paris,” Slabbekoorn argues. “If it nevertheless turns out that no agreement will be reached in Glasgow, this does not have to mean that remaining within the aforementioned 1.5-degree limit is impossible. A much stricter policy on energy and sustainability will therefore need to be imposed in the coming years. And the question is whether such policies will indeed be taken into effect, considering that countries are showing quite a bit of reluctance when it comes to adopting overly strict measures. In the meantime, we are already noticing the physical effects of higher temperatures.

 

It is ultimately up to the countries participating in the climate summit in Glasgow to incorporate possible agreements into their legislation. The Paris climate agreement is legally binding, but there is no international instrument to enforce it. “Once these agreements are embedded in national legislation, a country can be held to them by the courts. We saw this in the Netherlands in regard of the case brought by Urgenda against the Dutch government. Diplomatic contacts are very important during a summit like this. Still, this brings us back to the first point, which is who will be taking the first step. It doesn't look as if ‘Glasgow’ will produce any concrete results, but you can never predict what will happen at a summit like this. So, I’m keeping my fingers crossed,” says Slabbekoorn.

Volgende publicatie:
“We now have the opportunity to reconfigure work and life”

“We now have the opportunity to reconfigure work and life”

Published on: 27 October 2021

Can you see a crisis that disrupts a society for a year and a half as a transformation too? Particularly, for example, in the way we look at work. On this subject, corporate anthropologist Jitske Kramer wrote Werk heeft het gebouw verlaten (Work Has Left the Building). In this book, the founder of Human Dimensions explores the impact of collective culture shock, like Covid, on our working lives. In the bestseller, she takes a closer look at remote leadership and the hybrid work culture. Subjects that are also frequent topics of discussion in an organization like APG. “We are tribal creatures, and so we want a place of our own, a territory of our own. So, in a sense, the idea of a flex space is unnatural.”

 

In your presentation, you asked APG employees if they see this time as a crisis or a transformation. The vast majority appeared to see it as a transformation. Is APG an exception in this?
“No, in the majority of organizations about 90% of employees now say there will be at least some degree of transformation. Last summer I also asked my audience that question and at that time almost everyone answered ‘crisis’. But during the second lockdown, the perception arose that the corona crisis could last a long time. And with it the realization that we could learn things from it.”

Transformation means that things change. That brings uncertainty and tension. What does that require of an organization?
“Transformation is a great word; it is the ‘everything different show’. You might think that you can sit back and watch something transform, but that’s not how it works. On the contrary, transformation means you will have to roll up your sleeves. You have to adopt a different value system. If we say ‘autonomy of own time is important to us’, then we need to act accordingly. Then you work at home more often, and in a different rhythm, and you may no longer need your car. In such a transformation, other behaviors and skills start to be important to us. That means a lot of experimentation and trial and error.”

At APG, some of the employees will soon be working in a completely renovated office, which is already equipped for hybrid working. That means no fixed workstations. Everyone will have to get used to that. Is that an advantage or a disadvantage?
“I think it’s an advantage. It is something that is new to all of us, so we can start creating and discovering. Construction had already started before the corona crisis so you will find out later if the plan you had for the building still fits the current times. Or whether, in addition to the changes conceived during Covid, other changes are needed. If you go back to an office that is still set up the way it was, it would no longer suffice. Before you know it, the space would force us back into our old behavior. But if the physical environment is completely new and in line with what we think is important now, that helps tremendously.”

Rituals and routines provide stability and rhythm. How do you create new routines in a new environment?
“That’s a very good question. We are tribal creatures, and so we want a place of our own, a territory of our own. So, in a sense, the idea of a flex space is unnatural. When open-plan offices came along suddenly the whole social cohesion was gone. To indicate where they were sitting, some people surreptitiously put a picture frame on their desk. To make a mark, as it were, and to indicate that that was their team's spot. As an employer, you do need to recognize that territorial need. On the other hand, it’s also a trade-off. As an employee you can also think: I am giving up my regular desk, but I am also getting more freedom because I can work from home more. And it helps enormously if people already exhibit the desired behavior. You need each other to create new routines.”

During the lockdown, working from home was necessary to control the pandemic. Now employees may feel that hybrid working is imposed by the manager. How do you get those employees on board anyway?
“How do people change cultures? Through interaction, and because we copy behavior from each other. From our direct coworkers, but also from our managers. Collaborating requires connection at a human level. If you want to implement a change, as a manager, you have to set a good example yourself. Do you want your employees to work partly at home and partly in the office? Then as a manager you have to do that too. We are now in the phase of getting used to hybrid working. That requires discipline and perseverance. And sharing success stories. Because for years we went to the office every day, and we’ve only been working from home for a year and a half. There is a good chance we could fall back into our old behavior of going to the office every day. Unless we really say, ‘We want this to be different.’”

How do you bring about such a change?
“It helps that, as a society, we are in a vibe. APG is not the only organization dealing with hybrid working. What matters is the story we are going to live together. We now have the opportunity to redesign work and life. And if we combine that with sustainability and reducing CO2 emissions, for example by reducing traffic, then we can bring about a substantial change. Or are we thinking, ‘We’ll just go back to our old ways?’ I can currently see signs going either way. For example, during the lockdown, we thought the blue sky without the pollution from airplanes was so beautiful. But now many people are flying to a European city for a weekend again. There is nothing wrong with that, but if you love that blue sky so much, you also have to change your behavior. Doing things substantially differently means substantial changes in behavior.”

This touches on what you write in your book about the new normal, which you feel should be more inclusive and more sustainable.  
"Yes, more inclusive on all levels. Such as hearing all voices, including those of introverts. They have flourished while working from home. Are we now going to force them back into the straightjacket? The idealist in me says: “Where can we make things better for people? And because everything is still up in the air, we now really have the opportunity to make things better. I hope we seize that opportunity. Although I don’t think we are now enthusiastically going to work and live completely differently. We will pick up a number of old habits and routines. I am now also driving to Mechelen to do a physical master class for a whole day. You could also do that online, you could say. But I think there is more to be gained from the master class when I am actually there. Thus, we each have reasons to go back to our old habits anyway. I just hope we can break with some of them.”

So, work has left the building, but not completely...
“It’s definitely coming back in, and that’s a good thing too. The fact that we suddenly started working from home was because of a dangerous pandemic that disrupted our entire society. But work will certainly return to the office because there are many kinds of work that require our physical presence. But to what extent and in what ways it will come back in is something we will determine together.”

 

 

Photo: Nathan Reinds

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:
Dream & deed: “I find it hard to give substance to my concerns”

Dream & deed: “I find it hard to give substance to my concerns”

Published on: 15 September 2021

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

(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.

Maarten Paauwe (25): “We have to live much more in harmony with nature.”

 

Who: Maarten Paauwe (25), born and raised in Zeeland. He studied engineering management in Tilburg and married Talitha three years ago, whom he already knows for ten years. “Promising each other to be faithful, is a beautiful thing in my opinion. We were pretty young when we got married, but why wait when you know you are meant to be together?”

 

Lives: In Gorinchem, where they ended up after a scheduled journey around the world fell apart due to the pandemic. “We sat down with a map of the Netherlands and asked ourselves what would be a nice place to live. Most people only know Gorinchem because of the traffic jams, but it truly is a great old, fortified town.” They are currently renovating the house they bought here in its old style (it was built in 1880). The house will be partly transformed into a bed & breakfast.

 

Works: At a green contractor, providing green management for municipalities, counties and the Netherlands Department of Public Works.

 

Enjoys: DIY, reading (mainly newspapers, history and philosophy) and trips to old cities.

 

What do you dream of?

“I dream of all of us living much more in harmony with the world and nature. Take the IPCC report, for instance. All evidence suggests that we live increasingly more distant from nature. I think this is something we could improve at different levels. On the one hand by means of better landscaping as we shouldn't adjust our planet to our demands. The topic ‘green’ now is the balancing item: we continue to build at every possible location and we plant a few trees should any space be left. This should be the other way around: nature first and some space for human beings here and there. Just look at a schoolyard for example, that almost entirely consists of concrete. Children should already be given the message that we are only guests when it comes to nature. I think humankind should focus more on that, also because it's simply better for our health. The average person is overweight, eats a lot of meat and consumes a lot of dairy products: that's not the way nature is arranged.”

 

How do you envisage your future?

“On the basis of things, I already have everything I want. I am happily married, own a house, have a great family and enjoyable work. In terms of work, I would like to manage a company someday, so I can implement my vision in a large-scale manner to the green industry. I would like to sit down with policymakers and make the Netherlands more sustainable. In my opinion, the company I am working for now is literally making the world a bit more beautiful by constructing green areas.”

 

We shouldn't consider work as an obligation, but as something great

What does your dreamed of pension look like?

“First of all, I hope to be healthy and energetic for a long time, so I can still make a contribution to society in the future. I am wondering if we will ever get a pension though. Many people my age want to become FIRE (Financially Independent & Retire Early), start investing or buy properties in order to be able to retire as early as possible. I don't think that is a healthy way of handling pension, given the costs we already have as a society. Moreover, all evidence suggests it is much better to continue work as long as possible. Albeit at a slower pace, not from eight to five in an office job. You can also contribute to society being a volunteer. So, I hope to be able to do so myself, but I also hope that this will be what society aims for in the future. Older people have so much talent and experience which will all go to waste if they just sit at home or are travelling the world. Of course people should enjoy their freedom, but I truly believe that we, as a society, draw insufficiently on those skills and abilities. I also think it would be great to remain relevant. You could still call it pension if you work twenty hours per week to leave a better society to the next generation. We shouldn't consider work as an obligation, but as something great.”

 

What is your dream for the Netherlands?

“I would like the Netherlands to become a healthy society, in the broadest sense of the word. We have to commit to a healthy planet, a healthy ecosystem and a healthier bio-industry. The way we are treating animals right now just isn't okay. I read an article a while ago, stating that if people would be slaughtered at the same pace as we slaughter animals, the entire global population would be extinct within seventeen days. I hope the Netherlands will become a frontrunner and shows there is another way to do things. The Dutch could also live a lot healthier. While we are living longer, we also live unhealthier. And finally, I dream of a healthy economic system. The mountain of debt is getting higher and higher. Study loans, national debt; it all increases. That is cause for financial stress. Wouldn't it be great if our country could demonstrate that it's unnecessary to accumulate debts in order to ensure continuity?”

 

What do you believe goes well in our society?

“One of the greatest things of the Netherlands is that the opportunities here are huge. That also applies if you grow up in a less favorable neighborhood, if your parents have a non-Dutch background or if you were born into a poor family. Everyone here is able to get an education.”

 

What could be improved in the world?

“Equal opportunities. Talitha and I visited slums in India and that truly is another story. If you grow up there, there's no chance whatsoever to make something of your live. Here, in the Netherlands, hard work usually pays. In India, you can work as hard as you'd like without achieving anything. Isn't that a sad fact?”

 

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

“That we still don't seem to recognize the urgency of certain issues. Take, for example, the climate report of the IPCC. Climate change will eventually become irreversible, but when will we realize this? Everything is happening so slowly. I am also worried about the increasing polarization. An endless amount of information is available, we are able to communicate with one another all over the world, but we hardly ever do that. We take more and more refuge in our own bubble. Forum voor Democratie (Dutch political party) wants to start its own society with its own crypto currency, dating app and schools. When I hear that, I think we are truly losing grip on each other. This way we return to a fragmented society. And we should furthermore not forget a generation proud of its cancel culture, in which people are cancelled at the slightest lapse. That leaves us with a cramped society in which everyone chooses their words carefully and is afraid to speak openly, because we are trying to avoid insulting someone. We could take ourselves a bit less seriously. Tolerance is harder to find these days.”

 

Beyond our national borders ‘we’ don't really care about everything that's going on

What makes you angry?

“What especially makes me angry is that many things are well arranged in the Netherlands, but that 'we’ don't really care about everything that's going on beyond our national borders. We construct oil pipes in the Middle East, but not water pipes where it's much needed. We use large chunks of land to feed the cows, but we prefer not to do the same for another population. Moreover, what I find particularly disgusting when it comes to the corona policy, is that we buy all vaccines in massive quantities in the West and start vaccinating young people, while vulnerable people over the age of 60 in India are begging to please be vaccinated. And, of course, the pharmaceutical companies are not releasing their recipes. There are more crooked things. I recently read an article stating that the prices of healthy food are rising faster than the prices of unhealthy food. This makes it more difficult for people with a low income to buy healthy food, while that's a basic need.”

 

What is standing in the way of realizing your dreams?

“Not so much when it comes to my personal dreams. I will mainly have to work hard to realize everything I dream of. I do notice that there are all kinds of things that annoy me, but I find it hard to give these issues substance. I don't know where to turn to with my combativeness. Would it be possible for me to join some sort of climate committee? Are there more younger people like me, full of energy and activism, facing the same problems? Could we debate about these topics together and commit ourselves to make society a better place to live? I am eager to take action, but how do I get in touch with the right people to really accomplish something?”

 

What is your own contribution to a better world?

“I drive an electric car and I am vegan. That was a deliberate choice as I am trying to demand as little as possible from our planet. Due to that choice, I often discuss the impact of our meat and dairy consumption on the climate with others. It is not my intention to force anyone to become vegan - if you have barely anything to eat, like in some African countries, you just eat what's available - but meat and dairy are not necessary in the Netherlands.

Besides that, I use my talents at a company that's contributing to a better world. It would be very difficult for me to work for a company such as Shell for instance. This is my way to do my part at a small-scale. It would be fantastic should I be able to address these issues on a larger scale, together with others.”

Volgende publicatie:
“The advent of 5G is going to create a lot of innovation”

“The advent of 5G is going to create a lot of innovation”

Published on: 25 August 2021

613 Billion euros. That is to APG’s total invested assets worldwide (position at the end of July 2021). The goal: a good pension in a livable world for the pension fund participants. The portfolio is obviously diversified. From investments in wind farms in Zeeland to Australian listed shares in stores. And from safe bonds to the somewhat more fluctuating trade in gold or soy. Who are the people behind these investments? What choices do they make? And why?

 

In this episode of the series The Investors: Frank Dekker, responsible for investments in the telecom and media sector at APG.

 

Telecom companies are installing fiber optic networks at lightning speed. This means more speed and more options when it comes to, for example, 5G, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things. At the same time, the dynamics in the sector are increasing and telecom companies are attractive acquisition targets. Will KPN be taken over by foreign investors? Who will buy T-Mobile, which is currently in the shop window? What is the impact of such market movements on APG’s telecom investments?

 

Senior portfolio manager Frank Dekker has been following the sector for fifteen years and is responsible for the investments in telecom at APG. This includes KPN, which APG recently entered into a joint venture with. “Very promising,” is what Dekker says about this partnership, which will make it possible to accelerate the rollout of KPN’s fiber optic network. But perhaps Dekker is not entirely objective?

 

Dekker: “Good question. But not correct. As portfolio manager in telecom shares, I am completely shielded from the activities of the people that were involved in this deal. During the period of the deal and its preparation, I was not allowed to trade in KPN shares. Nor was I allowed to communicate with anyone internally about this. We are very strict about this. And we have to be. Anyway, I think the joint venture between KPN and APG is very promising. Because APG’s investment will enable KPN to complete the construction of the fiber optic network sooner. This will allow them to phase out their copper network faster, leading to significant cost savings. Moreover, this accelerated construction cuts potential competitors off from KPN.”

 

What does that competitive field look like in the Netherlands?

“Ziggo merged with UPC a few years ago and then merged with Vodafone. T-Mobile bought two price fighters, Tele2 and Simpel. And then we have market leader KPN. The Dutch telecom market is now very clear, with these three parties. The Netherlands has good networks for mobile phones and landlines. The prices for mobile services have dropped considerably in recent years.”

 

T-Mobile will be sold as soon as possible if it’s up to owner Deutsche Telekom. What does that mean for the Dutch telecom market?

“T-Mobile has a small, fixed network in the Netherlands. Deutsche Telekom would like to be number one or two in every market. In the Netherlands that is probably not going to happen, so that is why the company is going to be sold. KPN or Vodafone Ziggo are probably not allowed to take over this number three because of European competition rules. Whether competition in the Dutch telecom market will increase or decrease as a result of the sale of T-Mobile depends on the new owner. It's hard to say who that will be. Delta is known to invest heavily in fiber optic networks. In a partnership with T-Mobile, that company could provide additional competition on the Dutch telecom market. Right now, T-Mobile largely rents the fixed line from KPN for their customers who still use a landline phone.”

 

APG invests more than average in KPN. How much longer can that go on? 

“Unfortunately, my role does not allow me to go into detail on that. We are looking at a period of three to five years. It is difficult to predict which sector will do better than others. That is why we mainly try to achieve an above-average return within a sector; for example, by choosing the companies that perform best in class and that show the best return-risk ratio. If we look at the Dutch market, Vodafone Ziggo is KPN’s main competitor. That company does not yet have fiber, and has yet to invest heavily in the necessary upgrade of their current cable network.”

 

In general, are telecom companies in the Netherlands really a good investment?

“Investors usually look at the dividend yield. But what you often see is that telecom companies with a high dividend yield are a bad investment. They are paying a relatively high dividend at the moment, but the question is whether that is sustainable. After all, they will have to invest heavily in their networks in the coming years. To us, the underlying cash flows for the coming years, where we try to estimate what the sales and margins will do, is much more important than dividends. We also look at the structure of the telecom market, how the competition will develop. And what the relationship is with the regulator and politics. The corona epidemic has once again shown how important good connectivity is; policymakers will therefore want to stimulate investments in this, for example through regulation. In conclusion, we are seeing a relatively healthy market structure in the Netherlands. The downside for telecom companies is that politicians want low prices for consumers. At the same time, I consider the chance of a price war to be fairly small.”

What would be the impact of such a price war?

“Price wars occur when there are changes in local competition. More competition often means that companies start to stunt and rates drop. That’s nice for the consumer, but not beneficial for the shareholder. With less competition, the chance of price increases is higher and the cost of customer acquisition can be reduced. Our investment philosophy is therefore aimed at staying ahead of price wars. India, for example, is now a more interesting market, since they have gone from fourteen to three telecom providers. But Brazil, Canada and Finland are also interesting. In the US, on the other hand, the likelihood of a price war is rising. There has been a big takeover there, with the result that other players are trying to gain market share in a more aggressive way.”

 

For telecom companies, isn’t the real competition more likely to come from giants like Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Google and Microsoft in the long run?

“Certainly. A lot of value is being created with the digitalization of society. This value creation no longer goes to the KPNs of this world, but to those giants. So that’s what we invest in as well. These American and Chinese companies are increasingly investing in digital infrastructure such as data centers and the submarine cables that carry most intercontinental Internet traffic. These used to be owned by telecom operators, but those days are over. Most of the digital infrastructure that European telecoms companies still own is the last mile, the last piece of the connection to the customer.”

 

5G is central to that digital infrastructure. What will that network do for us in concrete terms?

“Looking back, we can attribute the arrival of Uber to the breakthrough at the time of 4G, the smartphone and data centers. I expect that 5G, along with applications of artificial intelligence, is going to bring a lot of innovations in areas such as self-driving cars, virtual reality, remote-controlled robots that perform operations, drones, you name it. All of which require a tremendous amount of computing power and as little delay as possible. For example, an ambulance transporting a victim with third-degree burns to the hospital, where a doctor can make a diagnosis and prepare the required equipment remotely via a video link. Or artificial intelligence that allows you to perform real-time simulations: for example, what is the probability of an accident occurring with a self-driving car. For this kind of innovation, you really need 5G.”  

 

There is increasing political pressure to ban Chinese equipment from, for example, Huawei, which telecom providers in the Netherlands also use. Does this present a big risk for the Dutch telecom sector?

“Yes, it definitely does. The U.S. is concerned about China’s technological lead in 5G. We’ve seen more initiatives by politicians and security agencies to warn of cybersecurity risks due to ownership of Huawei equipment, for example. Increased scrutiny of Chinese equipment suppliers forced KPN to remove Huawei from its core mobile network. KPN also selected Huawei for other 5G components, such as antennas. Now KPN is in danger of having to remove Huawei from its mobile radio network as well. But not KPN alone: T-Mobile has mostly Huawei equipment in its network. A ban on Huawei will cost telecom providers money, but they can partly compensate for that by charging consumers higher prices in the wireless market.”

 

Finally, even as a large investor, you face competition. How do you differentiate yourself from it?

“The nice thing about working for APG is that we are large scale. As a result, we have above-average access to research, management and alternative data, but are able to keep costs down. That data, especially sector-specific data, is expensive and not every investor can afford it. Anyway, it’s also about what you do with that data. My team and I look at developments within sectors and not between sectors. This is called relative investing. In that sense, we can make full use of our time to investigate the differences between players in the telecom market and to make them work to our advantage.” 

 

And is that working?

“We have outperformed the competition (benchmark) by about 30 percent over the last 11 years, with an absolute return of 12.6 percent per year. So: yes, it’s working well.”

Who is Frank Dekker?

 

He earned a Masters of Finance at the Vrije Universiteit. He has been working in the Fundamental Stock Selection at APG for fifteen years. He manages the portfolio together with colleague Henny Crauwels. This department is characterized by sector knowledge, taking relative bets and investing for the longer term. He is married and has three children. And he lives in Zandvoort.

 

A career in investing

“My father was a carpenter and had a bad back. After he was declared disabled, he started investing privately at home.” So, Dekker was familiar with the concept of investing from an early age. And that has never stopped. “In my spare time I like to read books about investing,” he says.

 

Working method

“I enjoy delving into a subject and forming an opinion about it. I’ve inherited a thick skin. That helps me take a stand that differs from the consensus.”

 

Investment Philosophy

“Many investors look top-down at how the macroeconomy or how certain sectors will develop. We differentiate ourselves by looking at longer-term business trends within a single sector.”

Facts & Figures 

 

What does APG invest in in terms of telecom and media?

Interactive media: Google, Facebook, Snap, Twitter

Broadcasting: Fox, Prosieben, Discovery, Viacomcbs

Interactive home entertainment (gaming companies) Activation Blizzard, EA

Cable & satellite: Comcast, SES

Advertising: (Advertising agencies) Publicis, WPP

Movies & entertainment: Netflix, Disney

 

How much?

The satellite portfolio 1218 invests just over 1.5 billion euros.

 

Volgende publicatie:
“We can still make it, but we'll have to work hard.”

“We can still make it, but we'll have to work hard.”

Published on: 13 August 2021

The report by the United Nations’ IPCC, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, underscores the rapid, human-induced increase of global warming. If we don't take action now, temperatures could rise by nearly six degrees Celsius towards the end of this century. If we do act now, the goals of the Paris Agreement are still achievable. Large companies and investors can make a difference. The question is: Are we currently doing enough to turn the tide? According to Joost Slabbekoorn, senior responsible investment & governance manager at APG, at least we're on the right track. “We have long seen the need to take action and that's exactly what we're doing."

 

The conclusions drawn by the UN report don't really tell us something new: Humans “unequivocally” play a role in climate change, the earth has warmed by more than 1 degree in 100 years (much faster than before), the effects of climate change are felt all over the world, and temperatures will definitely continue to rise in the next 30 years. Whether that's by 1.5 degrees in the best-case scenario or 5.7 degrees in the worst-case scenario depends entirely on the actions we take globally.

 

Reassessing policies

“Yes, the IPCC report makes for very uncomfortable reading," says Slabbekoorn, the person who, together with his team, is responsible for implementing sustainable and responsible investment policy for the ABP pension fund, among others. “But actually, we already knew that things haven't been going well." We have known about climate change for some time. It's with good reason that our focus has grown substantially in recent years in terms of sustainable and responsible investment policies for fund clients such as ABP. But sometimes you know that our approach must and can be more effective, says Slabbekoorn. Conclusions such as those drawn by the IPCC report may then actually be decisive for revising policy. "That's what ABP did recently. We realized that accelerating the energy transition is the only option – and current policies do not adequately make that happen. That's why we’re setting our climate ambitions higher in 2022." ABP is taking this issue very seriously. A panel of scientists at universities is helping us create these improved policies. 

 

Fossil fuel

In addition, APG, along with 32 other large investors, collaborated on the “Net Zero Investment Framework” – a framework that provides guidance on how to tackle climate change. “It's exactly these types of initiatives – as well as our engagement efforts – that allow us to contribute to a liveable world by using our influence as investors to encourage companies to make more sustainable decisions.” But as Slabbekoorn emphasizes, one doesn't make an impact on their own. “As an influential pension investor, I think we have an obligation to do everything within our power. But everyone must do their part.” One option that climate organizations often propose is moving away from investments in fossil fuels. Does the IPCC report mean that APG will advise its clients to completely stop investing in fossil fuels? "Not necessarily," says Slabbekoorn “Ideally, the fossil fuel industry also needs to be part of the solution. But oil and energy companies will need to accelerate their transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy in the coming years. We are paying close attention to their actions in this regard. If things aren't moving fast enough for us, or we lose confidence, we will stop investing in fossil fuels.”

 

Mapping out risks

One of the report's other conclusions is that the effects of climate change can be seen all over the world. The floods in Limburg (the Netherlands), Belgium, and Germany are a case in point, and these sorts of phenomena are also influencing APG's investments. “Changing weather conditions are already impacting our investments. In any case, temperatures will continue to rise. This means that climate change will continue to affect our investments. That's why, for our real estate investments, we're already mapping out risks in case of floods, droughts, forest fires, or rising sea levels. We have also developed a dashboard that shows us the physical risks of climate change by country,” says Slabbekoorn.

 

Ray of hope

“The report, or rather the report's conclusions, truly impact the way we invest. We are taking the right steps, but there is always room for development," says Slabbekoorn, who, despite the report's bleak message, also sees a ray of hope. “The report also states that we can still meet the climate goals by 2050. But to achieve those, we'll really need to get moving.”

Volgende publicatie:
Dream & deed: "I’m working sixty hours a week now, so I can enjoy myself later"

Dream & deed: "I’m working sixty hours a week now, so I can enjoy myself later"

Published on: 11 August 2021

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

(from: Willem Elsschot, The Marriage)

 

Retirement may be the last thing Generation Z is thinking about, but they are the generation of the future. What do they dream about? What are they doing to achieve it? And what stands in their way? In this series we let young people talk about what the present and the future look like to them.

Bas Grund (20) from Amsterdam: “Anyone can get rich. It’s about making the right choices.”

 

Who: Bas Grund (20), describes himself as a career tiger and a “super-self-willed guy”, who discovered in high school that school was not really his thing. “I went to the vocational school for a little while, but I already had several enterprises on the go by then and they were doing well. I figured more education would not yield me more in the future. In the world of online marketing, which is where I was, getting knowledge from a book was soon no longer up-to-date. So, I decided to go to work and really go for it.”

 

Lives in: A rental home in Amsterdam. “I wanted to buy a house right away, but the bank was skeptical because I’m pretty young and was an entrepreneur until recently. Hopefully I will be able to buy something next year.”

 

Works at: He quit his own company in December, and since then has been the manager of a start-up marketing company that works for restaurants, hotel and pop stages. “Totally sick.”

 

Enjoys: Listening to music, “anything except recorder and triangle”, traveling, meeting new people, discovering places. “And secretly, I really enjoy working hard.”

 

What do you dream of?

“Personally, I mostly dream about business success. I would love to be on an executive board down the road. And if I can dream big, I’d like a top position in an international company. A position where I can mean something for the world, but where I can also make a lot of money. Then I would use that money to do something good. For example, invest in making real estate more sustainable and building schools in developing countries.”

 

How do you envision your future?

“I often fantasize about the future. I’m very curious what it will look like. But I’m also someone who lives day by day. I don’t have goals like, in five years I want to leave here and then I want such and such. I believe that if you set goals you limit yourself to them, even though they could be even bigger. If you don’t set goals, anything is possible.”

 

What does your dream retirement look like?

“I’d like to retire around the age of 40, so that I can then enjoy my life along with the family I hope to have by then. Then I can make up for the time lost on working and do a lot of traveling – which will hopefully be a lot more sustainable by then, and go out to eat. I’m choosing to work really hard now and then really start to live later. That is radical, and I can’t really think about it too much, about all the things I will have missed out on if I get hit by a bus tomorrow. But work is the priority right now.”

I’m choosing to work really hard now and then really start to live later”

Why is your work so important to you?

“I feel a pressure inside: am I doing enough? I want to be in the lead. I believe you should always do your best, even on weekends and at night. It’s much easier to make sure you stay in first place than to struggle to the front from tenth place. I keep up the spirit to motivate myself. Fortunately, I enjoy working; it is really my passion. I do notice I am in a different phase of life than my friends, even though we are the same age. They go to school and go out a lot. I make it to the odd party, but unfortunately not that often.” 

 

What is your dream for the Netherlands?

“That everyone can be themselves and can express their opinion without consequences. I notice in my circle of friends that political opinions clash sometimes and that we don’t always understand each other. That’s fine, but that should not lead to people being afraid to express their opinion. You should never be ashamed of who you are and what your stand for. Even if you don’t agree with each other, you should be able to get together for a beer at the pub. It’s not like that’s not happening in the Netherlands now, but I’ve noticed that if you have a different outlook, you are a bit of an outsider. You soon get labeled.”

 

What do you think is going well in society?

“I think it’s great that we’re all so aware that we have to innovate and look to the future. I’m very proud of how innovative the Netherlands is compared to many other countries. I just wish it would all go a little faster.”

 

What could be better in the world?

“Peace everywhere would be nice, of course. At a smaller scale, I’d really like it if every country had good infrastructure. You can even see the difference as soon as you cross the border into Belgium now. We are so lucky in the Netherlands. And the gap between rich and poor has to get smaller. How? I believe it’s okay to get taxed more heavily if you have more money, but only on passive income and capital. Labor should be taxed equally as far as I’m concerned, whether you’re a shelf stacker or a manager. Getting rich is a choice to a certain extent, I think. If you want to get rich, you have to make the right choices.”

You believe anyone can get rich regardless of their background?

“Well, if you’re in deep trouble or you have debts, it’s hard. But even then, you can turn it around with the right strategy and a good plan. And well, if you’re born in a slum in India, you have a lot of catching up to do. You’ll have to work your way up. In the Netherland and Europe, we have it easier. But I’d still say that it is possible for anyone to get rich. Look at the CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai. He’s from an Indian family that didn’t have much.”

 

What worries you in terms of the future?

“The way we are living is not nearly sustainable enough. We really have to work on that together. Another thing I worry about is education. I don’t think it’s growing with the times. In ten years, there are going to be all kinds of new jobs that the school system is not prepared for yet. They’re doing their best, but the development is taking too long, I think.”

 

What makes you angry?

“Young people that waste their potential, that have a lot in them, but don’t have the courage to dream big. That mentality that 55% is good enough to pass. And when you translate that into a business career, it will stay that way too. What if you went for that 100%? Then your career could be ten times better. Anything is possible these days, don’t be limited by that piece of paper. Get out there and meet the right people, take a subject-specific course. So much more than you think is possible. Just do it.”

 

What is in the way of your dreams?

“Time, because I’m someone who doesn’t have a lot of patience. On the one hand, maybe that’s good, because I’ve already been able to take some great steps at my age. But on the other hand, it is still not going fast enough for me. As far as I’m concerned, the Netherland should innovate faster, so that there are more opportunities to make my work easier, which will help me reach my dreams faster. Sustainability could be a lot faster and better too.”

 

What are you doing to make your dreams come true?

“I work about sixty hours a week, as effectively as possible, to rise in the ranks.”

 

And what are you doing for a better Netherlands and a better world?

“I’m not into those hollow posts on social media; I’m more into doing. I want to initiate change myself. In the past I did a lot for sustainability. I used to have a company called Sustainable places, which helped restaurants, hotels and homes in the Netherlands to become more sustainable. Now I have less time to fully focus on sustainability. Sometimes I use my marketing knowledge for free for sustainability. But if you do a little wherever you go, even if it’s not much, ultimately it will be a lot.”

Volgende publicatie:
Dream & deed: “It makes me angry that women are still 2-0 behind in the job market”

Dream & deed: “It makes me angry that women are still 2-0 behind in the job market”

Published on: 3 August 2021

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

(from: Willem Elsschot, The Marriage)

 

Retirement may be the last thing Generation Z is thinking about, but they are the generation of the future. What do they dream about? What are they doing to achieve it? And what stands in their way? In this series we let young people talk about what the present and the future look like to them.

Laura Bas (24) from Amsterdam: “I worry about the waiting lists for mental health services. People who need help - and there are more and more since the pandemic - now have nowhere to turn.”

 

Who: Laura Bas (24). She recently finished third at Miss World Netherlands and will be starting the Culture Organization & Management master’s program at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam in September. Previously she had studied law at a university of applied sciences. In addition, she is ambassador of the project "Because I deserve it", where she, MEPs Agnes Jongerius and Vera Tax, facilitate workshops on the wage gap for (young) women. “In the Netherlands, men still earn on average 15 percent more per hour than women. It is my mission to change that and I want to continue to work for that.”

Lives in: In a studio apartment (24m2, paying 320 euros) in a social project in Amsterdam. “Half of the residents have permanent residency cards and the idea is for us to mingle. It’s a great place to live, and it’s less than ten minutes from the university.”

Works at: Freelance in contract law and as a final editor at the Amsterdam Student Union.

Enjoys: Writing, history, philosophy, psychology and “pretty much anything that ends in ‘y’, except for biology.”

 

What do you dream about?

“That as a management consultant I can storm boardrooms in the business world, preferably internationally. I would like to see women being much better represented in the labor market five years from now than they are today. I want to deal with issues surrounding themes like diversity and inclusiveness. I see it as one of the tasks of my generation to bring organizations up to date by tackling outdated processes. Take pronouns alone. At the Amsterdam student union that I work for, a number of people are non-binary. They want to be addressed as ‘them’ instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’. These are changes that our generation needs to start making, including in the business world.”

 

And what do you still hope to accomplish in your private life?

“I hope to see a lot more of the world. As a naive 17-year-old, I lived in Brazil for a ‘gap year’ and I learned a lot from that. In a country like that, you constantly have to put your own values and standards on the scale in order to be grounded there. It has broadened my view of the world, and since then I have been much less quick to judge. It also made me realize how good we have it in the Netherlands. I still go back to Brazil every two years to visit my friends and the family I lived with. It is very interesting to hear their views on certain subjects. Getting to know other cultures is one of the most inspiring things in life as far as I’m concerned. I don’t have flight shame yet, but I really hope that the experts in that field will be able to develop a sustainable way to travel responsibly.”

I would like to live in a world where we value people, without stereotyping and prejudice.”

Wat is your dream for the Netherlands?

“I hope that in the future our country will be even more inclusive and diverse, more open-minded, and more accepting of others. There is now finally a woman of color (Sylvana Simons) and a transgender person (Lisa van Ginneken) in the House of Representatives. It would be nice if politics and business become more of a reflection of society. I would like the Netherlands to become a safer place for minorities. Because in terms of LGBTQ+ we are not there yet, and strict believers also have a hard time. I hope that we can all live together more peacefully. I wish for that outside the Netherlands as well. I would like to live in a world where we all respect people’s values, without stereotyping and prejudice.”

What does your dream retirement look like?

“I hope to work for an employer where the pension is well taken care of. In addition, I want to start investing money myself in order to retire earlier. I think we have to work until we are 70, which seems too long to me. My dad is about to retire and he and his girlfriend are planning to travel across America in a motor home, which I think is a great way to retire.”

 

What do you worry about when you think of the future?

“Polarization, and I think social media plays a big role in that. If I like pictures of people who say grass is purple instead of green, it causes me to only see content from people who think that too. That filter bubble provides a distorted picture of reality, which worries me. I’m afraid of the consequences.

What also worries me are the waiting lists for mental health services. People who need help - and there are more and more since the pandemic - have nowhere to turn. I live in a project with many permanent residency card holders who have been through the most horrible things. Many of them are struggling with traumas, but are not getting any help. When things go wrong, as a society, we cry out: ‘You see, it’s always those refugees’. But we should look in the mirror and as a society we should make sure that these people receive the help they need. These prejudices really bother me too. I am often asked if I don’t feel unsafe in my neighborhood, because many young men with a migrant background live there. No one ever asked me that when I lived in a working-class neighborhood in Amsterdam-North. I feel very safe here. If something were to happen to me here and I were to scream, I’m sure those guys would come running out of their units to rescue me.”

 

I think it’s totally archaic for people with less income to have less access to education”

What makes you angry?

“Injustice. For example, it makes me very angry that women are still 2-0 behind in the labor market. That is trivialized with the argument that it is our own fault, that we like working part-time. But that is not the core of the problem. I’m not very happy about the loan system either. I think it’s totally archaic for people with less income to have less access to education. Because you can pretend that the student debt doesn’t matter, but try to find a house in this housing market later on, if you and your partner both owe 40,000 euros in student debt. And even without that debt it’s already impossible to do, especially for people with a modest income. The gap between the rich and the poor is only getting bigger.”

 

What stands in the way of your dreams?

“Policy choices. That as a society we are choosing to cut back on healthcare, that housing prices are skyrocketing, and that you can no longer go to college without incurring big debt. But it can always be worse. My friends in Brazil have to deal with corruption and a leader like Bolsonaro. For them, it’s even harder to make their dreams come true.”

 

What are you doing to make your dreams come true?

“I don't shy away from difficult conversations, I work hard and I am committed to the community organizations and causes I support.”

 

And what are you doing for a better world?

“I try to eat a lot less meat and I only buy second-hand clothes, with the exception of sportswear and underwear. In that respect, I really am a millennial. I also encourage others to go for their passions and ambitions and not to let themselves be led by criticism from others. That makes the world a better place too. I want people to know that failure is part of success. In the Netherlands, failure is seen as a bad thing, but you can’t become successful without falling down a few times. You learn a lot more by falling down and getting up than you do going up in one straight line.”

 

Don’t you want to go into politics?

“I get that question a lot. No, not right now, but I’m not ruling it out for the future. I secretly think the business world has much more power than politics. Many politicians start with the best intentions at the Binnenhof (Inner Court), full of passion to make a difference, but then find themselves in such a snake pit that it becomes difficult to live up to their ambitions. It may be easier to really change things in the business world.”

 

 

Volgende publicatie:
“Pension funds bear a huge responsibility, for the Netherlands of today and the future”

“Pension funds bear a huge responsibility, for the Netherlands of today and the future”

Published on: 29 July 2021

Annette Mosman took the reins as CEO of APG in March. She is hoping to gain as many inspirational insights as possible in the first months of her new job. That is why she is holding 25 meetings on her hike from Amsterdam to Heerlen. This was a journey through the Netherlands of Tomorrow, with a different person accompanying her on each leg of the trip. Her companions were colleagues, but also people from outside APG, like Tuur Elzinga, chairman of the Netherlands Trade Union Confederation.

The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Coldplay and Pink: they all performed here. The Malieveld was their outdoor concert hall. That said, protesting trade unions also regularly take over the “Haagse grasveld,” the famous field in The Hague. There’s no doubt that Tuur Elzinga has also left many footprints in that field. His history with the trade union movement stretches back to 2002, when he was appointed as a policy officer at the Netherlands Trade Union Confederation. Almost twenty years on, he is now chairman of the trade union and employers’ and employees’ organizations since March 10 of this year, to be precise. He also represented the Socialist Party (SP) in the Upper House of the Senate for nine years. This means that he is as familiar with the green polders of the Netherlands as the green benches of the Senate.

 

Getting fat on the bones

Elzinga believes that things need to change in the Netherlands. In his opinion, the pandemic is a tipping point: the market-driven approach that has gone too far must make way for a revaluation of society. The pandemic has revealed how indispensable certain sectors are to our society, like health care, education and childcare.. “It is precisely those vital sectors that have fallen behind in recent years,” Elzinga reckons. Schools, hospitals and kindergartens have been run like businesses, and cut backs have been the order of the day. This has led to a shortage of ICU capacity, protective equipment and staff during the pandemic. “We need to get fat back on the bones again; we need proper reserves. That may not be very efficient, but it stops the whole of society from grinding to a halt when times get tough.”

 

Fears for the future 

The pandemic has also widened the gap between the poor – those with few prospects – and the rich. The Netherlands has become more prosperous in recent decades, but not everyone has benefited from this. The flexible labor market has put permanent jobs at risk and wages have not risen enough in line with profits. “Inequality has widened, and imbalances have occurred,” Elzinga tells us. Not to mention the climate crisis, from which there is no escape, both literally and figuratively, as we face extreme weather, forest fires and floods across the planet. Elzinga points out that this leads to unrest. “People are concerned about their own future and that of generations down the line. As a country, your sole aim may be to make as much money as possible, but what kind of home will we be leaving to our children and grandchildren if social cohesion is under pressure and our planet is being eroded?”

 

Plus another one million permanent jobs

Fortunately, the pandemic has also prompted politicians – from left to right – and some employers to realize that the Netherlands of Tomorrow demands change, believes Elzinga. He believes that we can start rebuilding the country without delay. We already have the blue print: broad-based prosperity for the whole of the Dutch population. That is the approach underlying the Social and Economic Council’s draft advice that trade unions and employers presented together this spring: a package of measures for the new cabinet. First and foremost, the labor market must be reformed: we must return to more permanent contracts, instead of flexible employment. Elzinga would like to see at least another one million permanent jobs. “People need job and income security. They want bread on the table, they must be able to pay the bills and have enough disposable income for their leisure time.”

The climate change price tag

Broad-based prosperity also calls for greater investments in public funds for vital sectors, like health care and education. For example, better terms of employment must stop the trend of having unmotivated employees: it may be more enticing to get out of bed in the mornings and take up the task of teaching if wages rise and work-related pressure is reduced. More must also be invested in the quality of public services, such as the Employee Insurance Agency, the tax authorities – here we have in mind the childcare benefit scandal – and yes, also pension administration. Elzinga says, “Better performance from institutions may also help to close the current gap in confidence.” For the long term, there needs to be substantial investment in tackling climate change. “We have to stop procrastinating and start addressing the issue. The longer we kick the can down the road, the higher the price tag will be.” So we need more funds to accelerate the energy transition, while at the same time being socially accountable by helping people who lose their jobs to get other work.  

   

Strong government required

Given the long societal wish list, the government can no longer keep its distance, Elzinga believes. Since the eighties, the maxim in The Hague has been: strong market forces, small government. “A market is a good for ensuring that there is enough to round, but you can’t leave everything to market forces,” Elzinga reckons. “We are now faced with the mess that the mantra of liberalization, privatization and deregulation has left us in.” Rebuilding the Netherlands calls for a stronger state, one that actively helps shape the society of the future through public participations and targeted investments, and legislation and regulation must ensure that market participants accept their social responsibility. This need for a government with a firm hand on the rudder does not stop at the borders. For example, Elzinga welcomes the G7 plan for a global minimum tax rate of 15 percent for multinationals. It will make tax avoidance through tax havens more difficult because it will put an end to competition among countries that lure foreign investors by having the lowest tax rates.

  

Tech giants

It is also crucial to have international regulations that curb the influence of Big Tech and Big Data. Elzinga adds, “Big tech companies are capitalizing on data that we as consumers are producing ourselves. They are using existing digital infrastructure, without giving anything in return.” The same is true of multinationals that are getting patents for innovations that they were not solely responsible for conceiving. After all, their smart employees are educated at publicly funded universities and draw on the body of knowledge that our knowledge-based society has accrued in centuries past-. We are standing on the shoulders of giants. “Data, knowledge, but also for example raw materials and energy sources such as the sun and wind and ultimately our entire planet: it belongs to all of us. What gives a handful of companies the right to claim ownership? Why should managers and shareholders be allowed to become wealthy beyond description from it, while employees and the rest of society have to make do with the crumbs?” says Elzinga.

I hope that one day it will no longer be necessary to strike

“Give employees control”

The pyramid must be turned upside down. That doesn’t call for revolution; instead it calls for a radical change in direction, through gradual, democratic means, according to Elzinga. He believes that the first tentative steps down this new path have been taken. Governments are slowly starting to take back their traditional role, companies are taking more responsibility for their environment and consumers, citizens and major investors are more inclined to hold them to account. The next step is to give employees and society a real say, Elzinga argues. “'Give those people who come up with all those innovative ideas a voice, the ones that do the real work, who are the actual rightful owners of companies’ products and services: all of us, in other words. Who’s the boss? Who decides? As it stands now, they are managers and shareholders; in the future we should all be able to be in charge.”

 

From shareholder return to social gains

In recent years, Elzinga has been conducting the negotiations for the pension agreement on behalf of employers’ and employees’ organizations of the Netherlands Trade Union Confederation. It’s a historic agreement; designed to keep old-age provisions affordable going forward, without abandoning the principle of solidarity. “In the new system, the contributions you have accrued are reflected more directly in your own pension accrual, but we will still ensure that people who are not so fortunate in their careers will also be able to have a good pension, and we will spread the risks across the generations.” That said, Elzinga believes that the pension discussion is far from over. If interest rates remain this low in the coming years and investment returns structurally decline in the future, as predicted, then it will not be possible to keep the promise of an indexed-linked pension and the trust gap in society will widen. Pension funds could then take the next step: from shareholder return to social gains.

 

Pension benefits in kind? 

Elzinga explains, “Pension funds should examine the needs people have later in life. Do they then only need money? Or would they rather have a nice place to live, good care and quality of life? Invest in that directly as a pension fund; put pension money into new kinds of housing for senior citizens, good care for the elderly and restoring social infrastructure, so that it is to hand when people need it.” This would be a type of pension in kind. And why only invest in provisions for old age? Pension funds can also be used to improve today’s society. Here we have in mind investments in the tight housing market – which mainly affects young generations – or in good education, for a robust Netherlands of Tomorrow. Elzinga adds, “Pension funds have major assets and that means they bear a huge responsibility, for the Netherlands of today and the future.” 

 

An end to strikes

During the pension agreement negotiations, the Netherlands Trade Union Confederation, together with the National Federation of Christian Trade Unions in the Netherlands and the Trade Union for Professionals, halted train traffic for a day to apply pressure for a slower rise in the state pension age. What does Elzinga think: will there still be strikes in the Netherlands of Tomorrow? “I suspect so. In the meantime, there will be conflicts of interest between employers and their workforces. But I hope that one day it will no longer be necessary to strike: if employees are given a real say, they can be part of the decision-making process and conflicts of interest will become a thing of the past. If you are the boss, there’s no need for you to strike.” So the Malieveld of the future will be solely for the successors of The Stones and Coldplay, in other words: the ultimate festival grounds? Elzinga laughs, “Yes, that’s where we’ll gather to simply have a good time, do stuff we enjoy or celebrate together, for example, the great pension system that we have in the Netherlands.”      

Volgende publicatie:
“People say: ‘You saved my life’”

“People say: ‘You saved my life’”

Published on: 12 July 2021

“You work in the pension sector? Wow, exciting...”  Prejudices abound about working for a pension fund or administrator. Perhaps not entirely justified, as a series of portraits of the people who work there every day shows. People like

Manon van Hoek, who works as a growth hacker at Kandoor, a platform where financial professionals answer questions about money matters for free. “At Kandoor we really try to help people.”

 

What is a growth hacker?

“Well, it’s not about hacking anyway, haha. Growth hacking is a form of marketing where the focus is on growth. To get more visitors, my two coworkers and I are constantly improving the platform. What can we do differently, what would the effect be? And then try it out. Then we analyze the data. Are there differences and if so, what causes them?”

 

Can you give us an example?

“Kandoor has a chatbot, an automated conversation partner on its website. People can get personal answers to all their financial questions through that. We are investigating whether they prefer short answers or whether a detailed explanation is more helpful. We use experiments to find out exactly what questions they have. We are also testing how best to ask for feedback. Or at what point visitors drop out. And whether blogs, for example, are still up-to-date enough or whether they need to be modified.”

 

Does Kandoor want to become the biggest help site for finances?

"We would really like to expand our reach. Anyone who types in a financial search question on Google should immediately find us.”

 

So the trick is to get to the top of Google search?

“Yes, that is the challenge. If people have a question about retirement or taxes, for example, they can get the answers from us. All relevant information about financial matters should be on our platform. Plus, the website must be technically structured in such a way that Google can recognize us. However, their algorithm changes constantly. So, we have to constantly keep up with that.”

 

How many visitors does Kandoor currently have?

“In 2020, we had a million and a half visitors and over half a million questions came in. We will probably reach a million this year, because we already have half a million questions now. We are very happy with that. I think it would be great if Kandoor is seen as a brand soon. That people just know: I have a question about finances, so I’ll go to Kandoor, because they will help me. That is our ultimate goal.”  

 

Are you a financial wizard yourself?

“I know a lot about data analysis, but I had absolutely no financial knowledge when I joined Kandoor two and a half years ago. I’ve learned a lot here. I didn’t know anything about pensions, for example. I now know that it’s important to start thinking about it at a young age. Because now you can still arrange it properly.”

So you give your friends that advice, but you don't answer questions on the platform?

“No, the financial guides do that. We have a whole community of volunteers. These are all experts who give free information so that people can make their own decisions. We also have bloggers who write about different money topics.”

 

What makes your work so interesting?

“It's very varied. You are never done learning because there is always a new development. So, you have to constantly come up with new solutions. What I also like is that Kandoor has a social mission. For me, that's the best of both worlds: the constant challenge of being innovative, combined with the social aspect. At Kandoor, we really try to help people with financial stress. I’m much more aware now of how many people have that. And how much impact that has on their lives.”

 

Does that move you?

“Yes, you see that sometimes people are in so much trouble that they don't know what to do anymore. They are often very grateful for the help of the guides. I get their feedback and sometimes they write, ‘You saved my life. I am so happy that someone is helping me.’ On the one hand, it is very nice that someone has really been helped. But it's also very sad to see people in these kinds of situations.”

 

What would you change in society if it were up to you?

“The benefits system. It is underestimated how difficult it is for the average Dutch person to navigate through that. And how afraid they are of doing it wrong. Because if you apply for something and it turns out you're not entitled to it after all, then you might be in debt immediately. So, I’d like to make that system easier.”

 

Anything else you’d like to tackle?

“The letters from the tax authorities. Many people simply don’t understand the content. The language is too complicated. They also come to Kandoor for help. But I don’t know if that problem should be solved by the government alone. Maybe it is also because they have never learned how to do their tax return. Then it’s not surprising that you make mistakes. That’s something schools should teach.”

Volgende publicatie:
"Is Dutch life expectancy falling due to corona?"

"Is Dutch life expectancy falling due to corona?"

Published on: 1 July 2021

Current issues in the fields of the economy, (responsible) investment, pension and income: every week, an APG expert provides a clear answer to the question of the week. This time: Actuarial Director Alexander Paulis on the impact of corona on the life expectancy and financial position of Dutch pension funds.

 

Just under two years. That is by how much American life expectancy fell between 2018 and 2020. That is, if you are to believe research from Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of Colorado Boulder and the Urban Institute. Cause: the pandemic, which caused the biggest drop in American life expectancy since 1943.

 

What about the Netherlands? Paulis raises his eyebrows when he hears about the American results. "Of course, this is just a snapshot. It is virtually impossible to determine now to what extent the death rates of the past two years are representative for the future. First, the situation must normalize. If there is going to be a new normal at all, it will be when everyone is vaccinated and we can see its effect on infection and death rates." 

 

AIDS

The corona effect on the death rates of the past two years (about 10 percent excess mortality according to Statistics Netherlands) is a short-term development that is pretty much useless for making predictions, according to Paulis. "Pension funds plan for the long term. And when it comes to corona, we don't know anything about that yet. For long-term predictions, you need a sufficient basis – observation years. We're used to looking far back in time and not letting the last year be all-decisive. In the 1980s, we initially also thought that the AIDS epidemic would have structural consequences for life expectancy. In the end, it turned out to be no more than a ripple."

 

To answer the question of how representative the first years after 2020 are for what we will see in the future, you have to cross a kind of actuarial boundary, according to Paulis. "You'll also need to talk to medical experts, such as virologists. Actuaries are always cautious about this, because it quickly leads to subjective, political discussions. But don't think you can escape it in this case." 

 

Contrary

Normally, a 'base' is also created for life expectancy by looking at other, comparable countries. However, we shouldn't expect any benefit from this in the short term, says Paulis. "Especially with corona, we've seen that the differences between countries can suddenly be very large."

There is another reason not to let the first years after 2020 be too decisive for the long-term prognosis of the death rate. "During hot summers, for example, we also see excess mortality. Summers like that particularly claim the lives of people who are already more vulnerable. As a result, you're left with a relatively healthy population, which often results in below-average mortality. The same counter-effect could occur with corona."

 

Drop

Anyone who thinks that pension funds will undoubtedly benefit financially from corona mortality is mistaken, according to Paulis. "If participants whose retirement pension hasn't yet commenced die, surviving dependents receive a partner's and orphan's pension. This could be financially more disadvantageous for the fund, especially when it concerns young surviving dependents. But if someone already received a retirement pension, that will lapse. The survivor's pension that replaces this is lower. On balance, this is more beneficial for the fund. Because it was the elderly in particular who died of corona, we have had a modest 'positive result on mortality' in the past year, as an actuary calls it somewhat clinically. But that was a drop in the ocean, so to speak – a few tenths of a percentage point at the most of the coverage ratio. Interest rates, investment returns and, nowadays, often also the premium have a much greater influence on the financial position."  

 

Unusable years

So for the time being, there's no reason to assume that life expectancy in the Netherlands is falling? Paulis: "That's correct. For a long-term forecast, 2020 and 2021 are the most useless years imaginable. Pension funds shouldn't be over-optimistic about the consequences of corona for the time being."

Volgende publicatie:
Dream and action: "Worrying, how differently people look at things"

Dream and action: "Worrying, how differently people look at things"

Published on: 30 June 2021

But he did not kill her,

Because between dream and action,

Laws stand in the way

And practical objections.

(from: Willem Elsschot, The Marriage)

 

Retirement may be something not directly of interest to Generation Z, but they are tomorrow's generation. What are their dreams? What are they doing to achieve them? And what stands in their way? In the Dream and Action series, we ask young people to talk about what it will look like for them now and in the future.

Leila Jane Ali-Dib (23) from Rotterdam: "People with a non-Dutch background have fewer opportunities in life. I get angry about that."

 

Who: Leila Jane Ali-Dib (23), "creative, independent, sensitive, caring, always curious and a feminist".
Lives: In Rotterdam.
Works: As a freelancer in marketing and PR, she also does modeling and hopes to get some acting jobs. "Work is very important to me. I also enjoy working on my career. I really like to work hard. Not just for the money, but also for the pleasure it brings me. Pleasure comes first. I think it's important to experience enough freedom in my work. I want to decide for myself when I work, what I do and when I do it."
Loves: Being creative, experiencing culture, traveling and spending time with good friends.

What are your dreams?

"I try to live in the now and see what comes my way, but in a way, I'm also concerned about the future. What do I want? Who do I want to be? What else do I want to do? I hope that later, I will have a family and a nice house in Rotterdam. And that my work is still my passion, and that I earn enough. I always want to keep doing my own thing and do and learn new things. I dream of seeing a lot of the world and doing more acting."

 

What does your dream retirement look like?

"As an employee, I have built up some pension, but nothing to write home about. To be honest, I haven't bothered with it so far. But as a freelancer, I'll have to arrange it myself. My mom always insists I have to sort it out. I don't know anyone my age who's already making plans for their retirement. It's still so far away. But then again, the sooner you start building up the better, so I'll have to look at the possibilities."

 

What stands in the way of your dreams, what are you worried about?

"I worry about the environment, but also about inequality in the world. There is a lot of polarization. I find it worrying how differently people look at things. I think everyone has prejudices, but I try to be aware of how I think and act. If someone I know says something politically incorrect, I try to say something about it."

"I worry about the environment, but also about inequality in the world"

What makes you angry?

"We often say that we've come so far, that so much has already changed, that the Netherlands is a free country where a lot is allowed. But if you look at what actually happens, it's disappointing. It's 2021 and women are still paid less than men. People with a sexual preference that falls outside the 'norm' are still verbally abused in the street. People with a non-Dutch background have fewer opportunities in life. I get angry about that. Sometimes I don't understand how it's still possible, in this day and age."

 

Have you ever had to deal with that yourself?

"No, as far as I know, I've never been discriminated against because of my surname. Maybe because I don't look very foreign. I am half Arab; my mother is Dutch, my father is from Syria. What did once happen is that because of my background, I was deliberately put in a kind of subsidy application for diversity. I thought that was mad, although I could laugh about it too. Spurious diversity is also a problem: companies that pretend to the outside world that they value diversity, but behind the scenes everyone's white. I think there is still a lot to gain there."

 

What do you do to improve the world?

"I try to be environmentally conscious. I believe it's important to be informed about this, to find out more and more and to make more conscious choices. Two years ago, I cut meat from my diet and I eat as little fish and dairy as possible. I'm also more conscious about clothing. I give old clothes away to people I know or sell them online so that someone else can still enjoy them. I try to buy more second-hand, because apparently, certain large clothing stores do not produce those clothes sustainably. I've heard that returned clothes often have to be incinerated because that would be cheaper than recycling. This also has to do with our buying behavior, so we should not close our eyes to that.

When it comes to flying, I'm a bit less environmentally aware if I'm honest. I once looked into whether I could go to Spain by train instead of by plane, but a train ticket was more than twice as expensive. And it takes much longer to get there too. I'm sorry, but in that case, I'll take the plane."

Volgende publicatie:
“A thousand trash can factories need to be built”

“A thousand trash can factories need to be built”

Published on: 28 June 2021
How do children think about the climate? In the latest video from the Kids &… series, you will find out.

Kids these days are pretty environmentally aware. At the request of APG, seven young world citizens were asked what they think about the climate. Some, like Lise (6), see it quite broadly. “The climate? That’s the wilderness where the wild animals live.” Most are remarkably knowledgeable about the issues. Like Xavi (8): “We pollute nature. Then Mother Nature gets very angry and changes the climate.” And they worry. “The more trees we cut down, the less oxygen there will be.” They also have solutions. Build a thousand more trash can factories, so there are enough trash cans for all the waste. Turning off the lights before putting on your pajamas at night.  Cycling to school on your own, instead of your mother driving you in the car. And don’t take a plane, “because that puts dust in the air and then we can’t breathe”.

Thank goodness there is ice cream at the end.

Volgende publicatie:
Dream and action: “I should hope there will still be fish in the sea by the time I’m 50”

Dream and action: “I should hope there will still be fish in the sea by the time I’m 50”

Published on: 22 June 2021

But he did not kill her,

Because between dream and action,

Laws stand in the way

And practical objections.

(from: Willem Elsschot, The Marriage)

 

Retirement might not be something generation Z spends much time thinking about, but they are the generation of the future. What do they dream of? What are they doing to achieve that? And what is standing in their way? In the series Dream and Action, we let young people speak about what the present and the future look like to them. Today, freelance copywriter Nina Keijzer (20) from Ridderkerk: “What do I worry about regarding the future? It would be better to ask: what don’t I worry about?”

 

Who: Nina Keijzer (20)

Lives in: grew up in Rotterdam, currently lives in Ridderkerk with her parents.

Works: as astrologer and copywriter. “My work is the most important part of my life right now. It keeps me busy every day. I get that from my parents. They both always worked full-time, just like my grandparents; it’s our nature to work really hard.”

Likes: writing, reading, working out, watching Netflix and playing piano.

 

What do you dream about?

“I’d like to publish my own books. If at all possible, I’d like to mean something to society that way, make a difference. If I can help someone in some way, I am satisfied. To me, being successful is the freedom to do what you enjoy doing. Sure, it’s nice to have a lot of money too, but it’s not the most important thing.”

 

How do you envision your future?

“I really think about my future too much. More than I want to. I talk about the future every day with my best friend. You’re still young, people say, don’t worry. And that is true, but we can also see that things are not getting better. How can you not worry when you have a huge student loan to pay back and you have no chance of getting a mortgage? I don’t see it happening, but I hope to be able to move out and buy a nice house for myself in about five years. In a perfect world I would not have any money worries, I can accrue a nice pension and I don’t have to worry about the future.”

 

What about when you are retired?

“I’m not looking forward to still having an office job and still working hard when I’m 70. I’d rather retire sooner. A passive income would be nice. If I stay self-employed, I will have to set up a pension for myself. That is something I’m already worrying about. Life just keeps getting more expensive and wages don’t seem to go up at the same rate. If houses get even more expensive, how are we going to pay for that? My generation is really into investing; you’re suddenly seeing that everywhere. I want to do it too. I hope I will be able to save enough to be able to sit in the garden without worries in my old age. But money might look very different in fifty years. That may sound like science fiction, but we already have bitcoin and other crypto coins, so the idea is not that far-fetched.”

 

What is your dream for the Netherlands?

“We work a lot in the Netherland. It would be great if that changed; that we start working less for the same money. It would be a nice experiment. Everyone wants to work less for the same amount of money. You might get as much done in 30 hours as you do in 40 hours, because you only have a limited number of productive hours in a day, and you can’t be focused non-stop. It could also make a big difference in terms of burnouts. I enjoy my work and it is important to me, but the balance between work and leisure should really be more towards leisure. I think that my generation is very aware of that: you only live once and there is more to life than just work.”

 

What kind of world would you like to live in?

“I hope that big companies and countries will want to take more responsibility. A lot still needs to be done to reach the climate goals. It is a serious matter, which in my eyes is being treated much too casually. It’s great we want to go to Mars, but let’s take better care of the Earth first.”

What worries you when you think about the future?

“It would be better to ask me what doesn’t worry me. Climate change is on my mind a lot. What if it makes the sea level rise even higher in the Netherlands? And I watched a documentary where they were saying there won’t be any fish left in the sea by 2050 if the fishing industry keeps going at the current rate. That scares me. I should hope there will still be fish in the sea by the time I’m 50. What are we going to do now to prevent that?”

 

What stands in the way of your dreams?

“The housing market worries me. How on earth am I ever going to get a good mortgage? The price of houses is rising like crazy in the Randstad and everything is selling above the asking price. My generation and the generation after me will have to bring at least 20,000 Euros if we want to buy a nice house. My mom lived on her own when she was 18. She rented apartment for 250 guilders a month. When I hear that, it makes me want to cry. You can’t get anything like that for even 500 Euros in the Randstad now. We can’t keep going this way. Soon we will still be living with our parents well into our thirties, because we can’t afford to buy our own homes.”

 

Are there any other obstacles?

“Yes, we also have huge student loans to pay off because they stopped providing the basic study grant. Some of my friends owe 60,000 Euro and they have no idea how they are going to pay it. Everyone thinks my generation is all about having fun, but my friends are working like fiends to be able to pay for everything. People forget how expensive everything is; even just renting a room costs a lot of money. It would be wonderful if they brought the basic study grant back. That would eliminate so much stress. We are the future and governments should invest in the future.”

 

 

What are you doing for a better world?

“My parents and I are very consciously working on sustainability. We don’t have any plastic shopping bags and bottles of water anymore, we throw away much less than we used to and buy organic whenever possible. We are also all vegan, we only eat plant-based food. My mom became a vegetarian when she was 14. I became a vegetarian when I was 15, but a few months later I decided to go vegan. Both of my parents said, okay, we’ll do it too. I’m very grateful for that. Even my dad quit eating meat, dairy and eggs cold turkey. Plus, every day, I go for a walk and pick up any garbage I come across on my way.

 

One person can make a difference, but at the same time, I think that the responsibility is put on the individual too much instead of on the big, polluting companies. I hope that is going to change in the coming years. Because we can all stop buying plastic straws, but as long as cucumbers are all sold individually wrapped in plastic, that is not going to make that much of a difference. I also think it’s too bad that sustainable is often more expensive. That makes a lot of people go for the less sustainable options.”

 

Volgende publicatie:
“Women should take better care of their finances”

“Women should take better care of their finances”

Published on: 18 June 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 going to take care of the future yourself or are you part of a pension fund?

Elisabeth van der Meer has just retired. But not completely: “I enjoy my work and I want others to be able to benefit from my experience.”

 

 

Elisabeth van der Meer (66)

Profession: was an entrepreneur, is now retired, but still working as a coach and trainer

Works: about 25 hours a week

Income: 10,000 Euros net per year, plus Old Age Security and pension around 2500 net per month.

Savings: “Enough”

Pension set up? Yes

 

You recently retired. Is it time to relax now?

“Not really; I didn’t stop working completely. I have changed my work into something I can organize the way I like it. I want to keep working, because I enjoy it, but also so that I can let others benefit from my experience. I’m a tax economist by trade. Now I am training and coaching people and giving workshops about mindset. I talk to them about money and better ways for them to think about it.”

 

What kinds of things do you tell them?

“I recently taught a course/workshop on women and money. I have noticed that women are still not sufficiently aware that they need to take care of themselves. They leave too much to their partners. But they should be informed themselves. From a social commitment standpoint, I think people, especially women, need to be more aware of the need for financial independence. If you are a woman who chooses to stay home with the children for a certain period of time, make sure that enough money is transferred to you during that time so that you can build up a pot of your own. Women, in general, should take better care of their finances. When my husband passed away, I had grief, but not misery. I’ve seen plenty of women around me who didn't have time to grieve and had to move in a hurry and were condemned to welfare. The safety nets for widowers and widows are very small, and unexpected deaths still occur. From both sides, it’s good to reflect on what happens when one person is gone, and the other one is left to face everything alone.”

 

How much are you still earning through your work?

“Around 10,000 Euros net per year. I invest a lot of that into the company. I don’t withdraw everything I earn from my business account.”

 

What kind of work did you used to do?

“I have always enjoyed being an entrepreneur. Apart from a few vacation jobs, I have never worked for a boss. My husband and I owned a motorcycle store together for 25 years, selling motorcycles and clothing and doing repairs. He was 23 years older than me, and we sold the business when he retired. My husband was 68, I was 45. We wanted to see how far we would get if we retired together. But after a few years, I started to feel restless, and I set up my own business. After he passed away, nine years ago, I expanded that a bit. I had to do some upgrading. Almost everyone I encounter in my work is younger than me, including the people who seek my advice.”

“When my husband passed away, I experienced grief, but not misery”

How did you and are you dealing with retirement?

“When we closed the business, there was a tax-deferred retirement reserve (FOR), and because we had a company, we both had it. I started looking into how you could have that FOR paid out. We had it calculated and then it turned out that, mainly because of our age difference, the standard payout until death for both of us would be a very meager amount.  So, we decided to do something different. We had my husband’s annuity payment commence for twenty years. My FOR was set aside so that it could grow for twenty years and would come to fruition when the annuity payment ended. We had counted on me being pensionable at 65, but it turned out not to be the case. I had a gap of one and a half years without Old Age Security and income from annuities. I bridged that gap with my income from assets and my business. As of July 1, I will receive Old Age Security and my annuity will be paid out, in morsels that I had set aside 22 years ago.”

 

How much do you get every month?

“Because I'm single, I get 1280 Euros from Old Age Security and about the same amount in annuities. Am I happy with that? It’s what I've accrued; I’ll have to make do with it. A few years ago, I made a big profit when I sold my house. I invested that in a smaller house. Now I have no mortgage payments. And on top of that I have income from my business, so in that sense the 2,500 Euros net per month is not bad. I can get by with it quite well. It's really great; everyone should have that.”

 

What are your fixed expenses?

“The standard monthly things: health insurance at 200 Euros, 100 Euros for the car, water and energy is 200, about 70 Euros for property valuation.

 

Do you have any savings?

“Yes, I accrued enough. After selling my house and buying a new one, I had some money left over and I invested that.”

 

You have investments?

“Some of it I invest because the interest rate on the savings account is so low. I’m a conservative investor, maybe a lazy one too. I invest in stocks for the long term. I don’t feel like delving into complicated investment products like options and don’t want to have to deal with them on a daily basis.”

 

What do you like to spend money on?

“I always enjoy any kind of traveling. I have a tent, but I also enjoy the occasional cruise. For this summer I’ve booked hotels in Germany for two weeks. I also can’t resist buying books. Especially non-fiction, on subjects that interest me. Spirituality, mysticism, philosophy, that sort of thing. I also like to spend money on wellness. Before I made the decision on how to handle the annuity, I worked with my accountant to create a financial plan. One of his assignments was to create a budget for me for what I thought I would need on a monthly basis. He asked me to outline three scenarios: one was the minimum, the second was a comfortable budget, and the third was an extravagant luxury budget. By doing that you find out what is important to you and what you like to spend money on. I also discovered that if I had a luxury budget, I would like to have a bigger pot to use for things like buying gifts and donating to charities. So, that’s a regular part of my budget now.”

 

How do you envision your retirement going forward?

“I sincerely hope to stay healthy in body and mind. That’s the main thing. In addition, I just expect to have an enjoyable and meaningful life. Especially meaningful, that’s important to me. My work and my family - a daughter, three bonus sons and seven grandchildren - are my pillars.”

 

 

Approximately half of the women in the Netherlands are financially dependent.

On www.realitycheck.nl, ABP discusses the pitfalls and interfaces in relation to financial empowerment in a clear way. In addition, the e-learning RealityCheck provides insight into money and behavior and motivates people to take care of their finances. Through anecdotes, facts and tips, the site offers insight and action perspectives in relevant life situations (divorce, part-time work, children). You can also sign up for a webinar on retirement.

Volgende publicatie:
“I think we will be eating maggots in 30 years”

“I think we will be eating maggots in 30 years”

Published on: 25 May 2021

How do children think about the future? In the latest video from the Kids &… series, you will find out.

 

When is the future actually? The question already leads to different answers in the panel. “In about 100 years,” says one. But also reflections of a more nuanced nature: "It could be in trillions of centuries, but also in a few minutes."

Then: food in the future. Oscar (8) knows for sure: "I think we will be eating maggots in 30 years." Lars (11) is looking for a more vegan approach: “Grass that is rich in fiber. Because there are many blades of grass in the world. ” There has even been thought about the housing supply of tomorrow: "Flying villas."

Volgende publicatie:
The Netherlands in 2041

The Netherlands in 2041

Published on: 21 May 2021

How will we be living in 2041? In a series of six articles, we are painting a picture of the Netherlands of the future. How wealthy will we be then? How will we be living? How will we be working? How will we be consuming? How will we be spending our leisure time? In this episode we are wondering: How social will we still be by then?

 

How social will we be in 2041? Will we still have any consideration for each other? Or will individualization have progressed to the point that we have nothing left for a neighbor? Will there be such a thing as solidarity between rich and poor, old and young, fat and skinny, sick and healthy, man and woman, Dutch person and newcomer? In the media we read about a growing lack of understanding. About groups that are in stronger opposition against each other. Will it soon be every man for himself and shouters before all of us? Since the outbreak of the corona crisis, and especially in times of lockdown, according to the Social and Cultural Planning Office (SCP), we sometimes find it difficult to look beyond the boundaries of self-interest. Take volunteering at the community center or at the sports club. In Europe, we were ahead for a long time, with thirty percent of the Dutch being active as volunteers. In the midst of the lockdown, half of them indicate that they have less time for this. The number of people participating in demonstrations or joining movements has increased. The question is whether we are doing this out of solidarity with those in need or for own interests.

Is our willingness to selflessly do something for others diminishing? According to the SCP (Social and Cultural Planning Office) we are experiencing more hardening in society, but as yet no significant decline in solidarity.

And Trudie Knijn, emeritus professor of social sciences, does not see things in such a gloomy light either. “There are some things we currently can’t do as well for others, but we still seem to be aware of people with needs. Lonely elderly people, undocumented people, vulnerable young people. A charity like the Food Bank has been running at full capacity throughout the crisis.”

 

Solidarity with whom?

To reassure you in advance: no matter how self-centered we might be in 2041, there will always be such a thing as "passive solidarity”. We all pay taxes. With taxes, the government can put together support packages again during a new pandemic and enforce solidarity with lockdowns. And even if new plagues do not occur, the state will continue to redistribute wealth. The only question is: who gets what? “In a rich country like the Netherlands, the population has traditionally been in favor of social protection for the elderly, more so than for the sick and people with disabilities,” Professor of Social Policy at the University of Leuven Wim van Oorschot tells us. He is working on the question: who is entitled to what, in our eyes? According to him, our feelings of solidarity are even lower for the unemployed than for the sick and disabled. For the poor even lower and for immigrants even lower. Van Oorschot wants to say: not every needy person can count on the same degree of solidarity. In the eyes of the law, everyone is equal, but when it comes to the claim one makes on subsidies or the support people get from institutions or society, some are more equal than others. Widows more equal than divorced women, divorced mothers more equal than divorced fathers, workers with a permanent contract more than flex workers, families more than singles. “Our willingness to help others depends a lot on how we see that other person. And whether we can identify with that person’s needs.”

We judge a needy person's "worthiness to receive help” on five criteria. Control, attitude, reciprocity, identity and need. 'CARIN,' Van Oorschot's own term. We are more willing to help a needy person if we feel that he does not have himself to blame for being in needy circumstances, if the needy person is grateful instead of demanding, if the needy person gives something in return for the help received, if we can identify with the needy person ourselves, and if we think we can estimate the degree of need. “We are conditional cooperators,” van Oorschot says. “We contribute our fair share when we see that the other person is doing the same.”

 

Worthy of help

Conditional cooperators: I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine. How enduring is this conditional solidarity? Because lately even our solidarity with the elderly has been under pressure. If the elderly make demands on Old Age Security and pension or occupy a large house at the expense of young families, we see them less as "worthy of help". Young people think: those old people don’t have it so bad. They are squandering our money, eroding the foundation of the pension system. The "paradox of redistribution" is what the American sociologist Richard Coughlin calls this. Will solidarity as the basis for the pension system still be strong enough in 2041? And if we are already beginning to feel less solidarity for the elderly, what will be left for migrants? Is the welfare state only “for us”?

     These are all difficult questions. This is another reason why we will gladly entrust solidarity to the government in 2041. It does regulate the supervision of the rights of vulnerable fellow citizens. It redistributes wealth. But we must be careful, warns Van Oorschot, that in doing so we also transfer solidarity “as a value” to anonymous institutions. To governments that stand between “donor” and “recipient”. Because as the feeling of gratitude disappears for the “recipient”, the sense of purpose disappears for the “donor”. Solidarity from communal pots can eventually undermine the legitimacy of the welfare state.”

 

Reinventing solidarity

Back to the original question: what will solidarity look like in 2041? More visibly socially engaged pension funds and other, previously anonymous institutions? A social service obligation for young people? Will the government hand out credit points and deductions to volunteers? Or will the business community lead the way? Or social enterprises that combine ideal and profit? Or will it come from within ourselves as the volunteer base ages and there is less volunteering action from young people? Are we going to rate and like each other at socials? In 2041, will we monitor each other's efforts? Will this move towards social control or coercion?

Trudie Knijn conducted European comparative research into people's motivation to join a solidarity initiative and already saw that we are not doing so badly in the Netherlands. Take the Food Bank. Both the volunteer and the end user are interested in the contact, in the exchange. The feeling of belonging to something. It is therefore important that we appreciate an initiator or volunteer and involve them in activities. Many charities date back to the 1990s, when the government left many gaps. They had to make do without support for a long time. Now they get subsidies, but in return they have to comply with procedures. Top down organized organizations. Demarcated tasks, red tape. Government organizations in disguise. That can repel people.

Can we learn anything from the social movements that the SCP thinks we want so badly? We have seen many examples of this on TV recently. Virus madness, farmers on tractors. Angry people standing up for themselves - but also cheerfully dressed climate protesters, Black Lives Matter and moving solidarity actions for nurses. Will we organize solidarity more like a movement on the way to 2041? It could well be, Knijn believes. “Movements strive for impact; their goal is a quick, lasting influence on society. Unlike charities, they are organized flat, from grass roots. There is more democracy and more freedom. Everyone has a say, and every contribution is valued. It gets to the heart of the social beings we will always be: we want to belong somewhere.”

Volgende publicatie:
The Netherlands in 2041

The Netherlands in 2041

Published on: 12 May 2021

“We want to experience it by actively adding something ourselves, learning, changing, improving, having meaning”

Are sports associations and allotment gardens already using social media intelligently? “There is still room for improvement,” says Van der Aalst. Old-school clubs still have the greatest difficulty in attracting volunteers and members. If they still want to be around in 2041, administrators and bosses must abandon the hierarchical approach, expecting volunteers to provide the hands. During these Covid times, gyms are already proving have a better understanding. They are offering online work-outs and customized programs. But your membership base, or rather, your community, really thrives in loosely-bound connections, as we are seeing in urban culture & sports. There, the adage ‘each one teach one’ applies. Everyone is teacher and student, trainer and player, in an open culture where people respect each other and give each other the space to set up and promote events. In our free time, we no longer want to just passively experience something. We want to experience it by actively adding something ourselves, learning, changing, improving, having meaning.”

 

The new hedonism

There is that word again, finally. Experience, the experience economy. For a long time, we didn't hear about that promise. It was heard mainly in the tourism industry. We used to want to be mainly entertained on day trips and vacations, to experience things in the sense of undergoing them, but now that is no longer enough. It is a little different now: we now want to participate, to engage. To contribute something positive to the local population by buying local products. Painting in Greece, cooking in Italy, tending cows at a shelter in Estonia, rescuing stray dogs in Bulgaria, helping refugees on Morea. “A small-scale, but rapidly growing form of tourism,” says Richards. In our day-to-day, fragmented time off we are busy driving the children to their activities and fulfilling other social obligations that have to be rushed through. During our two weeks of vacation, we are still too restless to do nothing at the beach all day. That is why we mix lazing around with learning, relaxation with development.”

 

Thus, our hedonism is joined by ‘eudemonism’. A higher kind of bliss that - according to the Greek philosopher Aristotle - can only be achieved through acts that promote the well-being of others. “This already showed up in the 1960s in tourism,” Bastiaansen says. “Then it flattened out in the neoliberal me, me, me times, but now it’s making a big come-back.”

Van der Aalst is also seeing that an awareness of the climate catastrophe, the depletion of the earth and the degradation of the neighborhood makes more people want to get involved in something. The number of one-person households is increasing, people are increasingly getting away from old social structures. They automatically start looking for new meanings and commitments. This can be done on a small scale, as a buddy or caregiver, but also in groups, by collecting litter together, fishing plastic out of canals, cleaning up the street. It is less every man for himself. We are seeing things less as consumers and more as citizens. But we also want to have fun. I expect that more and more professional events will be created around this, with music, catering, training, and competition elements. Connecting Dutch people and newcomers, allocating budgets, challenging them to develop attractive concepts from diverse cultures together, scaling up the winning concepts.”

“As soon as the furniture stores and amusement parks re-open, the woods will empty out again”

Turning inward

In order to escape all the events and social pressures, the leisure desires of others will be limited to doing nothing. Turning inward, doing things that don't cost anything. At most an hour’s walk in nature, as we began to do en masse during Covid times. But Bastiaansen does not think that this influx into nature is here to stay. “A year and a half of lockdown is not enough to allow nature experiences to nestle deeply in our system. As soon as the furniture stores and amusement parks re-open, the woods will empty out again.”

Richards doesn’t think so. He points to the greatly diminished “social legitimacy” of flying vacations. “Flying is the new smoking. And after Barcelona and Amsterdam, other popular cities will also start banning tourists. So, people will be going on staycations, discovering their own local areas. But nature will pay for that. Will nature be turned into a reserve in order to protect it from the crowds? Actually, we have no nature here at all. No primeval forests or rock formations. In the Netherlands, we create nature, such as the Oostvaardersplassen. Even though they are not open to the public. I foresee State Forestry Services or Nature Monuments putting a fence around our most beautiful forests and charging an entrance fee.”

 

Just like at the Safari Park, we’ll be riding in quiet golf carts on a track through abandoned fields and pastures returned to nature, where wolves and bears roam once again. Or will that not be necessary? Will we accept that many experiences are no longer real and settle for our VR glasses, safe at home on the couch?

“China already has a virtual zoo, Guangzhou Zoological Garden,” says van der Aalst. “I expect we'll see more of this as we move away from keeping animals in cages, just as we are no longer allowing this in the circus.”

 

Real life

But no matter how virtual it gets, Van der Aalst thinks, we will always want to share our leisure experiences physically with others, in real life. Games, festivals, concerts and events are leading the way in this respect. They are already more hybrid in design, less tied to place and time. Do you remember hunting for virtual Pokémons? That was already one continuous experience. More than just a live stream, the Roadburn metal festival in Tilburg now offers a platform to its loyal visitors, seventy percent of whom come from outside the Netherlands, so that they can have fun together before and after the event. The rapper Travis Scott appeared as an avatar in the game Fortnite for a ten-minute concert, attracted thirty million gamers and earned sixteen million Euros from the sale of merchandise and fees. He would have had to do twenty live shows to earn that much otherwise.”

 

There are plenty of earning models. Even though we, as well as the artists, are yearning for a live performance. “But even live, the digital will mix with the real,” predicts Van der Aalst. “In the Ziggo Dome we will all be wearing AR glasses while watching Michael Jackson or another dead artist. The ‘real’ very last concert of the Rolling Stones is no longer something unique and one-off. Because there are so many options, we are better informed of where else we can have experiences we like, and we will be going out more and exploring more again.”

 

 

Illustration Joyce Schellekens

 

How will we live in 2041? In a series of six articles, we describe the Netherlands of the future. How rich will we be then? How will we live? How will we work? How will we consume? How social will we still be then?

In this fourth episode, we are asking ourselves: how will we spend our leisure time in the future?

 

Did you know that out of the 112 hours we are awake every week, we have as many as 44 hours of leisure time? That sounds like an ocean of time to get out and spontaneously do fun things with friends. To go out and explore. But when we look at how we actually spend that free time, aside from lying around on the couch and staring up at the ceiling, a pretty ingrained pattern emerges. According to the Social and Cultural Planningbureau (SCP), 40 percent is used on ‘media use’, 30 on ‘relaxation’, 20 on ‘social contacts’, and the rest sometimes on ‘volunteer work’. Greg Richards, professor of leisure studies in Tilburg says, “And besides our media use, we also limit everything strictly to weekends, because during the week is all about work. The structure we give our live has been the same for the past fifty years.”

 

Will that still be the same in 2041? Peter van der Aalst, teacher of Leisure & Events at the Breda University of Applied Sciences believes that “by 2014, everything will be merged together”. He believes that the figures of the SCP reveal a dynamic in our leisure time that has been going on for a while. “Everything is mixed together. Twenty years ago, we couldn’t imagine ourselves being connected to the entire world from a small computer on our lap while traveling in a train, arranging a vacation on the spot, based on the opinion of many other people all over the world. Futuristic? These days, we just call it a smartphone and our eighty-year-old grandmother has one too.”

 

Mixing up free time and work

Not only is the way we spend our leisure time going to blend, but also our work times and leisure times will be merging. In 2014, will we even be able to still distinguish between the two? With AR glasses on, will we be outside somewhere, virtually scrumming with coworkers while we’re actually at home on the couch in our underwear playing a board game with our kids? “It is becoming increasingly difficult to disconnect ourselves from our work,” says Marcel Bastiaansen, professor of leisure and tourism. “As a result, our leisure time is becoming increasingly fragmented: splinters that we no longer experience as leisure time either. It is possible that in the future the amount of leisure time will continue to increase, but not necessarily the quality.”

 

Is it also possible that mixing up less work and more leisure time will lead us to see our work as something on the side, like a hobby? “I’m afraid that is only true for the creative professions, where we already experience a lot of autonomy now,” Van der Aalst says. “The digital nomads, who provide their communication advice from a sunny resort or a vacation home in Drenthe.” Or will the simple professions also get more free interpretation of their craft? The artist-painter, the cleaner who also arranges flowers and decorates the house differently? Or the other way around: will amateurism and unpaid volunteer work be reimbursed in the future? Transferring the last toads, counting the last butterflies.... According to the SCP, do we really want to spend less of our leisure time gaming online? At least, we are saying we want to spend more time with people physically and we want to do more volunteer work.

“Saying something is not the same as doing it,” Bastiaansen knows. “I do think we will increasingly become more conscious of what we are leaving all around us.” Van der Aalst points out that an important aspect of online gaming already is building and maintaining social contacts. “Often international, worldwide. And who is not in various Whatsapp groups for family, friends, coworkers or communities for specific areas of interest? These often also organize meetings in real life. Our social contact is only increasing, even though it can sometimes be experienced as fleeting.”

 

Primitive

In the year 2000, American professor Robert N. Putnam wrote the book Bowling Alone: The Collapse of American Community. Although online life was primitive at the time, he saw how our social structures were increasingly disintegrating, how fewer and fewer people cared about each other. But in 2016, when the Internet revolution was already happening, he wrote an additional chapter to it, describing with hope the many initiatives he saw suddenly emerging. How small communities are reinventing old forms of volunteerism and social activism. Assisted in part by our smartphones.

Volgende publicatie:
The Netherlands in 2041

The Netherlands in 2041

Published on: 29 April 2021

How will we live in 2041? In a series of six articles, we sketch the Netherlands of the Future. How rich will we be? How do we live? How do we consume? How social are we still? How do we spend our free time? In this third episode, we ask ourselves: how will we work in the future?

 

Working in 2021: that means sitting and waiting in a building from nine to five. That is, if we are still allowed to come into the office during a pandemic. At the office, we think of home and at home, we long for the office. But American futurologist Thomas Frey believes that in 2041, after two more disruptive virus pandemics, the many vacant offices have now been converted into homes. And because the government still, to our despair, demands that we work at home, at the kitchen table with children, we have found a solution, according to Frey.

 

"By then, we'll be working from a mobile office. Everyone enjoys peace and concentration in their own, renovated camper. A mobile workplace with darkened windows and stable Internet. Can be set up at will as a workplace, film studio, tattoo parlor, a base for a raging reporter, pawnshop, fertility clinic or simply as a mobile office for a knowledge worker. Our desk on wheels is full of technology and robotics, with whom we chat just as pleasantly as with that colleague at the coffee machine. Algorithms propel us through the day, dots on the horizon markers keep us focused on the goals. As a moving billboard, we advertise our business, pick up an appointment for a meet-up and drop it off before the next one starts. Although we mainly meet virtually, with VR lenses that immerse us in a laboratory in India, or with AR glasses that lay a layer over the production facility to be renovated in China."

 

Knowledge worker

Okay. Let's just take a step back. We'll try to hook up with Frey again later. We will still need his optimism, because we will first dive into the prospects of the 'knowledge worker' with philosopher and digital fitness pioneer Martijn Aslander. And those prospects aren't particularly rosy. "In twenty years, most of the Netherlands will call themselves knowledge workers," says Aslander. 'We all gather, process, analyze, cluster and share knowledge all day long. But hopefully, we'll go about it a bit smarter than now.

At the moment, the knowledge worker works as if he were a conveyor belt worker. Someone who delivers a certain production on one specific working day. While his best ideas are born in the shower, we expect him to spend all day looking at a screen. We're effectively forcing him to put on a play.

 

According to Aslander, those days are coming to an end. "We're in these hip open-plan offices with slides, once forced upon us by old gurus of 'the new way of working'. Disastrous for our concentration. All day long, we're distracted by stimuli and talk and get nowhere. Take our working hours, for example. Twenty percent of us are at our best in the evening, whereas twenty percent function optimally in the morning at seven o'clock. Then why do we judge each other on fixed working hours? No wonder so many people suffer from stress and burnout, public health enemy number one."

 

Time confetti

Didn't the 1950s promise us that automation would take a lot of work off our hands? Why does it take so long before we can spend our days in idleness? "Simple," says Aslander, "we've been standing still for seventy years. At the time, we sat at a desk with some drawers, a couple of mail trays, a telephone with a cord, and a typewriter. Now, we're still tapping a keyboard - with two fingers, because we've never learned to touch type. We use a plane to drive on the highway."

 

Aslander made a study of the errors of the knowledge worker. He says we create documents throughout the day, send them to twelve others who make changes to them, and then save the new version separately. "We think this is work. One phone call down the line and we have a perspective that immediately renders the latest version worthless. In between all the time confetti - checking e-mail, texting, tweeting, chat - we shove around paper and put it away in folders and sub-folders, which all look alike. We hide bits of information all over the place, like squirrels do with acorns. But… where did we put it all? Our spatial and visual recall is the most highly developed skill of our brain, but it's not being used."

Aslanders' point: we have forgotten the purpose of work. We confuse it with a fifteen-year steady job doing the same trick. Okay, we network more than before and we now meet standing up and we scrum agile. "But what are the benefits if we can't access the right information right away? A quarter of our energy is spent on thinking. It's a shame to spend that on tracking down that one observation, that golden idea that you sent yourself in an e-mail last week."

 

Monetary capital

When we put money in the bank, Aslander says, our monetary capital grows. But we put our information capital in an old sock. We hide that sock under the mattress so that no one can reach it, including ourselves. "In the meantime, the amount of information that comes our way every day is increasing rapidly. We must therefore process information more intelligently. But we don't learn that skill at school or in organizations. If knowledge work is a craft, few have mastered it. Most of us just plod along. Which of us has adapted to the dynamics of 2041 in time and survives the competition? I think the speed and ease with which you're of value to others will determine your success. Take care of your information capital and your social capital, so that you are less dependent on monetary capital."

 

In the meantime, our employers are preparing for the digital future by delving into AI, Big Data, blockchain. Exciting developments, according to Aslander, but pointless if employees don't even grasp the finer points of Outlook or Excel. "We're not digitally fit. We can't even deal with the tools we currently use: an Ikea set of Allen keys to build an entire house with. If you look at our work tools from the future, most of them will drop out. Tools must store information, be searchable, sortable, able to organize, reorder, metadatable, and shareable. I use Evernote. I scanned everything I had using a super scanner, 93,000 notes in total. I found my swimming certificate and that particular taxi bill from 1989 in just a second."

Welcome to 'the new work reality'. Only when we have the basics in order and comply with a minimum of digital hygiene, if we can access everything immediately and everywhere and have knowledge and connections ready - then we'll be ready for the skills we can use to distinguish ourselves. Now and in 2041. "Thinking critically, being creative, doing business, communicating, working together," says Aslander. "Only then are you the solution to someone's problem. That's when you score in the elevator pitch, the boardroom, at a birthday party."

 

Regular jobs

Great for people with high-quality work at the top, but what will automation do to regular jobs in 2041? In 1867, Karl Marx predicted that the importance of the factor of low-grade work would continue to diminish. Shortly afterwards, engineer Frederick Taylor divided the work at Henry Ford's automotive plant into separate, endlessly repetitive tasks on the assembly line. And while in 2021, automation continues where industrialization left off, and we're still micromanaged by technology in call centers or as a food delivery service, one in four people experience their job as useless and meaningless. 21 percent of all work is performed by machines. By 2025, this will have risen to over fifty percent. Was Taylor trying to turn us into robots? Now we fear that robots will take jobs.

What is work, really? "Work," said the philosopher Voltaire, "saves a man from the three great evils: boredom, sin, and desire." For a long time, we saw work as a Christian duty: we earned our living by the sweat of our brow. Now, we see work more as a duty to ourselves - we want to develop. We get meaning from efforts, enjoy getting a job done. What will be left of that by the robots in 2041? Will the little work there is be something 'for on the side'? Will we be dutifully earning our money to waste our time in philosophizing and the arts, as the ancient Greeks did?

 

Cleaning sewers

"Task by task, our jobs are automated out of our existence," Thomas Frey acknowledges. "So will we still have our jobs later? Of course! Just not that job. Contrary to what we fear or fantasize, an era of super-employment awaits us." And not only that: Frey thinks that robots will make our work more fun. "They take over mundane jobs such as cleaning sewers or scrubbing toilets, but in most other jobs, we work with them as equals. My reason for believing that? An unimaginable amount of innovative technology awaits us. Hundreds of thousands of micro-industries have emerged, with work for hundreds of millions of people who are going to reshape life."

 

Moreover, in 2041, we see a revaluation of old professions, Frey believes. "The teacher, the coach, the journalist: these are the vital professions of tomorrow. When all the answers are available in the information society, asking questions becomes essential. More than ever, it's about trying things out, messing around, failing, reflecting and continuing to practice. Things that a robot can't do very well, but we can. In which professions does that happen? In journalism, we're still working as a raging reporter or as a brilliant news analyst, in addition to the robot fact-checker. But there are also data detectives and data ethicists. Robot personality trainers and drone traffic controllers. AI accountants, 3D homebuilders, cryptocurrency regulators, sensor troubleshooters, aerospace impact controllers, asteroid miners, gene therapists, mixed reality coaches, cultured meat designers. And yes, there will also be a lot of work for interior designers - for our mobile work camper."

Volgende publicatie:
‘Who is helping Mark Rutte? Minister Santa Claus’

‘Who is helping Mark Rutte? Minister Santa Claus’

Published on: 26 April 2021

After a well-received first season of Kids & Cash, we are starting a new video series in which children talk frankly about more than just money: Kids &…

 

 

What if children could be the boss of the Netherlands for one day? They would want to ‘keep the world a bit clean’, ‘make everything free of charge’ and ‘abolish Corona’. In this edition of Kids & Politics we see that political interests are already kindled at an early age. Children know Mark Rutte is the one calling the shots, but ‘the King tells him what he needs to do’ and ‘Minister Santa Claus’ also helps out. And the treasury chest with all of its pots of money? That is spent on ‘teachers who want more money’, ‘a climbing frame’ and ‘building a school’.

Volgende publicatie:
The Netherlands of 2041

The Netherlands of 2041

Published on: 21 April 2021

How will we live in 2041? We outline the Netherlands of the future in a series of six articles. How rich will we be? How do we live? How will we work? How societal will we still be? And how will we spend our leisure time? In this second episode we wonder: How will we consume?

 

Prior to us marveling at the delicacies in the supermarket of the year 2041 with food designer Chloé Rutzerveld, an exciting moment first awaits us behind the one-way gates: the food pharmacy. We deliver a sample of our poop to obtain an update on our health. And we have the chip in our hand, containing our DNA food profile, read to assess the nutritional needs of our body. In exchange we will get the status of our intestinal flora and a shopping list. We pull some shots of personalized powders from the vending machine containing all the vitamins and minerals we need and then we head to the vegetable department. But... where are the vegetables? And where can I find the meat or the bakery? Everything seems to be mixed up here. The supermarket has become one huge, healthy candy shop. Fruit croquettes made of the trimmings of pineapple and melon, snacks containing unsold red beets and oyster mushrooms, freshly baked waffles made of scrapes of turnips - the warm carrot syrup dripping out. Well, at least food waste no longer is an issue. It has appeared to be a no-brainer. Although the population on earth has increased with one and a half billion people since 2021, it doesn't mean we are producing more food. Thanks to free thinkers, such as Rutzerveld, we started to use our imagination.

 

The supermarket once was a place where remnants were disposed of in containers at the end of the day and where the issue of plastic wasn't addressed very energetically. But in the course of the twenties and thirties, we started to take on our responsibilities in terms of food supply. We are now wandering festival sites with private initiatives and labs in which we grow our own vegetables and produce our own meat. We exchange recipes and taste each other’s dishes at hangouts established for this purpose. ”We, consumers, have started to produce”, says Rutzerveld.

 

Biological or industrial

We go back for a while before we start shopping in Rutzerveld's magic world. The future of food doesn't look promising in 2021. When we look at the reports of the UN climate panel IPCC and the World Wildlife Fund that are widely recognized by science, there are no more doubts that we are eating our planet and endanger our lives with our agriculture, livestock farming and fishing industry. Will we still light-heartedly eat a meatball in 2041?

“It is not difficult to imagine our future as heaven or hell", says philosopher Koert van Mensvoort of design agency Nature Next Network. “It's all about imagining a world in which you would like to live.” He wonders what our traditions are and how we can transform those traditions with technology into an attractive world. “That could mean we will not start doing things differently, but just smarter. In a mishmash of nostalgia and innovation. In twenty years, we will live better in an old-fashioned way.”

 

Just take local, chemically untreated food. It has been available for a very long time, but we often overlook it. We do have the convenience box that's delivered at our home address containing fresh local products and recipes that generate more income for farmers in the region. There are self-sufficient communities with community gardens, having a farmer in the role of steward. Still, sceptics such as food scientist Louise Fresco, do not consider biological agriculture as a serious alternative for industrial agriculture, plant-based produce not as a replacement for animal use and costly transport across the globe. We would be unable to feed the entire world. “But why”, Van Mensvoort says, “would a synthesis not be possible? What if we transform chemically untreated into an efficient process? Not by means of our own removal of weed, but by having us assisted by robots? That way, grandmother's quality will also become affordable to James or Mary. By the way, Fresco may not say it out loud, to me she once said that she had it calculated that no less than fifty billion people can be fed this way. Although it helps should we all become vegetarians.”

 

We have to look at the situation more in the light of history, according to Van Mensvoort. “Every time we believed the earth was full, it appeared that our planet was able to hold even more people. If the hunter-collector needed some acres of land for his family; the agricultural industry scaled up its food supply and industrialization eliminated our fear of ever being hungry again. Unhealthy food is now available round the clock. Time for the next phase: the quality of the past but in a truly efficient way.”

In his book The Wizard and the Prophet (2018) Charles Mann saw two other opposing viewpoints. The ‘prophets’ who respect the boundaries of the earth versus the ‘wizards’ who want to push those boundaries using technology. Van Mensvoort can imagine these two groups working together as a team. What does that look like in 2041?

 

Our food production in 2041

In the year 2041, we consume locally as much as possible, but we still import coffee, cocoa, avocados, quinoa, citrus fruit and bananas from far away countries. We just don't import these produce any longer, as already determined by the World Food Organization FAO, by getting soy and palm oil from South America and Asia. We turned it around. We help Africa to produce inexpensive food for millions, so a lot more people are able to carry on with the Western way of consuming.

First of all, we abandon our position as second food export country. We cease the export of agricultural dump, of shipping pigs’ ears to China. “At the same time, we climb up the ladder to end up first place in knowledge export”, says Van Mensvoort. “We ask the farmer: what is your product? Pork chops? Or is the product your knowledge, the way you transform soy into a meaty, tasty structure? Knowledge is much easier to disseminate and it earns you more money.”

 

We are not so much disseminating our expertise in monotonous land cultivation, agricultural chemicals, pigsties. We are disseminating our upscaling which we used to fight our own hunger. We are disseminating our drones in order to work the fields in Africa with precision agriculture. We are disseminating our water management, making our crops more resistant against weather variations and real circular agriculture where smart toilets help to separate urine and feces so the nutrients can return to the fields as fertilizer. Something we are unable to achieve in the Netherlands, we can now realize in Africa.

 

Meanwhile in the supermarket of 2041

We don't grab a bag of chemical orange carrots from what could be the vegetables department. We cross-pollinate forgotten carrot and turnip species ourselves, back into the original colors. Assisted by farmers, we download a growth recipe of our liking, plant seeds indoors, play with the amount of water, CO2 and light, and influence the taste, shape and nutrients of vegetables and fruit this way. We grow the crops ourselves against walls. The handymen among us take it a step further and play with shapes. They come up with cylindrical eggplants, cubical broccoli and a sandwich tomato with the perfect size and shape for a slice of bread. “No science fiction. Technically, it's already possible”, says Chloé Rutzerveld.

 

In her book Food Futures, How Design and Technology can Reshape our Food System, Rutzerveld shows how we can bridge the gap between nostalgia and science. “We are already happy to pay for basil plants in jars and squeezing our own juice. That's the way we will also bridge the conflict within ourselves, the gap between the civilian and the consumer that we are both. The civilian who says that he or she wants to eat sustainable and plant-based and is happy to pay a fair price, and the consumer who in practice indifferently grabs the discounted produce.”

 

To tempt us, for example, to no longer extract proteins from animals but from plants, we tap grass milk at the not-dairy department from a bioreactor in the shape of a cow. Technology can offer us a lot, said the futurologist Kevin Kelly, apart from two things. Trust and stories. The need for this is rooted deeply within us. Trust cannot be downloaded, it's something we have to earn. This can be supported by stories about what we are used to.

 

So, at the not-meat department, hamburgers made of in vitro meat are growing behind the windows of a snack bar vending machine. We feed meat machines with dough mixtures of algae and slices of belly pork, beef and foie gras made of seaweed are ejected by 3D printers. Do we insist on having a piece of meat for which an animal has been killed? The cultivation box still holds a few containers filled with grasshoppers. The bodies have been blown up to the size of cut-price insects. Legs, wings and antennas have been removed. A bombshell of protein, but it doesn't sell. Human meat is doing a lot better. If there's is a product that has no shortage of supply, it is definitely human meat. We don't eat it on our daily portion of bread yet, it still is something special. We cultivate our own body cells that are growing like a medallion on our body.

 

At the not-bread department of Rutzerveld we continue to play with the nostalgia of eating and the functionality thereof. “We unravel our daily bread and divide it into elements of joy and feeding. After which we build it into something new again without the disadvantages of old-fashioned production. So, no shiploads of wheat from abroad. We grow cell cultures from waste flows. We mix yeast or sourdough with the personalized powders containing the nutrients we received earlier from the pharmacy into a paste. Then we head to the ovens to turn the mixture into a fresh bread roll. With the crispy crust of a sprout, the cloudy texture of a cake and the juiciness of the inside of a tomato. Finally, the odors and colors of a pair of AR glasses take us back to that one fresh bakery on a little square in Naples.

 

We don't even pay too much for the modernisms at the checkout. “If we want consumers to act like the committed civilians they are insufficiently”, says Van Mensvoort, “we should not only tempt them, but also reward them.” Why do we earn money felling a tree, but do we have to pay for planting a tree? He came up with the eco-coin. “We add the aspect of the pension fund to consumers. Deposit now, the value later. No animal meat bought today? One coin. Didn't use the car? One coin. Once you saved fifty coins, you gathered enough stamps to get a discount. Just like in the olden days.”

Volgende publicatie:
The Netherlands of 2041

The Netherlands of 2041

Published on: 12 April 2021

How will we live in 2041? We outline the Netherlands of the future in a series of six articles. How rich will we be? How will we consume? How will we work? How societal will we still be? And how will we spend our leisure time? In this first episode we wonder: how will we live?

 

Looking down from the airplane, the Netherlands of 2041 still is that yellow & brown blanket of agricultural land. But when we examine the dark seams between those patches of land a little bit closer with architect and former Flemish Government Architect, Leo van Broeck, we can also see that the spread of boxes, distribution centers, mega-stalls, datacenters, solar parks, ribbon development and other landscape clutter has come to a standstill. Everything that's still there, is overgrown with vegetation. And what about our beloved church towers, ditches, bridges? All still there. The monotonous lands sprayed with poison have been replaced by more diverse agriculture and much more open nature – but wait a minute. Didn't we suffer from a housing crisis in 2021? An acute shortage of 331,000 houses according to ABF Research? The Dutch population has increased since then by 1.5 million people. Where do all those people live? “Not here, that's for sure”, says Van Broeck. “Not in the open space.”

 

In the rural areas

Back to the year 2021. The ‘game’ of musical chairs is ongoing on the housing market with less and less chairs and more and more participants. Ever since the central government abandoned the issue, slum landlords force the prices of housing up, foreign investors, project developers and municipalities only build expensive, profitable apartment complexes and social housing has disappeared to make way for the private sector. People with a median income move away from the cities. Starters are forced to live with their parents. The number of homeless people is increasing. And because seniors have to live independently for longer, they grow lonely in way too big family homes.

Everyone agrees on one thing. One million houses extra in ten years’ time. But where are those houses to be built? Outside or inside the city limits? Heated debates have been going on for years now. “I believe we have to leave it to the people”, says Co Verdaas, dike reeve, former state secretary for the PvdA and professor in area development. “According to my data, one-third of the people wants to live in the city, one-third just outside the city limits and one-third in a rural area. A mixture of everything. We have no other choice but to build outside the city limits. We make an exception for nature and good agricultural land, but along the radials A2, A12, A28 are still plenty of hectares to be found for at least 700,000 new houses.”

 

Ghost towns

It's a horror scenario for architect Van Broeck. “The Netherlands used to laugh at Flanders because of our chaotically built-up landscape. It is indeed true that you once gave consideration to the open space, but that has changed in a short period of time. You are now establishing entire ghost towns in the polder meadows. I visited Lelystad once, horrible. Not a living soul in the streets. You are asphalting everything to damnation.” According to Van Broeck, the Dutch worry way too much about the housing shortage. “You should be worried about the destruction of the eco-system instead. Expansion in the region emits twenty times more greenhouse gas than incorporation in the city. Global warming is caused by people who live outside the city centers. So, clear the rural areas and free up agricultural land. Nature becomes a reserve, a protected area.”

It is no longer possible to live bigger and bigger. We turn it around. Don't focus on more houses, but on more people in every house

Self-supporting residential towers

Is it possible to find enough meters outside the ring for those extra houses? “That number is highly exaggerated”, says Van Broeck. “The population growth is about to decrease in a couple of years. Let's start with the transformation of vacant offices and retail premises and building on residual lots. No more tiny houses in open fields, focus only on urban counterparts: micro-apartments in sky-high flats. Self-supporting towns on its own.”

According to the numbers presented by the Brinkgroep, half of the demand for housing can be solved by densification within the city limits. So, how about we start there? Verdaas doesn't believe that’s something the people want. “No Hong Kong or Singapore. Unlivable. People always look down on it, but most people are just looking to find a row house with a small garden, situated in the suburbs.” That's no longer feasible, says Van Broeck. “People have to adjust their housing preferences and fast. Over the course of one century, we shifted from 8 to 65 square meters per person. It is no longer possible to live bigger and bigger. Time's up. We turn it around. Don't focus on more houses, but on more people in every house.”

 

Concrete stop

As a Flemish Government Architect, Van Broeck once invented the ‘concrete stop’ that caused quite a commotion in his country but that was still implemented recently. Only build city-inward by decree, does that work? “Of course it works. But it merely is the start of a process. A realization. We will also stop building detached houses. Building villas is outdated. Do you insist on rural living? That's only possible in densified villages, compact micro-cities. But nothing in between anymore. Something in between means we will be covering even more land with asphalt. Commuter traffic already costs us billions of euros in traffic jams every year. You don't have to have a green heart to realize that. Being stuck in traffic for one and a half hour every day causes divorces and obesity. Lease cars will therefore also be prohibited and people get a house matching their salary in exchange. Teleworking will become the default option anyway.”

Can we really ask people to be confined in smaller areas? “Anything else is irresponsible. Surely, you also don't allow your child to make a fire in a dry forest?”

By 2041, it will be more comfortable to live in the city than it is to live outside the city limits

In our city

What does the city of 2041 look like? A human bio-industry? Near the metropolis Randstad, our plane is flying lower and through the streets. In between the mature trees, thick bushes and public, shady terraces on top of the roofs of residential towers and parking garages, the stacked and jam-packed houses don't stand out. Climbing plants are growing freely along anchor cables, facades and nest boxes. The streets are car-free. Cyclists on meander avenues are guests in low-traffic residential areas dominated by pedestrians and feral parks, the cooling elements of the city. Clinkers and tiles are removed everywhere to guard the city even more against heat and flooding due to global warming. The grass is allowed to grow high on water permeable little squares. The damp wetlands and the area surrounding city rivers are swamped with biodiversity. During extremely hot summers, the temperature here is lower than on the open land.

“And also worth to mention is that everything is located just around the corner: facilities, hospitals, schools, culture”, says Van Broeck. “By 2041, it will be more comfortable to live in the city than it is to live outside the city limits.”

 

Sensors and cameras

But doesn't this have a detrimental effect with so many people living together in such small areas? We don't see it but behind the social, green paradise a whole other world is hiding. Sensors and cameras are incorporated everywhere. These tools measure the hustle and bustle, peaks in pollen, air pollution, waste containers, throughput in the sewage system and the behavior of road users. In control rooms, algorithms are converting the gathered data. Residents use their watches to read the possibilities for action and adjust their behavior. They are the ones reporting a hole in the road and other irregularities. Digital violation of privacy by the government? This is unfortunately the order of the day. Plenty of issues still need to be improved. It is a laboratory in which we try things together and in which we safeguard our safety together. “Urbanites start dreaming and do things at their own initiative again”, says Van Broeck.

 

Inside our home

We penetrate a residential area of 2041 deeper. How do we live? “Flex housing, self-build groups, neighborhoods consisting of multiple generations. Plenty of living concepts to choose from”, says professor Housing Institutions & Governance Marja Elsinga. She uses the project 1M Homes to boost innovation and focuses mainly on quality and affordability. “Just take a look at the spartan portacabins for starters, students and people with a residence permit on vacant lots. The scattershot solutions of 2021. The emergency is serious and municipalities get away with it. Stackable, relocatable, but has it been made with circular materials? Does it have a minimum of comfort?”

Or what about the skewed living. Elderly people who, according to the CBS, keep 140 m2 occupied and young families 35 m2. Both groups are stuck in their situation. Realtors are already trying to tempt seniors in order for them to free up their space and to move to courtyards for the elderly, attractive living arrangements with company, care and shared facilities. “But better would be: elderly people and young people who enter into housing forms together, communities in which people look out for one another”, says Elsinga. “As long as the final meters are not allocated to project developers. That would mean even more expensive apartment buildings. Let the residents take control again. Build strategically, facilitate initiatives and encourage flexible living.”

 

Open building

Building strategically, in practice, comes down to ‘open building’. This is an idea from the sixties, raised by the Dutch architect John Habraken. Large, firm bearers of concrete and the layout is flexible. This means we will come across the same styles in many places, but as long as the construction is of high architectural quality and furbished differently, it doesn't get boring. Studios can be disassembled easily and assembled again somewhere else. Apartments can be split or merged by moving a wall. You turn the outside into the inside and vice versa. Regardless of your stage in life, you no longer have to renovate or to move, because your house changes along with you.

“Living”, says Elsinga, “is a lifelong fundamental right. We have to get rid of housing as an object of speculation. In a country in which everyone participates, living is a stable long-term investment. Really something to consider for pension funds. Especially for my pension fund, ABP. As you grow older, you are not only entitled to pension but also to a life worthwhile living. To community and joyful moments.”

 

Making each other happy

In the living complex of 2041, the people together are generating power and storing excess water. Nobody has his or her own garden, but we cultivate our own vegetables and herbs in vertical vegetable gardens and meet neighbors in numerous, connected parks.

And what if we'd rather be on our own? If we want to enjoy our own company in the house of the future, something the scientists of this century are trying to enthuse us about? In our kitchen where the coffee machine is already on when the alarm goes off to wake us up, where the fridge sends us a list of groceries and where a machine prints food in 3D? The bathroom that is checking our health, the toilet that analyzes urine, the toothbrush that shares conclusions with the dentist?

Van Broeck believes that, by that time, it is more important to us that our shower reuses 100 percent of the water. That our stuff is made from fungi and can be disposed of on the compost heap. That our residential complex is equipped with a party room where children can invite their entire class and with a crafts corner including professional tools. “The selfishness is gone. My neighbor is not allowed to build any higher? My sun should not disappear? Living closely together in the city means making each other happy. We just don't have any other choice.”

Volgende publicatie:
“Eyes on the ball and do what we have agreed on”

“Eyes on the ball and do what we have agreed on”

Published on: 1 April 2021

How do you survive as a pension administrator of eight funds in a year overshadowed by Covid-19? Annette Mosman, our recently appointed CEO, believes it was the ultimate test case and that APG really held its own through it. “In 2020, employees started working from home overnight, we kept the pension administration of 4.7 million participants running from three thousand home offices, and we didn’t panic when the stock market fell hard. We turned out to be a robust, agile organization.”

 

A new CEO, a new sound? What will we notice about Annette Mosman’s approach?

“I’m starting this job with a clear premise. I am from within the organization, and I know the sector. As CEO, I am going to do things my own way: often by listening first and reacting later. I am always curious about other people’s visions. Accents will shift, but the route is rock-solid. First of all, we are going to perform really well. The coming years will be geared towards the end result: implementation of the new pension contract (NPC), in collaboration with our funds, in 2026 and being a strong social player at the same time. Because we are doing this for the financial fitness of 4.7 million people. To reach that goal, we will have to be consistent in the next few years: eyes on the ball and do what we have agreed on. We have to do it right: with our attention on our funds, employers and their participants, on each other and on our environment. We are in this for the long haul and the trajectory will have its ups and downs.”

 

What will be the highest priority for you in the next while?

“Our established strategy for the coming years. Our focus is now on its execution: introduction and implementation of the NPC is our first priority; everything comes after that. We will be making clear choices and carrying them out superbly. We will be doing that with a strong social profile: we are inextricably linked to the 4.7 participants of our funds, with employers and with other partners in society. If we do our job well, we will be a thought leader as a pension administrator and a key player in the sector.”

 

 

This is the first annual report where you are the CEO. Transparency plays a central role in the report. Why was that decided?

“For the second time in a row, we are publishing an integrated report. In it we show what value we add to our stakeholders: our clients, society, shareholders and the funds. We are aware of our role and are taking a critical look at it. This is the main theme of this annual report. We are not an ordinary company. We work for 8 funds and 4.7 million participants and manage almost 600 billion Euros. In addition to being a learning organization, APG also focuses on the social impact we have. Being transparent, like we are in this annual report, means that we are also showing our vulnerability and therefore also showing what did not go right. If something is wrong with out execution, or the collaboration with the Works Council is not running smoothly, we will communicate about this.”


The road to the NPC is long and complex. What exactly does that road look like now?

“We don’t want to be faced with any unpleasant surprises when we start the transition to the new pension system with our funds. That is a crucial component of our strategy and that is what our clients expect from us. It is also a precondition for transitioning to the new pension system. Compare it to an attic you need to clean out before you move. In our case, for example, that means working with our funds to tackle the complexity in the current plans. But it also means going through the pension administration and fixing it if something is unexpectedly wrong somewhere. Fixing this is complicated, especially when it has an impact on people’s wallets. In collaboration with the funds, we are trying to find solutions that are in the best interest of the participant.”

We play a certain role, but we never do this alone

What does that mean for APG in concrete terms?

The transition to the new pension contract will affect the work of almost all employees within APG in the coming years: from IT, pension administration, asset management, risk management, client contact and communication to HR. It will change our work in almost every respect. This will demand a lot from us as an organization and from our employees in the coming years. At the same time, it offers APG the opportunity to show that even in a new system we can live up to our position as a leading administrator. Because we are a leader in our field for good reasons. With our digitalization, participant orientation and pension expertise, we have all the ingredients needed to create a new proposition and to measure up to other financial parties. We also have eight loyal clients who are going to go through this process with us. So, let’s not stare into the headlights, but get on with implementing.”


In the past year, things went wrong in the execution a few times. How do you look back on that?

"That’s true. In August 2020, for example, an action surrounding the disability pension was completed. In the process, a total of 8,352 participants were retroactively awarded the pensions they were entitled to. Some 8,500 participants also received a rightful supplement for coinciding periods of service. For the participants in question, this made a big impact. And as a pension administrator, we understand this very well.  That is why we are doing everything we can to carefully inform participants and assist them in these kinds of situations. And we also learn from them. Over the past year, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced us all to start working from home, we have improved our processes enormously and where there were problems for participants, we have solved these as quickly as possible.”

Is the chance of errors really going to be less now?

The store is being renovated while sales continue. It seems like Covid-19 barely affected APG.

“The switch from office organization to home-based organization went smoothly. Operations - including paying pensions, collecting premiums, investing - were not compromised at any time. Pension fund clients, employers and participants hardly noticed that we supported or spoke to them from home instead of our offices. And in many cases, we are still doing that. I am very proud of that.

 

There is a lot of talk about APG’s role as a social player. How is APG going to fulfill that role in the next period?

“APG is a company, but it is really much more than that: as the biggest administrator, we play a certain role, but we never do this alone. If we do our job well in the coming years, other parties, such as funds, will want to collaborate with us and join forces with us. At the same time, I want to look beyond that: because with our knowledge and skills, we could mean a lot more for people and for society. Financial security affects your health, your wellbeing and your opportunities. Your pension is not a stand-alone thing. That is why I want to seek more connection with social partners, for example, around themes like health, financial education and poverty reduction. APG employees can actively contribute to that. Taking care of our environment means also taking care of the planet. We are investing with a view of the long term and in as sustainable a way as possible. Our operations will be climate-neutral by 2030. That is why we are moving to a new, sustainable building at the end of the year. And we are working on a new mobility plan for all APG employees. We will be looking without any dogma at what is good for us and for our environment.”

 

Finally: what are you looking forward to most in 2021?

“Seeing coworkers again and being able to go back to the office. But I'm also looking forward to the steps we're going to take towards the new pension contract. That is really a very complex process. So, I hope that the politicians in The Hague will stick to the established timeline. I am still assuming that on January 1, 2026, all funds will have to make the transition, and we really need that time.”

 

View the Annual Report 2020 here. 

 

Read the interview with Ronald Wuijster, board member and person responsible for Asset Management and HR: “Selling from a sense of panic is never a good idea” - Ronald Wuijster on investing during a Covid year. 

Volgende publicatie:
“My wife would be proud of me because I am enjoying life”

“My wife would be proud of me because I am enjoying life”

Published on: 25 March 2021

How do you deal with work and money for now and later in life? Do you live day by day or do you deliberately plan your financial future? And will you deal with “later in life” yourself, or are you part of a pension fund?

Ruud Vorstermans has been enjoying an excellent pension for the past year and a half. But he would trade it all in if it could bring back his wife.

 

 

Ruud Vorstermans (68)

Profession: retired, worked in automation and as a labor expert

Weekly hours: full-time

Income now: 3,200 Euros net per month

Saving: about 50,000 Euros

Pension arranged? Yes

 

You have been retired since August 2, 2019. How do you like it?

“I did not experience any black hole, even for a second. In fact, I don’t have enough time. I was really ready not to have to do all kinds of things anymore. That is also because, in addition to my work, I was the primary caregiver of my wife for years. She had metastasized breast cancer and died of that in 2018.”

 

That is sad, you must really miss her.

“Yes, my wife brought out the bet in me. We were married for nearly 43 years; what we had was unique. Of course, I miss her, but getting stuck there doesn’t help anything. Four weeks after her cremation, I went to Italy for a month with a camper. I traveled around Toscani, to places where we used to go together every year. A trip down memory lane. I enjoyed it a lot. I am keeping the memory of her alive. On our first wedding anniversary after her death, I got dressed up and went to her favorite restaurant, in a suit and tie and sat down with a picture of her across from me. I really enjoyed doing that and I still do it every year.”

 

How do you spend your days, now that you are no longer working?

“To start with, I walk and ride my bike a lot. I have made it into a daily routine to walk about seven kilometers. I ride an electric bike, because then I can also cycle on vacation in hilly landscapes. And I have given myself a new hobby: doing jigsaw puzzles by Jan van Haasteren. Once in a while, I buy a second-hand puzzle through Market Place or Facebook. If the seller lives within a 20-kilometer radius from where I live in Bergen op Zoom, I go and pick it up on my bike. That gives me a nice goal for my bike trip.”

And what else do you do?

“Sudoku, cross word puzzles, sometimes I write poetry, I have a blog, I cook. My wife was a great cook. When she got sick, I started to use her recipes so that she could give me instructions. I took pictures of everything and made it into a cooking blog. That helped me a lot, especially right before she died. I also do volunteer work for the breast cancer society. My wife did that too, from the day she got breast cancer until she died from it. She was given an honorary membership for that. It soothes me to continue her work. I have a Facebook group for women with metastasized breast cancer. Because I see the positive in everything, I try to give others who don’t do that a different vision. Life doesn’t stop when you’re sick; try to enjoy what you do still have as much as possible.”

 

Don’t you miss your professional life at all?

“No. I enjoyed my work for 46 years, but that was enough.”

 

What kind of work did you do before this?

“In 1975, I started at the former GAK (common administration office, ed), my dad worked at the head office in Amsterdam. I had no idea what I could do with my high school education and my dad said: why don’t you try working here. I got to try out automation and I stayed there for 25 years, and eventually became a manager. But at a certain point I needed a change. In the early nineties, I went back to school and completed 3 higher education courses; a legal one, related to personnel issues, commercial economy and business management. After that I started to work as a labor expert. First at the former UWV and later in health and safety services. That’s what I did until I retired.”

 

Did you do that full-time?

“More than that. I started at six in the morning and didn’t go home until after rush hour. I worked about 12 hours a day. But that really paid off. All those extra hours provided me with a 30 percent bonus and if you achieved a certain target, you could get an extra bonus on top of that. That’s what I used to buy our first camper.”

 

What was your income before you retired?

“My monthly salary was 5,500 Euros gross.”

 

And what is your income now, from your Old Age Pension and your company pension?

“Annually about 55,000 Euros gross, which works out to about 3,200 net a month. In addition to Old Age Pension and my own pension, I also get a survivor’s pension of 87 Euros a month. My wife only worked part-time for about fifteen years.”

 

Are you happy with what you get?

“I realize every day that I have an excellent income. I would trade all the money in the world to get my wife back, but that is not an option, and I’m very happy with this. It is very comfortable. In fact, I am able to save 1,000 Euros every month. My kids, who make a lot more money than I ever did, say: come on, Dad, why don’t you buy a new TV? But why should I? Would it make the programs any better? I spend my money consciously. When I didn’t have a lot of money, I bought all kinds of things, but now that I have money, I’m like Uncle Scrooge.”

When we realized that my wife was not going to get better, we shifted our life into 6th gear

What are your regular expenditures?

“I spend about 1,500 Euros a month on my mortgage, car, taxes, insurances and subscriptions.”

What else do you spend money on?

“I enjoy eating out and going to the theater. These days, during corona times, I sometimes order take-out. And I regularly go on vacation. The camper is ready to go to the Veluwe in two months.”

 

How much do you have in savings?

“About 50,000 Euros. It used to be a lot more, but when we realized that my wife was not going to get better, we shifted our life into 6th gear. Before that, we already did a lot, but instead of going to a concert in De Kuip, for example, we would go to concerts in London, Dusseldorf or Dublin. Just to make it even more memorable. We also took trips to America and Indonesia. In about six years we spent about $100,000 in savings. It was a little scary to my wife sometimes; she would worry that we wouldn’t have enough left for the maintenance of our house. But I wanted us to enjoy our life together while we still could and make memories. And I still enjoy them every day. I think she would be proud of me, because, despite the fact that I miss her, I am enjoying my life to the fullest.”

Volgende publicatie:
"Management must also feel COVID-19 pain in their wallet"

"Management must also feel COVID-19 pain in their wallet"

Published on: 25 March 2021

When we think of a bonus during the COVID-19 pandemic, we tend to think of healthcare staff rather than senior executives. Yet some companies reward management, while employees, suppliers and shareholders suffer from the crisis. As a large investor, APG tries to influence the remuneration policy of listed companies. Mirte Bronsdijk explains how.

 

A Teams meeting with supermarket chain Ahold Delhaize. Topic on the agenda: the bonus of senior management during the COVID-19 pandemic. A lengthy dialog with publishing company Wolters Kluwer about the remuneration policy, which has finally paid off this year. Or vote against the Starbucks CEO's retention bonus at the US coffee group's shareholders' meeting. That fifty million (!) dollars will buy you a lot of caramel macchiatos or frappucinos. 

These are just a few examples of the influence that APG, as a large investor, tries to exert on the remuneration policy of the companies in which investments are made on behalf of the pension funds. The remuneration of company management has always been an important theme for many institutional investors, such as pension funds, but this year in particular; many companies are hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis and some need government support, while others experience a rise in turnover. But how does that affect the remuneration policy? What relevant questions will APG be asking the supervisory boards - responsible for awarding remuneration - and during the shareholders' meetings that will take place in the coming months?

The remuneration policy of Dutch listed companies must receive at least 75% of the shareholder votes. When will APG vote against remuneration proposals? We ask Mirte Bronsdijk, a specialist in corporate governance at APG.

 

How does APG view the remuneration policy at companies that have been hit hard by the pandemic? 

"In addition to the APG voting policy, we follow the position on executive remuneration from the 2021 Key Policy Letter of Eumedion, the platform for institutional investors. If a company receives state aid, has canceled the dividend or has to lay off employees, we expect management to share in that 'pain'. For example, by lowering the salary or canceling the bonus. That seems obvious, but it isn't. For instance, the supervisory directors of a European real estate group still want to give the CEO a bonus, while the operating results and therefore the employees, tenants and shareholders have suffered heavily from the COVID-19 crisis. This damages the reputation and undermines public support and trust in the company. Supervisory directors must have social feelers, but they are apparently lacking in this respect. On the other hand, there are examples such as beer manufacturer Heineken and temporary employment group Randstad, where the fall in profits led to the CEO's annual bonus being scrapped."

 

Some companies had a good year during the lockdown, such as Ahold Delhaize and PostNL. Didn't those bonuses come very easily to the CEOs of those companies?

"True, you may ask yourself whether those good performances can be directly attributed to management, or were simply a result of the lockdown. After all, this automatically drives consumers into the arms of supermarkets and online shops. Also, a bonus can be perceived as inappropriate in this day and age as many companies and people are struggling. So you have to ask yourself whether the normal remuneration policy should be applied in full during the COVID-19 crisis. Supervisory directors may deviate from this in exceptional circumstances by awarding higher or lower remuneration. We're discussing this, also at these two companies. At Ahold Delhaize, we conduct this dialog on behalf of several institutional investors who have united in Eumedion. We don't tell you to scrap or reduce a bonus, but we do urge you to be critical and restrained in the application of the remuneration policy. Engineering firm Arcadis is a positive example. Their shareholders have had a good year despite COVID-19, but CEO Peter Oosterveer has nevertheless waived his bonus."

 

When you talk to the supervisory directors, what specific questions do you ask about executive remuneration?

"Questions such as: why do you think that bonus should be paid out? Is that bonus explainable, especially now, with COVID-19? How does the CEO's pay compare to the average employee's pay? Have you also included the impact on and interests of other stakeholders of the company in your considerations? We expect a good explanation on those points. We also call on supervisory directors to consider not only financial results when awarding remuneration, but also criteria such as sustainability and employee and customer satisfaction. Actually, we ask supervisory directors to also be guided by their social antenna in the remuneration policy, because we've noticed it is not always properly adjusted. We also expect supervisory directors to provide a good explanation of the policy in the remuneration report. In that report, they must indicate how they've taken 'social acceptance' into account. As shareholders, we can use an advisory vote to indicate whether or not the remuneration report meets our expectations."  

    

Shareholders, including APG, recently voted out the $ 50 million retention bonus for Starbucks CEO

Do companies listen to you?

"If the remuneration policy or remuneration report is inconsistent with our policy and expectations, we vote against the remuneration proposals at the shareholders' meeting, or against the appointment or reappointment of supervisory directors who determine the remuneration policy. If necessary, we seek cooperation with other investors to stand up to the policy. Shareholders, including APG, recently voted out the retention bonus for Starbucks CEO, for instance. The CEO already earned $ 14.7 million in 2020 and would also be promised another $ 50 million to motivate him to stay on until the 2022 tax year. Such a retention bonus is like giving a child an ever-increasing bag of candy just to keep doing his best. Entirely wrong, of course."

 

And examples from the Netherlands?

"Last year, Ahold was voted against, partly because of the reduction in the importance of sustainability in determining the remuneration. Last year, we also voted against Wolters Kluwer's remuneration policy. Executive Nancy McKinstry is a big earner in the AEX, the most important Dutch stock market index. We've been discussing the remuneration policy with the company together with other large investors for a number of years. It has now been announced that McKinstry will earn more than 10% less from 2021. Also, the company no longer looks mainly at American companies to determine the amount of the remuneration, but also at a larger number of European companies. Environmental, social and governance performance and return on invested capital will also be taken into account when determining long-term benefits. This time, Wolters Kluwer did clearly listen to shareholders."

 

We're at the eve of a season of shareholders' meetings. Will it be a hot spring for the dialog and voting behavior on executive remuneration?

"To be honest, I think the spring will be less hot than usual. In any case, Dutch companies remunerate less extreme than in many other countries. Also, companies that currently receive state aid are not allowed to pay out bonuses and their targets are often not met due to poor results on account of the pandemic. For example, the remuneration of the CEO of Shell decreased by 42% last year. As a result of COVID-19, there are therefore fewer big earners than usual to participate in the discussion about remuneration. But there are still plenty of companies left where we continue to insist on shortcomings in the remuneration policy. Especially in the United States. Because of the different remuneration culture, we see more excesses." 

 

Click here to find out how APG votes on remuneration and other agenda items at shareholders' meetings. 

Volgende publicatie:
‘I don’t know what interest is, I’m just a child you know’

‘I don’t know what interest is, I’m just a child you know’

Published on: 22 March 2021

This is what children say about interest, loans, savings or online banking.

 

Today is the start of the Global Money Week. This initiative aims to learn children the ins and outs of money and how to handle it. But what do children actually know about such complicated matters as interest, loans, savings or online banking? That differs from one child to another, apparently. Where loans and interest have no secrets to the one, the other one finds it too early to reflect on the subject. ‘I don’t know what interest is, I’m just a child you know’. And what would they do if they win the lottery? ‘A swimming pool in our garden, that’s obvious.’

Volgende publicatie:
“Investment spread? That’s something you put on a sandwich!”

“Investment spread? That’s something you put on a sandwich!”

Published on: 23 February 2021

This is what children say about saving, pension and earning money

 

We should actually leave all money matters to children. Everything would be a lot fairer. (“I was thinking: would I just give it to unfortunate people?”). The cashflow would be in perfect condition (“I would just spend 50 euro because I don’t have to be extremely wealthy”). No inflation (“Machines just make new money from money that’s broken”). And not unimportant: the stock market would prosper (“Investment spread is something you put on a sandwich”). There’s still a lot for us to learn. Check it out!

Volgende publicatie:
“It’s okay if retiring is difficult”

“It’s okay if retiring is difficult”

Published on: 1 February 2021

We generally don’t think about how we are going to spend our time after we retire, until we’re there. Although some people have been dreaming about a trip around the world, or enjoying just puttering around the house in anticipation of this milestone, most people prefer not to look ahead. Do most people underestimate the consequences of retiring? Experts say they do. “That impact is huge. Make sure you are well-prepared. It doesn’t just happen.”

 

 

Your life really does change when you retire. And that is wonderful and a little stressful at the same time. How do you prepare for that?

 

New life phases go hand in hand with good preparation. Before you started elementary school, you got to spend a few mornings getting used to it, and before you get married, you try out living together to see how it works out. But when it comes to retiring, we often just want to see if we can figure out what we can expect financially. How we will spend our free time is something we’ll decide when the time comes. And that’s a bit late, says Marjoleine Vosselman, psychologist and author of the book Pensioen in zicht (Retirement in sight). “When you retire, you finally get time to do all those things you didn’t get around to during your working life. But sometimes that can be disappointing. How do you deal with all that time, family members’ expectations and possible old age defects? When you stop working, you lose a significant part of what has been giving your life meaning. You will need to make conscious choices and sometimes you also have to accept that not everything is within your reach.”

Always “time”

The transition from an existence in which paid work was the determining factor to a phase of life full of freedom can be interpreted in many ways. Anneroos Gerritsen, senior trainer and advisor at Odyssee discusses this with retirees. On the beach, being active outside or inside. Do we really need preparation or even a course for that? “A retirement course is obviously not the same as learning a new language,” Gerritsen answers. “It’s about becoming aware of what you actually already know. It’s about taking time to think about your next step. What used to be free time becomes new time, or just ‘time’. What do you do with it?” The trainer recommends taking the training a year, or at least a few months, before retirement.


What gets you out of bed in the morning?

“In the course, we discuss five life domains. The first is health of body and mind. What do you already do in this area, think of exercise, and what could you do more or less of? What does your body need, what can it still do? The second domain is social relationships. Soon, the contact with coworkers will fall away. Are there other relationships that you can breathe new life into? Do you want to have more social contacts, or do you have no need for them? And what will it be like living with your partner after you stop working? What kind of space do you allow each other and what do you want to do together?” The material situation is the third domain Gerritsen deals with. “You've arranged your pension by now, and your state pension is coming up. But what about your financial planning, inheritance and gifts and your housing situation? During the course, a financial expert will come as a guest lecturer to cover these topics.” Labor and performance are also discussed. “Course participants still want to do something. But what? And what do you do first? Do you tackle overdue maintenance on your house, take a course or do volunteer work?” The final domain is values and inspiration. “That’s a theme that the course encourages participants to get into together in depth. What is it that  still gets you out of bed in the morning? We also have a lot of tips on all these domains in a digital manual.”

What is it that still gets you out of bed in the morning?

Sweat out your work

Psychologist Vosselman is also in favor of a course. She certainly doesn’t see education as a luxury time commitment. “Anyone who thinks that underestimates the impact of the transition to retirement,” she says. In her book, she focuses on meaning and uses personal stories to describe the two extremes of retirement preparation: doing nothing or preparing too much. “Expectations about retiring don’t add up. People are unprepared or even have too much of a planned approach. And yet you want to get off the treadmill of working life. Sweat out your work. Realize that retiring is not just fun. It’s allowed to be difficult. It is this feeling that gives you the space to let go of your working life. Give yourself the chance to change. Prepare yourself without shutting down everything. Gerritsen agrees. “It’s not about ticking items off a list you’ve made in advance. It’s about getting to know yourself again. Couples see retirement as a pink cloud. Now they’re going to enjoy it. Then I ask why they are only doing that now. It turns out it’s the freedom they’re looking forward to. Something singles dread. They are afraid of missing out on structure and coworkers.”

 

Wrestling with questions

One of Gerritsen’s course participants was Joep Athmer, a former board member at dredging and maritime construction company Van Oord. For his work he regularly traveled to distant destinations. At age 62, with a great career behind him, he was thinking about the time after he retired. He had all kinds of practical questions: “Should I stay home and putter? Should I go cycling? Or look after the grandchildren full time?” But he also had deeper questions like, “Will I still matter when I no longer have the charisma of my job? What am I worth at home? What will it be like to be at home with my wife all the time?”

So, Athmer and his wife took the retirement course at Odyssee. “If we wanted to continue having a good life together, that course was welcome. And it proved to be so.”  Athmer was glad to see that he was not the only one with questions. Plenty of other men and women in leadership positions were wrestling with the question of whether they would still matter in that phase of life.

“The answer to that question is: yes. This course got me thinking and that went beyond thinking about where we want to travel. I gained insight into who I am and what my wife and I both want.” Meanwhile, Athmer, now that he is retired, has five side jobs and he sits on the board of several foundations. But he also tours the Faroe Islands on his motorcycle. And he has a bunch of other beautiful trips on his bucket list.

Sense of futility
The biggest impact that retirement has is psychological. People who have just retired lack the context of working life. The tragicomedy About Schmidt with Jack Nicholson illustrates this perfectly, Vosselman believes. “The movie shows how the retired Warren Schmidt is overwhelmed by a sense of futility.” According to Vosselman, we often hang our identity and value on our work. “Those who work have challenges in many areas, are expected somewhere and have a (full) agenda. Work gets priority, work is urgent. When you stop working, you have to make sure you’re still expected somewhere.” The psychologist strongly emphasizes that the bar need not be set too high. “Even something relatively small, like signing up for a drawing course is good. Just get out of the performance atmosphere of work.”

Should I stay home and putter?

Saying goodbye helps
And she means that literally. After all, research shows that saying goodbye is beneficial and can really make a difference. “Transition requires a ritual. It helps you close the door to the old and open it to the new,” says Vosselman. And in her view, employers and coworkers play a big role in this since the person retiring usually modestly exclaims that a farewell party is unnecessary. “During corona, saying goodbye is harder, so be creative. It’s very important to close your working life and hear how meaningful you were. It is precisely after a good farewell that you can move forward.”

If you choose to just let retirement happen, it carries risks. “You may be looking forward to the peace and quiet,” says Vosselman, “but empty, meaningless days can also cause a lot of anxiety. Or maybe your days will be filled automatically by babysitting the grandchildren. But is that what you really want? And what will it be like at home when one partner is working and the other one isn’t? Take time to explore that.”

 

Employer responsibility
Retirement courses, by the way, are not a fad. The idea originated sixty years ago at Hoogovens, the current Tata Steel, in IJmuiden. Gerritsen: “At that time it was a real family business where employees started as fifteen-year-olds and stayed until they retired. Until, for the first time in history, people had to be laid off in the 1960s.” That went against the tradition that Hoogovens had. And the company did not want to just throw people out on the street. A social plan was drawn up and the precursors of Odyssee facilitated the transition to not working. Gerritsen: “That offer was supposed to be a one-off. But everyone liked it so much that the initiative has remained. And we’re seeing that more and more employers are taking responsibility and offering a Pension in Focus course. Companies like Philips and Heineken, as well as the government, are making sure that their employees can have a positive experience both when they start working and when they stop working.”

“Swiss life feeling” is unfair
Will we end up in a black hole if we don’t make preparations? Vosselman says we won’t. She thinks the dreaded black hole is a vision of doom that fits in with the spirit of the times, where we should all be happy. “That Swiss life feeling can instill unnecessary fear. It’s not a fair picture. You get older, appear more vulnerable. Then not everything is possible anymore.” The psychologist predicts a black hole only if you’re afraid to go through that transition process. “Suppose you’ve always been a doer, but around retirement your body gives out. That is very difficult. Then you have to reinvent yourself.”


Next time: Retirement in sight - Does the black hole exist?

Retiree Joep Athmer ended up in the dreaded pension hole despite a retirement course. “With a job like I had, you just keep growing. At some point you think you’re Jesus and can walk on water. But that’s dangerous. You think you’re untouchable, but when you retire, suddenly everything is gone.”

Volgende publicatie:
“I quickly put aside all the letters I receive on my pension”

“I quickly put aside all the letters I receive on my pension”

Published on: 27 January 2021

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 a member of a pension fund?

Marielle van Ramshorst works as a manager at a location organizing daily activities, is the owner of a dance school and a trainer.

 

Marielle van Ramshorst (35)

Profession: manager at a location organizing daily activities, dance teacher and trainer/coach

Weekly works: more than 40 hours (in non-corona times)

Income: between 1875 and 4375 euro per month

Savings: 13,000 euro

Pension is arranged? Partly

How did you arrange your pension?

“I am a member of a pension fund through my employer. In addition, I have created a pension pot on my savings account. That account holds some funds, but I have not yet delved into the purpose of that money.”

 

What kind of work do you do?

“I manage the team working at a location organizing daily activities for people who, for any reason, are unable to perform paid work. Besides that, I am the owner of a salsa dance school where I also teach lessons and I started working last year as an independent trainer and coach. In that latter capacity, I help single women looking for a relationship to find out why they are still single. I met a lot of ladies at the dance school struggling with questions in that area and that’s how the idea was born. I use plenty of movement during my trainings because that’s the way to experience and feel things differently than if you would only look at it rationally.”

 

So, you started your coaching business in times of corona?

“That’s correct and it’s not the most ideal time. I was only able to finish one training in full so far. The next one was scheduled for January, 2021, but we had to postpone that training as a result of the corona restrictions.”

 

How many hours do you work a week?

“Twenty hours per week at the location organizing daily activities. Usually about twenty hours per week at the salsa dance school as well, but that work has come to a standstill due to corona. I spend approximately four hours per week on the training and coaching activities and a bit more when a training is about to happen. My goal is to provide a training once every three months.”

 

That is more than fulltime.

“Yes, but it doesn’t really feel like work. I work long hours, but a large part of it involves a hobby that got out of hand.” 

 

How much do you earn?

“Around 1875 euro net per month at the location organizing daily activities. My income varies somewhat at the dance school. At the moment, I earn approximately 300 euro per month which used to be around 1000 euro per month. A training earns me between 1000 and 1500 euro, depending on the number of participants.”

 

Are you satisfied with that income?

“Yes, it’s enough to make ends meet. I believe it should be possible to earn more money offering coaching, but it’s a difficult time for those activities right now. Of course, you earn a lot less having three participants in your training instead of allowing twenty people to join.”

How much do you pay on fixed costs?

“Around 1400 euro if I add up my mortgage, electricity, internet and insurances.”

 

What else do you spend your money on?

“Spotify, Netflix, that kind of things. My girlfriends and I also have a pot for ‘fun things’ in which we deposit 20 euro per month. We organize something fun to do when that account holds enough funds. A day to the sauna or a wellness resort for example, with an overnight stay in a cottage surrounded by nature and great food. It feels good to have already saved that money, so you no longer miss it.”

 

How much money do you have on your own savings account?

“Around 13,000 euro. That really makes me happy, I never had that much money saved before. I probably still have to pay a large part of it to the tax authorities though.”

 

Do you think about your old age often?

“Not really. I realize things have to be arranged, but I always worked a lot more hours in paid employment previously and never had to worry about my pension. The topic is discussed sometimes in the business club I meet once a month. Expressions such as ‘pension gap’ and ‘annual margin’ are uttered which makes me think: Well, that’s really interesting, but I don’t put my thoughts into action. I really have to start making arrangements this year.”

 

How much pension would you receive on a monthly basis should you be 67 years old now?

“Good question, not a lot I presume. I always quickly put aside the letters I receive on that topic. Wait, I will get one of those letters… Right, I have been accruing pension since 2002 and the statement says I will receive a gross amount of 18,000 annually. I believe my annual income is much higher right now, so it doesn’t sound as if that payment allows me to do plenty of fun stuff. It also doesn’t frighten me because I didn’t expect it to be a huge amount. This amount will not be enough to make ends meet, but I have hopefully paid off my mortgage by then which makes a bit of a difference. And I will also receive a state’s pension (AOW) of course.”

 

What could be arranged better?

“I still have to arrange a pension plan for my own business. I want to find out the options that are available. What is a wise thing to do in my situation, being partly in paid employment and partly self-employed? I really have to delve into the topic much more.”

Volgende publicatie:
'Inclusion is not something that can be checked off'

'Inclusion is not something that can be checked off'

Published on: 21 January 2021

Rapper Typhoon hopes every single coworker is going to be feeling responsible for diversity

 

Putting diversity and inclusion on the agenda is number one. Giving employees the space to co-decide on the topic is an important second step. With that message, rapper, language artist and keynote speaker Typhoon is visiting companies in the Netherlands, such as, online, APG. “Inclusion should be woven into the corporate culture.”



When you visit companies, you get a look behind the scenes. What have you been seeing?

“I’m seeing a variety of initiatives. Equal pay for men and women, applying for jobs anonymously, education and training throughout all the layers of organizations. And often a social stand is taken externally as well, by raising the rainbow flag or participating in a Gay Pride event. I see the willingness and urgency to really make this theme part of the company culture and strategy. APG can count itself among the vanguards in the movement and fighting spirit forward in this. Employees are driven and want to go deep. And that is what you want to achieve as a company. The words ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ really make my skin crawl when they’re used as an end in and of themselves. When they’re on the agenda, just to be checked off. A quarterly financial report is something you can check off.”


Sounds like the working world is doing well in the Netherlands with respect to diversity and inclusion.
“Serious time and attention is being put into it, which is good to see. And, don’t forget to celebrate what’s already there, as well as the effort. Then, as a company, you don’t always have the feeling that you are lagging behind and have to catch up. Even if you are. Be brave in your discomfort. Take, for example, APG's equal pay for men and women. Even though that’s just a tip of the iceberg, it’s a good example for other companies.”

When you look at the initiative that companies are putting on their D&I agenda, is there anything missing?
“Whatever means you use as a company to stimulate inclusion, people have to feel it. The DNA of a company must be tangible in the walls and the carpet. Formulate a clear vision with diversity and inclusion as one of the pillars and build towards it, in collaboration with the employees. That’s where your success lies. My fellow speaker and corporate anthropologist Jitske Kramer puts it very aptly: ‘Inclusion is inviting someone to the party and letting them dance. But inclusion is also letting that person help decide on the playlist.” Don't impose this on employees from above; give them the space to speak up. Then everyone feels responsible and you really form a culture together.”

Is it possible to pay too much attention to the theme?
“This is about a culture change and it starts with that one thought change. For that you use words; they have power. But the fact is that everyone connects in different ways, at different times. You can hear something five times and only actually absorb it on the sixth. Because someone is using the words that mean something to you at that moment. So it’s good to keep talking to each other.”

Some issues around inclusion are very clear and visible. Like age, gender and physical disability. But there are also non-visible issues. Which ones should we be sure to discuss?

“There will always be blind spots and we need to explore them together. Systemic racism is a recent example. That term, alongside discrimination and racism, is popping up more and more in discussions. And it shows that racism is not just the personal beliefs of individuals. It is now reflected in society and organizations, creating or perpetuating unequal opportunities and outcomes for certain groups.”

 

I felt really angry and distraught after George Floyd’s death, it was closer than I had thought.

Looking at diversity and inclusion, the Netherlands is improving. At the same time, the debate seems to be hardening. Are we conducting the discussion in the right way?
“The way the discussion is being conducted makes me very sad. There is no vaccine to solve this problem immediately. It takes time and change doesn’t come without a struggle. I felt really angry and distraught after George Floyd’s death, it was closer than I had thought. I hope we can continue to see that this is part of a larger movement. We need perspective, the power of imagination, to see that change for the better takes time.”

Despite that negative feeling, you are brimming with energy when you talk about the topic. Where do you get that strength from?

“From my love for humanity. I look for the good in someone, even when you talk about polarization. Hate is confused admiration, we don’t want to hate, we all struggle with our own questions and personal crises. I know this about myself too, nothing human is foreign to me. So I am one of the Rutger Bregmans of this world, I think all people are good. There’s only the occasional person that actually has bad intentions.”

When you talk about inclusion, you are talking about being equal and being of equal value. What is the difference?  
“People are not all equal, or the same. We are all different, in color and gender, but equal as human beings. That diversity is beautiful and we should embrace it. So look at my color, because I am enormously proud of it. But first of all look at me as a human being. When I was a boy in ‘t Harde and I wasn't allowed to enter that evening, people thought and saw all sorts of things, but not who I really was.”

Do you suffer from unconscious biases yourself?
“I didn’t think so, until recently. My sister, who works for me, mentioned that a party we work with did not look at her during meetings. I hadn’t noticed and I couldn’t imagine it. So I didn’t do anything about it. Later, when I saw it myself, I was shocked. I felt guilty for not standing up for her. I could only say “I didn't see it”, just like Johan Derksen did when it was about gay violence, and it’s just not okay. But this was my blind spot. I have now resolved to take every signal seriously, any time someone comes to me to report something. Even if I don’t see it right away myself.”

You want to be part of the movement forward with your workplace inspiration sessions. Why?

“So that we can let everyone be the best version of themselves. Don’t let prejudices outweigh someone’s character. With the best versions of each other, we can work on the best version of a company and of society. And we can do that if we see each other as equals. Celebrate the differences.”

Volgende publicatie:
APG supports experts National Think Tank in developing ideas

APG supports experts National Think Tank in developing ideas

Published on: 17 December 2020

The Dutch middle class has been under pressure in recent years. People with a middle income, job or education find it more difficult to find a home and experience more insecurity on the labor market. Moreover, they often have limited financial knowledge and scope. To change this, in recent months, 20 participants in the National Think Tank focused on the question: how do we improve the perspective of this middle group? The result: eight specific solutions. And APG contributes to the elaboration of four of these ideas.

 

How do we strengthen well-being, prosperity and control for middle groups in the city and region, now and later? That question is central to the fifteenth 'edition' of the National Think Tank. Because although the Dutch economy (until the corona crisis) has grown in recent years, the position of people with a middle income, job or education has deteriorated. This group increasingly struggles with insecure employment relationships, few housing prospects and a limited financial buffer.

 

In discussion

Every year, the National Think Tank Foundation chooses a social topic and sets to work with specific solutions and ideas. Last week, the 'Think Tankers' presented eight specific proposals to Minister Koolmees of Social Affairs & Employment. APG has been closely involved in this edition as a theme partner and will soon enter into discussions with the initiators of four of the solutions presented.

 

Tools and documentaries

The initiatives involved? The first is the MomentCheck, a digital tool that supports people in making financially conscious choices at important moments in life. Nick: "This is very closely related to the activities of APG's GroeiFrabriek and Kandoor divisions. Here, we can be of value." The second solution is ZelfstandigBerekend, also a financial tool, but aimed at starting freelancers. Zie je mij?, an idea for, among other things, a documentary and a national campaign to raise the profile of essential professions, and MBO Talent Track, a talent development trajectory for MBO students, round off the list.

 

Financial fitness

"At first I thought APG would continue with two of the eight ideas," says Nick van de Sande-Korpershoek, a strategic policy officer at APG and in his capacity of point of contact for the Think Tank 2020, part of the process. "But internal enthusiasm was much greater than expected. Which, of course, isn't surprising. The middle group is the largest group of participants in the funds served by APG. All those teachers, police officers, construction workers and cleaners, for instance. In addition, financial fitness is an important theme at APG. That makes the issue surrounding middle groups extremely relevant to us."

 

Infectious enthusiasm

APG, together with Rabobank and three ministries, among others, is involved in the process in various ways. Nick: "As a financial partner, of course. But even more so as a sparring partner for the 20 Think Tankers. Some still wanted to learn more about pensions, for instance. Alwin Oerlemans, Raoul Wilmms and I, among others, intensively helped them with that in recent months." In the coming weeks, the Think Tankers will be talking with colleagues from GroeiFrabriek, HR and Asset Management, to find out how APG can help elaborate the four ideas. But also to explore what these initiatives can yield for APG.

Nick: "They are really good ideas that can actually take the middle group further. Conceived by people who take it seriously from the start, by involving the target group themselves. And, not unimportantly, they do so with particularly infectious enthusiasm."

Volgende publicatie:
‘From whom does Grandpa get his money? From grandma!’

‘From whom does Grandpa get his money? From grandma!’

Published on: 15 December 2020

This is what children say about saving, pension and earning money.

 

This is what children say about saving, pension and earning money They know quite a bit about it. And they also think very carefully about it, the children APG asked about money, saving and retirement for the video Kids & Cash. They are between three and ten years old and they are called Logan, Hidde, Bram, Sophia, Fenna, Jurre, Mila and Naomi. The little ones still have some trouble with the numbers ("I get one hundred euros ten for a job"). But most know exactly how much pocket money they get and how often ("Ten times"!). They know when you retire and why: "If you've worked fifty years and it drives you a little crazy." They know the most important thing in life: "I'd rather have less money than less family." And in the end, they are done with talking about money and saving. "Is money important? 'I do not think so.”

Volgende publicatie:
We can organize our working life much smarter

We can organize our working life much smarter

Published on: 3 December 2020

Rowan Siskens about agile living and the boomerang retirement

 

Work till you’re 67 and then enjoy your retirement. Or could it be different? A search for Plan P: innovative ideas and alternative scenarios for organizing your life, work and retirement. Rethinking for and by young and old.

Rowan Siskens: “After every three to five years of working, take a few months of unpaid leave.”

 

Retirement at age 27 

Rowan Siskens had only been working for his first employer for two years when, during his evaluation meeting, he said he wanted to take a leave of absence without pay. His managers were surprised, but also positive. Six months later he had a retirement party where everyone dressed up as an old geezer or crone, and then he had five months off. Siskens (27 at the time) went surfing in Bali, traveled around Mexico with his girlfriend and wrote a book: Agile leven. In that book he explained the philosophy behind his lifestyle: after every three to five years of working, take a few months of unpaid leave. Siskens feels that the term sabbatical doesn’t quite cut it; he prefers to call it interim or recurring retirement. A kind of boomerang retirement, instead of a long rest period at the end of our career.  

Short-cycle learning, working and resting

In his book, Siskens – IT worker by trade – draws a parallel with agile working: splitting projects up into “sprints” with interim goals. After every sprint, you look at what could use improvement and adapt your working method if need be. This way you are more agile and you can respond to change more easily. Life is really just such a project, Siskens says. That project is still being managed in the old-fashioned linear way: first you learn for 20 years, then you work for 40 years and then, if you’re lucky,  you get 20 years of retirement. Education, CAOs and pension systems follow a fixed pattern where we go through three phases of life successively and crossovers are difficult or impossible. “It has just developed this way, even though we actually could organize our lives in a much smarter and more agile way,” Siskens argues: with short-cycle sprints of working for a few years, alternated with a period of rest, reflection and possibly further education to shift the direction of your career. Sounds sensible, but how would we do this and who would pay for it?

Why retire in the interim?

Before his first job, Siskens took a world trip. He didn’t want to wait to experience that ultimate sense of freedom again until he was 67. “Because I might not even make it. I had examples in my immediate vicinity of people that died shortly after they retired.” In addition, we are running into retirement stalemate in terms of time, resources and energy, especially now that life expectancy is increasing and the age of retirement has been pushed back. Young people have time and energy to do fun things, but they don’t have the money. Working adults have money, but no time and their energy is spent on their job and a young family. Older people have time and money, but often no energy left for climbing Mount Everest or chasing some other dream. According to Siskens, interim retirement can break through that stalemate. It makes dreams come true, creates happiness at work, and could allow people to keep working longer. “If you’re happy with what you’re doing, the age of retirement becomes just a number and completely irrelevant.” Recurring retirement also fits in well with trends like working with more flexibility, digitalization and life-long learning.

Who’s going to pay for that?

Siskens had saved up 5,000 Euros for his first retirement period. That was not really enough, but he managed to get by with it, because he was able to stay with friends and relatives during his travels. His girlfriend payed for the fixed expenses. He is currently saving up for his next retirement. If you want to live an agile life, you will have to make some sacrifices: don’t drive a big car or don’t drive a car at all, and don’t buy crap you don’t need just because it’s on sale. Then, you invest those savings, for example through (index) investments. “It’s easier to save 10% than to you tell your boss you want to earn an extra 10%,” Siskens believes. The boss can contribute in a different way. For example, he could give you the option to save part of your salary and buy days with that. Or by continuing to pay your pension premium during your unpaid leave to prevent a pension gap later.

Will there be anything left for the future?   

Don’t serial retirements use up everything, so that there won’t be much left for when you permanently retire?  No, on the contrary, Siskens argues. “For many millennials, retirement is nowhere on their radar.  By taking a retirement period once in a while now, you bring the concept closer to home. You become more conscious of the importance of good financial planning so that you will be able to do things you enjoy in the future. An advance from the pension pot to finance the interim retirement doesn’t sound like a good idea to me, for example. Then you won’t have enough later.” Siskens is also the co-host of the “pension season” of the Spaarpodcast (Saving podcast).

 

“We explain the pension system in an accessible way and we try to make young people pension-wise. Maybe APG could also work on more pension consciousness among young people in an innovative way. Right now, emails and letters about pension and retirement usually go straight into the recycle bin, I’ve noticed.” Meanwhile, Siskens is working again, as an Application Engineer at the software company Mendix in Rotterdam. He wants to get promoted, but he also wants another time-out in about four years, although it is his girlfriend’s turn first. His goal for his second pension: a pop-up restaurant on the water, or building a houseboat. “Those are both on my Dream list and I also have many other plans.”

What do employers think of it?     

Siskens also sees benefits of agile living for employers: the work of the interim retiree can be done by coworkers temporarily. This will create job shifts and role rotation, people’s employability will become broader and understanding for each other’s work will increase. What does Sisken’s own boss think of his intention to retire again in a few years? We asked Radjesh Ramautar, Siskens’ immediate supervisor at Mendix, a fast-growing Dutch company with global ambitions, which was taken over by Siemens in 2018. “We have to compete with billion-dollar companies over scarce talent,” Ramautar tells us.

 

“To be of interest to the best people and get them committed, it is important for them to get the opportunity to grow, both in their work and outside of it. As a company you need to keep investing in that, but it also benefits us. During their leave, people can travel, get to know other cultures, experience new things and broaden their horizon. That will give them energy, a sense of perspective and new insights. They always come back richer than they were before and that is good for the company too.”

 

But can you still get promoted if you often take a leave of absence?

Ramautar: ‘Rowan is talented, driven and social; he has it in him to become a good manager. He would be able to take that next step sooner if he waited five to seven years to take his temporary retirement. But that is some ways in the future. Our company has a start-up mentality and is growing enormously. Even planning a few months in advance is difficult sometimes, never mind a few years.” Siskens’s pop-up restaurant may have to wait a bit longer; time for a sprint first.

Volgende publicatie:
APG climate neutral by 2030

APG climate neutral by 2030

Published on: 1 December 2020

Pension provider wants to be the best in class in sustainability

 

APG has made the commitment to be "best in class" in the field of sustainability. To give substance to this a number of steps will be taken in the coming years. For example, there is a CO2 reduction plan with the aim of having APG demonstrably climate-neutral operations by 2030.

 

There will also be an approach to sustainable purchasing and a Sustainability Board. This borad prepares the many decisions that will be needed in the near future to fulfill the sustainability ambition.

Livable world

APG takes these steps for people, the environment and society, explains Sustainability Office Loek Dalmeijer. “We want our pension participants to live in good health in a sustainable society in which they can be an integral part.”APGdoes this through the investments we make on behalf of the funds, but also by making our own business operations more sustainable and more inclusive and by taking responsibility in our supply chain.

 

Situation

“Our building in Amsterdam (Edge West) will receive the highest possible sustainability standard and work is also being done on sustainability in Heerlen”, explains Dalmeijer de current situation at APG. “We have achieved the target for 2020, set in 2018, to at least meet the requirements that we as an investor set for our investments. APG has also caught up on sustainable business operations, diversity & inclusion and mobility. But that doesn't mean we're there yet.”

 

From the inside

If you want to be best in class, you really have to be the front runner. This means that "people, the environment and society" must be part of every decision we make. Is that not possible within your work or department? Then get help to remove the barriers that lie there. A Sustainability Office was recently set up for this purpose under the leadership of Loek Dalmeijer.

 

Step-by-step

There are already many initiatives to reduce our environmental footprint. We bundle these and go one step further. “First of all, we are working towards energy-neutral accommodation. The move to Basisweg 10 is an important step in this. We are also investigating whether we can get rid of gas in Heerlen and we will soon determine the requirements that we will set for our offices in New York and Hong Kong.”

 

“Second, we will do everything we can to reduce CO2 emissions caused by transport movements. We are making environmentally friendly travel more attractive, flying less and investigating whether we can fly on more sustainable biokerosene for the flights that are really necessary.

 

Third, we involve our suppliers and colleagues in this objective. Because reducing CO2 emissions from our paper consumption, or that is caused by not properly separating our waste for reuse, is only possible if everyone makes a contribution. As a final step, we will continue to offset our remaining emissions. This share will decrease, if we are successful on the various measures.”

Volgende publicatie:
Political pension talk show, or would you prefer good lawmakers?

Political pension talk show, or would you prefer good lawmakers?

Published on: 26 November 2020

Column by Nick van de Sande - Korpershoek

Team Policy

 

The parliamentary elections will be held in March 2021. For those active on or around the political square kilometer in The Hague, the election fever has been rising for months. But a fiery election debate about retirement on a talk show sometime in the next few months on prime time is unlikely to happen. Considering the importance of expeditious implementation of the pension agreement based on solid legislation, that is a good thing.

 

After a decade of consultations and negotiations, the cabinet and social partners managed to reach consensus last summer on the details of the pension agreement. Most political parties in the middle have now embraced the pension agreement to a greater or lesser extent in their draft election programs. Even 50PLUS seems to have given up its opposition to the accord and would like to be involved again in the transition to the new pension system. In this context you can once again distinguish yourself as a pension spokesperson in the House of Representatives.

 

So what do you do then? As a standing committee for Social Affairs and Employment, you organize round table discussions about the pension agreement that last one and a half days. For which MPs can invite experts as they see fit. So that there is something for everyone and as a politician you can still put yourself in the spotlight. And so it happened on November 4 and 24.

 

As many as 21 representatives of the national pension society gave an appearance in the House of Representatives spread over two days in eleven short successive blocks. Among them, various people directly involved in the pension agreement. But also people who have been more on the sidelines to date, and who therefore passionately seized the opportunity to storm the national political stage to put forward their own (sometimes controversial) thoughts.

 

What was special about this was that key players in the realization of the pension agreement such as FNV and VNO-NCW were not even invited at first. Gijs van Dijk (PvdA) took care of this at the last minute - rightly so.

 

During the round table discussions, every Member of Parliament was able to collect his or her right from someone on some pension aspect. In order to especially appeal to their own supporters. Often they resorted to well-known hobbyhorses to show whether or not this or that person had brought in something for his supporters, or whether someone's expertise would not give cause to do things completely differently.

 

Is what is in the pension agreement feasible and enforceable? Legitimate questions that testify to the chamber's progressive insight

The "result": a self-sustaining 660-minute surrogate political retirement talk show. The neutral viewer - not helped by the much used pension jargon - was mainly confused and exhausted. Given the cacophony shown, you would almost doubt whether a historic pension agreement has been concluded at all.

 

On the other hand, the MPs cannot be blamed for wanting their own "election show". After all, for years they have been forced to observe the slow progress of the polder towards the agreement, mainly from the wings.

 

In addition, it is - of course - important for the House of Representatives to study the new pension system. During the round table discussions, for example, explicit attention was paid to implementation aspects. In other words, is what is in the pension agreement feasible and practicable? Legitimate questions that testify to the House's progressive insight. In the past, implementation aspects have remained (heavily) underexposed in other legislative processes. With dire consequences for large groups of individuals, as we have seen especially in the childcare allowance affair.

 

It is to be hoped that the further elaboration of the pension agreement and its transposition into legislation and regulations will proceed smoothly - despite a possibly lengthy formation period towards the next cabinet. In which the House of Representatives no longer searches with a political magnifying glass for so-called mutually dividing differences of opinion. However, based on diligent analyzes and legislative work in the spirit of the pension agreement, the House contributes to sound and enforceable pension legislation.

 

Because timely attention to legislative quality and implementation aspects is crucial for the creation of a pension system that can gain the trust of pension participants. For them, the millions of participants, most of whom have no idea what the new system means for them, the round table discussions shown in recent weeks were unfortunately of little (show) value.

 

 

1 See also the position paper by Pieter Omtzigt (CDA), published on 7 November this year, "The House of Representatives and the Implementation, a difficult combination", written to the parliamentary committee of inquiry for implementation services. (link)

Volgende publicatie:
APG addresses cause of pay gap between men and women

APG addresses the cause of the pay gap between men and women

Published on: 11 November 2020

Pay gap caused by less steep career path women

 

Equal work has to be equally rewarded. That was the reason for closing the appeared salary gap between men and women at APG in one go in June 2019. This required a salary increase for 125 women. And to prevent a new gap from arising, APG then conducted an extensive investigation into the causes. The explanatory factor appears to be that women at APG are less often and less quickly promoted, meaning their salary also increases less quickly. HR director Marloes Sengers provides an explanation.

 

APG want to close the salary gap of 2.2 percent durably and fundamentally. The organization therefore had to assess the underlying causes. Both quantitative and qualitative (interviews) have been conducted to find out the reasons behind this pay gap.

 

What were the results of the investigation?

Sengers: “First of all, it appeared that this inexplicable difference in pay does not arise upon commencement of employment. In other words: women enter APG with the same starting salary as men. Second, the difference also doesn’t appear to arise as a result of the annual performance reviews. Women are assessed equally well compared to men. However, where we do notice a difference is when it comes to promotion. Female APG employees appear to be promoted less often than male employees. That is less the case though for women who are working under the leadership of a female manager. Moreover, women appear to be promoted less quickly than men, so it takes longer for them to get a promotion. And in the latter case, it doesn’t seem to make a difference whether they have a male or female manager.”

 

What is the conclusion APG draws from these results?

"The conclusion we draw is that the salary path of women runs less steep because their career path runs less steep.”

 

Shouldn’t you rather talk about a career or promotion gap instead of a salary gap given these outcomes?

“Yes, you could call it that in a way, and the one is related to the other. But that was not the primary focus of our investigation. We focused on explaining the pay gap of 2.2 percent between men and women, and that resulted in this difference in promotion perspective. 

 

How do you explain that less steep career path of female employees?

“We are safe to say that this is not caused by the promotion or internal recruitment policy. That policy is no different for women as it is for men. However, we were able to conclude based on the interviews that a man is more likely to consider himself a good candidate for a higher position, compared to a woman. Women are less focusing on getting promoted. On the contrary, women who get promoted often indicate to be asked for or made aware of the higher position. Women are less likely to feel qualified for a certain career move. Slightly exaggerated: where a man already dares to apply if he meets four out of ten job requirements, women don’t even consider themselves to be sufficiently qualified if they meet nine out of ten.”

 

APG has closed that gap of 2.2 percent last year by raising the salary of 125 female colleagues. Could we say that they received a salary increase for a promotion not made?

“In a certain sense you could indeed say that they were compensated for the difference in promotion perspective. That has been rectified one time. And because it is so important for this not to happen again, we conducted this follow-up investigation.”

 

What will APG do with these results?

“We take this very seriously, especially because we also want equal pay for equal work in the long term. Anything different simply doesn’t fit the APG we want to be. In order to close that gap structurally and durably, we have, to begin with, entered into a dialog internally. We present a few questions, such as: why is it that women with a male manager are less likely to get promoted than women with a female manager? What’s the reason behind it? Based on the answer to those kinds of questions, we look at possible interventions, aiming at awareness among both women and managers. We are already paying a lot of attention to equal opportunities. Internally, we are organizing unconscious bias trainings and the senior management commits to the theme. We encourage managers to apply diversity to their teams and to be a role model in that respect. Moreover, we explicitly include the theme succession planning, promotion and attracting talent. As of 2021, we will apply a new HR cycle in which we also want to include the conversation on future perspective more explicit.”

Volgende publicatie:
Aging happily? This is how you do it

Aging happily? This is how you do it

Published on: 1 October 2020

To live a long and happy life; that’s what we all want. And the great thing is; we can have that. How to get happy and stay happy: Josanne Huijg, scientist and expert in aging happily, knows this. Here, she shares 5 tips for being happy as you get older.

 

Ask people what happiness means to them and no two answers will be the same. “Happiness means something different to everyone,” psychologist Josanne Huijg from knowledge institute Leyden Academy on Vitality and Ageing says. She conducts research regarding growing old happily and meaningfully. “It may sound obvious, but in order to determine how you can be happy when you get older, you first need to establish what happiness means to you.”  Science identifies three approaches to happiness: hedonistic, eudaimonistic and an evaluation of your own life in general. “Hedonistic wellbeing means to experience positive emotions and enjoyment,” Huijg says, “for example, by enjoying art, music, good food and the company of loved ones.” Eudaimonistic wellbeing is related to meaningfulness, self-actualization and the feeling that you matter in the world.”

 

Determine your happiness factors

To know what you need to do to be and stay happy, you must realize what the focus is for you. Huijg: “Do you enjoy company? Does art make you happy, or watching movies or walking in nature? Or do you experience happiness when you can be important to others? For some people, having their family members around them is the main factor for happiness. Others feel happy being active and busy and moving a lot. So, ask yourself this question: what is important to me? How satisfied am I in that department? And what can I do or change to improve my satisfaction?”

 

Invest in relationships

The definition of happiness may be different for everybody, but there are definitely a number of factors that can contribute to anyone’s sense of wellbeing. Loving relationships, for example.  They are an important condition for being happy in old age, research has shown. Huijg: “That does not mean that not everyone has the same needs in terms of friendship and family. One person appreciates seeing a dear friend once in a while, while someone else prefers to be with someone every day. But, generally speaking, the quality of social relationships is one of the main determinants for happiness.”

 

“Loving relationships are an important condition for being happy in old age”

 

 

The advice is therefore to keep investing in friendships and cherished connections, even during periods that you may have less time for that. Huijg: “Many people between 30 and 50 are busy with their families or careers and become more selective in the relationships they want to put energy into. There’s nothing wrong with that. But in the long run, it is good to ask yourself periodically: which relationships make me happy and do I want to maintain? And to consciously make time for those.”

 

Get moving

Take a walk in the fresh air. Go for a bike ride with your head in the wind. Or go for a run. “Movement makes many people happy,” Huijg says, “exercising releases dopamine, which makes you feel good. But movement does not make everyone happy. In fact, it makes about thirty percent of people unhappy.” Nevertheless, regular exercise does contribute to being happy in old age. “Staying active keeps us healthy. And people who experience their health as positive, are generally happier.” Maybe it would be good to consider that daily walk or that yoga class after all.”

 

Do something (for someone else)

Doing something for someone else: it is not only noble, it also makes you happy, research shows. “It is important for your wellbeing to feel like you matter, to others and to society,” Huijg says. “It is therefore essential to mentally prepare for the time after you retire. Because that time can arouse a sense of freedom and rest, but also sometimes a feeling of emptiness and alienation. How do you ensure that you keep experiencing a sense of value? To keep working in an adjusted way may contribute to that. But also doing volunteer work. Babysitting the grandchildren. Or caring for a neighbor that needs help. Older people who regularly do something for others experience more meaning in their lives.”  Recent research in Germany has shown that grandparents who babysit their grandchildren even live longer. But, Huijg nuances, you definitely don’t need to be working as a do-gooder all the time. “Doing something small for someone once in a while will already provide more moments of happiness.”

 

Practice feeling satisfied

When you’re satisfied, you always have enough, the cliche says. But cliches are often true. Practicing feeling satisfied is one of the most important things you can do to get happy and stay happy, according to Huijg. “Happiness doesn’t depend on the circumstances so much, but rather on the way someone experiences those circumstances.  Older people that have a lot of physical limitations can still be very happy. And there are also those who have very few limitations, but really suffer from them. In general, you can say: happy older people know their limitations and focus on opportunities and possibilities.” Is it not your nature to count your blessing? There is still hope. Because satisfaction is something you can practice. “Every day, write down a few little things you appreciate. When it comes to happiness, we often focus on external factors,” Huijg says. “But research has shown: being satisfied with what you have, that’s what really makes you happy.”

Volgende publicatie:
SPW is making 6 “hard promises” to participants and employers

“Participants should choose us without being required to”

Published on: 1 October 2020

After two years of research and preparation, the time has come: SPW, the pension fund for housing corporations is making six hard promises to its participants and employers today. It is a significant step for the pension sector. “SPW is really going out on a limb with these pension promises,” says APG executive board member Francine van Dierendonck.

 

Birte van Ouwerkerk and Jim Schuyt are the driving force behind the pension promises. Birte is  responsible for the development and implementation of the pension promises as the Marketing communication strategist. Jim has been the chairman on behalf of the employers and the pension promises from day one.

Why are you making these promises to participants and employers?

Jim: “Promises are often made by commercial parties to get clients to commit to them. For example, Jumbo, where you can get your groceries for free if there are four people in line. We, as a pension fund, don’t feel that pressure. Because it is mandatory, participants can’t just switch to a different fund. That fact makes us see this as an extra responsibility. Even without being required to, participants should choose us; that is our approach. With the pension promises, we are therefore making the topic of pension and SPW’s services tangible and we are showing what the fund stands for.”

Do participants and employers really need such promises?

Birte: “Yes, we think so. These promises are based on extensive research among participants and employers. How are they seeing our services and the subject of pension in general? Although SPW scored positively on that first point, we also detected a lot of questions and uncertainties: will there be enough left for me and what can I expect from my pension fund? You can explain to them that those worries are largely unfounded. You can also put it in stronger terms by promising that the participants’ investments are in good hands.”

Making promises. But, with the new pension contract, isn’t that exactly what we are trying to get away from?

Jim: “With these six promises we are not going to do something completely new, or promise things we have never done before. The promises that participants and employers have chosen are showing things that we were already doing on a daily basis, but that they didn’t necessarily know much about. So, we are responding to questions that our participants and employers already had. These questions will not be that different when the new pension contract kicks in down the road.”

What was APG’s role?

Birte: “25 of our people were involved in the creation of the promises. From people working at the Client Contact Center (KCC) to the Employers’ services and Pension administration departments. These promises are also very valuable to APG, because they give APG employees more clarity about what is expected from them and provides a focus in the service.”

How will you make sure that these promises are really going to settle in the DNA of SPW?

Birte: “We are going to go live in controlled phases and will take a year and a half to fully integrate the promises into our services and communication. We will stay in touch with participants, employers and APG employees to see how it goes. We are now starting on the external branding campaign to inform employers and participants, with the objective of creating awareness during this phase.”

 

SPW’s six promises


1 Guaranteed income for the rest of your life, for you and your partner.

A guaranteed income for the rest of your life, but also for your partner and your kids if you die. Ensure income in case of disability.

 

2 Your investment is in good hands, with proven returns.

SPW achieved an average investment return of 7 percent for the past twenty years. Investments are transparent, responsible and socially conscious.  

 

3 Room for you to choose what you want to do with your pension.

You choose when you want to retire, partially or completely. First a bigger amount and later a smaller amount. Partner’s pension or no partner’s pension.

4 Personal pension check, to use when you want to.

Online, by phone on chat. Use it when you want to. Because you want to know if you’re on the right track. Or because something changed in your life. Or because you want to apply for your pension.

 

5 Complete overview and insight into your future income.

Always and everywhere clear overview & insight at Mijn SPW (My SPW). All expenditures and income in a row. So that you know what you are doing now and how much money you need. And you can see what you want in the future and how much of a pension you will need at that time. You can choose and calculate for yourself in Helder Overzicht & Inzicht (Clear Overview & Insight), the calculation tool in Mijn SPW.

 

6 Pension plan for all of us, customized for housing corporations.

Developed in collaboration with all relevant representatives of employers and employees in the sector.

Volgende publicatie:
Does corona make us more lonely?

Does corona make us more lonely?

Published on: 29 September 2020

“People are not missing friendly little chats so much, but real, meaningful connection”

 

October 1 is the first day of Anti-Loneliness Week. How lonely are people living in the Netherlands? And has the corona crisis increased those feelings? Professor of sociology at the Free University of Amsterdam, Theo van Tilburg says:” Nearly one in three Dutch people missed a close connection with others during the pandemic.”

 

Experiencing a sense of emptiness. Missing people you feel connected to, that you can rely on. Or just needing to socialize. Everyone, young and old, feels lonely sometimes. Sometimes for a short time, sometimes longer. Big changes in life – such as a divorce, losing your job, a move, a birth or a death – can make people feel like they have to fend for themselves.

Bouts of loneliness are part of life, however, and are not necessarily damaging. But long-term loneliness can have serious consequences. “People who are lonely for long periods of time, can get into a negative spiral that becomes more and more difficult to break out of,” explains professor of sociology Theo van Tilburg from the Free University of Amsterdam. “Long-term loneliness may lead to depression, alcohol-addiction, cardiovascular diseases, sleeping problems and a lowered immune system.”

 

Difference between wishes and reality

Contrary to what is often thought, loneliness is not always related to a lack of friends or social contacts. Loneliness happens when there is a difference between the desired situation and reality, in terms of relationships and social contact. So, you may be lonely because you have fewer social contacts than you want, but also because the social contacts you do have do not meet your wishes or expectations. A lack of social contacts is sometimes called social loneliness. Missing a deeper, emotional connection, is what we call emotional loneliness.

Loneliness is not always related to a lack of friends or social contacts

The number

How lonely are we, in the Netherlands? Last year, 9 percent of the Dutch population age 15 or older experienced strong feelings of loneliness. 26 percent felt somewhat lonely and the remaining 66 percent was not lonely. Single people in general and single parents, felt lonely more often than couples and kids living at home. A third of people over 75 felt somewhat lonely and 9 percent feels very lonely. This was shown by numbers from the CBS. There is increasingly more attention on loneliness among young people, the last few years. Dutch numbers are not available yet, but based on Flemish and other international research, it is estimated that between 3 and 10 percent of youth is chronically lonely.

 

No loneliness epidemic

But is there really a “loneliness epidemic” going on, as sometimes suggested by the media? All things considered, the Netherlands has had reasonably stable numbers for years. Long-term research by the Free University of Amsterdam, which Theo van Tilburg conducted in collaboration with sociologist Biance Suanet, showed that today’s seniors even feel a little less lonely than older people did over twenty years ago. The researchers suspect that older people are feeling like they have a bit more of a grip on their lives now. They are more educated, they often have a partner and more - varied – social contacts. The chance of becoming lonely at a later age has slightly decreased on the individual level. But on the collective level, loneliness is still a growing problem, because the number of older people is increasing. Above the age of 75, the chance of loneliness increases, because the chance of illness, disabilities and the loss of loved ones increases.

 

And then corona showed up

What has the effect of corona been? Did the pandemic make the Netherlands more lonely? The report 'Welbevinden ten tijde van Corona' (Wellbeing during corona times) by the Social and Cultural Planning Bureau showed that nearly one in three Dutch people indicated that they felt emotionally lonely during the corona crisis.

Striking: the number of people that felt socially lonely stayed the same, but the number of people that was dealing with emotional loneliness rose. From 21 percent in 2019, this percentage rose to 26 percent in the past few months. People that were 75 or older felt lonelier than other age groups during the corona crisis. The portion of lonely people in that age group more than doubled in one year: from 16 percent in 2019, to nearly 37 percent in 2020.

 

“Particularly older people living alone, have been missing, not so much the friendly little chats, but mostly the deeper connection with others,” says Theo van Tilburg. “People that live with a partner, kids or other housemates, at least still have intimate contact in a smaller circle.” Also connected to emotional loneliness was the loss of loved ones who deceased, a general sense of threat, less trust in institutions and lack of help.

 

The feeling that you matter

“Being isolated and having less social contact for a while was not necessarily the biggest problem for everyone during the lockdown. People that understood the situation temporarily adjusted their visiting and social contact. It also helped that everyone was in the same unpleasant boat.” But the period after the restrictions were eased turned out to be more complicated for many vulnerable groups, because the clarity and solidarity disappeared. And that is a situation that is still continuing.

Van Tilburg: “The fact that a portion of society has now seemingly picked up where it left off, while others still cannot participate may increase their sense of loneliness. We should all be alert to that. A sense of meaningfulness, a feeling that you matter, that you belong to something, that is very important for people’s wellbeing.”

 

So, how do we go on from here? According to van Tilburg, it is important that the long-term effects of the corona measures are carefully monitored - for all groups in society. “Research is showing that people should focus especially on decreasing emotional loneliness now; not on facilitating Zoom meetings, or sending flowers to seniors, but on facilitating real, intimate connections. People are not missing the friendly chat with the neighbor so much, but a hug and a real talk with someone they are close to.”

Volgende publicatie:
“We can certainly use the talents of the newcomers”

“We can certainly use the talents of the newcomers”

Published on: 4 September 2020

The Netherlands of Tomorrow

 

For many people, pension is something for tomorrow. The pension system is changing; this is a fact. But what does this mean for our society? What does the Netherlands of tomorrow look like? We asked people from a cross-section of society. In this episode: Thami Schweichler, founder of Makers Unite, a social enterprise that offers employment opportunities to people with a refugee or migration background. “In the Netherlands of Tomorrow, everyone should have equal opportunity.”

 

In the Netherlands, we hate waiting. We consider five minutes at a bus stop to be wasted time. Fortunately, we have our smartphones so we can quickly send a text or a tweet or watch a video. Refugees sometimes have to wait for seven years before they receive residency status in the Netherlands and the ability to go on with their lives. Seven years in the waiting room, before they are allowed to “enter” and start working. If they can even find a job. They are on the sidelines, along with over a million other people in the Netherlands: Seniors, people with little or no education, and people with a migration background. Thami Schweichler wants to help build an inclusive society in which everyone can participate. He founded Makers Unite to give newcomers in the Netherlands their confidence back, both in themselves and in their future, and to help them get jobs.

 

What do you hope the Netherlands of tomorrow will look like?

“I hope everyone will have equal opportunities to use their talents. Compared to developing countries, the Netherlands is a prosperous country, and everything is organized very well here. But for newcomers, the start can be difficult. They come here with their dreams and ambitions, but then often get stuck in all kinds of complicated systems and procedures. After ten years in the Netherlands, half of the people with refugee status still don’t have a steady job. That is a missed opportunity, both for the newcomer and for our economy: in an aging society, we can really use their talents. If we become more inclusive as a country, that will also increase our economic potential.”

 

How do we do that: become more inclusive?

“It starts with trust. Newcomers first need to gain back their own self-confidence to be able to build a future here. At Makers Unite we help people see what their strengths are and how they can use them. So far, we have guided a hundred and sixty people in a six-week process. Nearly seventy percent of them had an internship, job or education program at the end of that. We make sustainable products, such as laptop covers made from the lifejackets of refugees. Making a cover like that is also a way to bring people closer together, to create connections. Because society also needs to gain trust in the newcomers. They often feel like they are only seen as refugees and not as individuals with their own story, identity and capacities. For ice cream manufacturer Ben & Jerry’s we therefore designed a clothing line called Meet Me Halfway. The message: as a refugee or migrant, we have come so far; let’s meet halfway and continue on together.”

Ben & Jerry’s is part of Unilever. How important it is for all companies, big and small, to take their responsibility in terms of inclusivity?

“Ben & Jerry’s is a bit of a rebel inside Unilever. They show how important it is for newcomers to be able to participate and that, as a company and a society, you can only benefit from that. Social enterprises are leading in this, but hopefully that “social” label can come off in the future because it will be normal for every company to give everyone the same opportunities. We’re not there yet: first we must dare to have the discussion about racism and discrimination. Ben & Jerry’s are an example: they admit they are much too white as a company and they want to change that. Hopefully, the Netherlands of tomorrow will be characterized by more color in, for example, management and other important positions.”

 

How can pension administrators like APG contribute to a more inclusive society?

“As an employer, they can show the right example and as a big investor, they can address companies regarding diversity and inclusivity. APG is already doing that. They can also help in restoring trust. Refugees distrust the government and public organizations, because, in their country of origin, those were the ‘enemy’. Only after you explain that we all together are the government and that that man on the corner and that lady in the supermarket pay for the allowances, do they let go of their distrust. That also applies to pensions: newcomers are also entitled to a pension later, which employers and employees pay for together. That can also increase confidence.”

Ben & Jerry’s is an example: they admit that as a company, they are much too white, and they want to change that

As a society, can we learn something from newcomers?

“Yes, brotherhood, for example. I have a Brazilian father and a Dutch mother. So, I am a product of two cultures. In Brazil, people don’t have as good a life as they do in the Netherlands, but they have a warmer bond, they are more there for each other. And that sense of solidarity is sometimes missing here. In the Netherlands, we also have a tendency to look at things from a problem perspective: what’s going wrong? Refugees on the other hand have the perspective of hope: that their lives will be better than they were before. They think in terms of opportunities, rather than risks. That lifejacket is a symbol of that. We can certainly learn something from that positive approach and unconditional brotherhood: that we must work together to create a better existence and take care of each other more. If you look after each other well, you’re ultimately looking after yourself too.”

Volgende publicatie:
“Our society has to become more of a unity”

“Our society has to become more of a unity”

Published on: 27 August 2020

The Netherlands of the future

 

Pension to many people is something for tomorrow. It is a fact that the pension system is about to change. But how about our society? What will the Netherlands of tomorrow look like? We ask people from a cross-section of society. In this edition: Björn Vennema, co-founder of Social Finance NL, an organization for measuring, financing and enhancing social impact.

 

We are living in a prosperous country, but not everyone benefits from this prosperity to the same extent. The corona crisis emphasizes that once again: people with a non-western migration background, less education and an occupational disability, for example, seem to be additionally vulnerable to the loss of employment and poverty. These vulnerable groups also have to benefit from prosperity and well-being in the Netherlands of the future, according to Björn Vennema, co-founder and co-director of Social Finance NL. How? By utilizing money in a smarter, more objective and more honest way to solve social issues.

 

How do you perceive the Netherlands of today?

“The Netherlands is flat to the eye, but a polarized landscape is hidden below the surface. The contradictions in terms of politics, culture and the social aspect are huge. The gap between rich and poor also increases. Less and less money is made available to support the vulnerable groups within society, such as the underprivileged youth and the elderly. This means the dichotomy in the Netherlands is growing. If we don’t do anything about that, the social issues will only become bigger.”

 

How should the Netherlands of the future look like in your opinion?

“Our society has to become more of a unity again. The bottom of society should also be given opportunities to fully participate and to access all means available. In order for that to happen, we have to change our financial system. Most investors are now mainly taking a risk-return approach when deciding to invest money in a certain project or sector. If they would also look at the impact of a company or project to society, you can establish societal changes together. For example by consciously investing in solar energy, in social housing or in a project for debt assistance.”           

 

But aren’t there all kinds of government institutions or charitable organizations for that types of purposes?

“Those institutions and organizations often focus on the system and not on the human-being. People with psychological problems or debts asking for help sometimes get lost in a maze of organizations all working in isolation. Moreover, the social sector usually doesn’t have a businesslike disposition: they are not focusing enough on how an as large and positive impact on society can be realized. This means a lot of social value is not utilized. An example is Ctalents, a secondment organization for people suffering from an audiovisual impairment. Joining and guiding jobseekers and employers took more time and energy than for the average candidates but those efforts didn’t translate into a higher fee. This meant Ctalents was unable to compete with commercial employment agencies. That’s a shame. A better earnings model would allow us to help more people, but such earnings model for social enterprises is still lacking in the current financial system.”

An earnings model for social enterprises is lacking in the current financial system

You are saying we should change the financial system, but how?

“We have to adapt a different approach towards value, towards result. Until now, we mainly measure success based on money, on financial value. But we also have to start looking at the societal costs and returns: how much would it benefit or maybe harm society? That could also come with a price tag. Besides the financial gain of companies, you could look at, for example, the costs for society when damage is caused to the environment or when people have to apply for unemployment benefits due to reorganizations. For government organizations or subsidized projects it is possible to look at how much societal ‘gain’ these create, for instance in the form of more prosperity, less loneliness or more labor participation. Once you know that and are able to compare, investors can invest in a targeted manner in companies and organizations that return the most financial and societal value.”

 

Tangible example?

“You can use Social Impact Bonds to link money of investors and social objectives. An example is a project to reduce the youth unemployment in Rotterdam South, the highest level in the country. Only if that has truly been accomplished, the municipality pays back the investors, with a return. If the project does not succeed, the investors lose their money and therefore bear the risk. In this case, 72 percent of the 250 participating youth found a job. This means everyone benefits: the young people get a job, the municipality saves on benefits and investors realize returns. Such Social Impact Bond will now also be introduced for fall prevention of the elderly. That could lead to less bone fractures, less healthcare costs and more elderly who are able to live independently for a longer period of time.”    

 

Are these new forms of financing also interesting for pension providers, such as APG?

“We are currently mainly working with governments and social entrepreneurs and financers. Major investors, such as APG, need more large-scale projects to realize sufficient returns in order to pay our pension. It is our dream to achieve that needed scale in the future, maybe helped by a national government fund and local crowdfunding. It will then also become interesting for major investors, such as banks, insurers and pension funds. APG already integrates sustainability and social policy into all of its investment decisions, but then you would be able to assess the costs and returns for society in an even more targeted manner. And participants will then have an even clearer understanding on what that will yield for their pension pot and society. Most important: financing in a different way could help accomplish that everyone in the Netherlands of the future gets its share and reaches its full potential. That is our ultimate goal.”

Volgende publicatie:
“You move faster on your own, but cover more distance together”

“You move faster on your own, but cover more distance together”

Published on: 7 August 2020

Pension to many people is something for (the day after) tomorrow. It is a fact that the pension system is about to change. But how will our society develop in the years to come? What will the Netherlands of tomorrow look like? We ask people from a cross-section of society. In this first edition: Katja Staartjes, the first Dutch woman ever to climb the Mount Everest.

 

The Netherlands 2020: more than seventeen million people are gathered together in a figurative tent in the base camp. We are at the beginning of a joint expedition to the top of the mountain: the Netherlands of the day after tomorrow. For the time being, that top is still clothed in mist, although we are sometimes able to see the contours. What social changes will we go through in the next fifteen years and what type of leadership do we need on our way to the Netherlands of the future? Cooperation in particular becomes increasingly important, according to Katja Staartjes. She climbed a number of eight thousands, mountains with an altitude of more than 8,000 meters. In addition, she has extensive experience as an (interim) manager and she is also a trainer, coach and writer. The title of her latest book: Topteams. Samen bergen verzetten (Top teams: moving mountains together, ed.).


How you do perceive the Netherlands of the future: what do you think you will find at the top of the mountain?

“I see two core developments. One: the need for sustainability, to halt the depletion of the earth’s resources. Two: a growing need for inclusiveness, for being open to differences and for creating solidarity. Climate change and political unrest lead to a flow of refugees. Besides that, we witness division in society: between different cultures, between the disadvantaged and the advantaged. We must find a way to close the gap between those intensified opposites. And we are also right in the middle of the corona crisis.”


Uncertain times you might say. What type of leadership does this require?

“First of all: make sure the basics are in order. That offers footing in times of uncertainty and change. Not enough gear during a climb may cause major problems. Without a rope attached to my glove, it may fall into the depth and my hand could freeze. The tiniest forgotten detail can save lives or actually cause fatalities. Think about the lack of face masks in the care institutions during the corona crisis. But if you carry too much gear going to the top, your backpack becomes too heavy which is slowing you down.”


Dead weight, while in times of change you should be agile?

“Exactly, agility is starting point number two. High on a mountain, the weather could suddenly change or unexpected obstacles arise, such as crevasses and ice walls. We often believe that everything is feasible, we try to hedge every risk. But without taking any risks, you will never make it to the top. This means we have to let go, improvise, accept the fact that things can go wrong and show resilience in times of setbacks. The third starting point: Less is more. The conception of progress has led to a stalemate on our planet. We have to think and do more in terms of sustainability: set limits to the growth, go back to the essence and think and act more in the long term.”


What can we learn from mountain climbing in that respect?

“If you want to get to the top too quickly during a climb, signs of altitude sickness will arise due to the thin air and you could even die. It is with good reason that an altitude of 7,500 meters or more is called the Death Zone. In order to get used to the lack of oxygen, we climb in stages and go a bit higher every time. We return to the base camp in between to recover. We sometimes refrain from going to the top if the risks are too high. And if we do make it to the top, we still have to descent. Just as in daily life: you can cheer because you closed a megadeal, but you have only reached your goal if the client is satisfied and your product is not harming the environment. It is all about sustainable and shared results.”


What characteristics of leaders will become more important?

“Uncertainty calls for strong leadership: someone who is not just talking but also takes action and who has the guts to make tough decisions, liking daring to stop a non-sustainable activity or bureaucratic hassle. The common interest is guiding, not the own ego: servant leadership. A leader who is able to enthuse people for a mutual goal and the direction chosen. Because you have to ensure that everyone in the team wants to climb the same mountain and takes the same path. Especially now working from home seems to become the standard because of the corona crisis and digitalization. A good leader is able to also inspire and connect people from a distance and exudes confidence. The same applies to climbing, when you are hanging on a rope together on a steep mountain cliff and are unable to see each other.”


Working together as if your life depends on it?

“Literally, yes. It also means good communication. We often agree on signs during climbing, such as: two pulls of the rope means ‘safe’. In order to realize effective teamwork it helps to reinforce the weakest link: if someone is struggling to keep up, reduce the weight of his or her backpack and let someone else take the lead in deep snow. That way you move on faster together. That necessity for more and better cooperation does not only apply to teams, but also within companies. And beyond, with increasingly complex collaborations.”


Why is that so important?

“Challenges such as the energy transition are too big to handle on your own. We need each other, especially in the future, and a sense of community and solidarity is becoming more important again. That also applies to pension: even though the system changes, we still have to continue to take care of one another as a society. Effective teams are diverse which brings me back to that inclusiveness. It doesn’t make the cooperation any easier, but the final result will be better. Even though there are differences, having a common goal makes you all want to reach that top. The key is mutual respect. Future-proof leadership means that you also want others to succeed, to show exemplary behavior, to be honest: only claim that you reached the top if you actually did. These are timeless truths that are more topical than ever.”

 

Volgende publicatie:
Athletes opt for stones

Athletes opt for stones

Published on: 4 August 2020

“Their investments for the future mainly involve buildings. Buying and renting out houses.” The experienced sports manager Dennis Klaster knows better than anyone how Dutch top athletes are engaged in their financial future. He manages, for example, the popular short track champions Sjinkie Knegt and Suzanne Schulting, and top ice-skaters Jan Blokhuijsen and Ronald and Richard Mulder. “The trend is for athletes not to only invest in stones, but also for talents to receive professional commercial support from the moment they take their first steps into the world of top sports. There are hardly any derailments to be witnessed anymore.”

 

Heerenveen has the most top athletes per square kilometer. Ranging from ice-skating icon Sven Kramer to Olympic gymnastics champion Sanne Wevers. The facilities for top sports in the Friesland municipality are impressive. Not only the legendary Thialf ice-rink but also the impressive gymnastics hall where Epke Zonderland shed blood, sweat and tears to achieve his Olympic success.


The Heerenveen entrepreneur Dennis Klaster is in his element in these centers for top sports. Everybody knows Dennis and Dennis knows everybody. As a manager of popular sports heroes, he especially wants to make his athletes aware of the harsh fact that a career in sports is only short and that investments in the future must be made. Those are tough conversations at times and in those cases he will be joined by fiscal expert Hans Visser of accountancy firm ACCON-AVM. Visser is very familiar with the ways to help top athletes secure a good financial future.
He always remains modestly in the background, but the Friesland tax specialist is helping dozens of top athletes realizing the best possible constructions for a financial future without worries. Dennis Klaster and Hans Visser are happy to provide some insight into their activities but are not allowed to mention any names for reasons of privacy.

 

Houses are trendy

Dennis Klaster: “I think most athletes are more concerned about their performances and realizing their goal, than about their pension. The day-to-day affairs. Two categories of top athletes can be distinguished when it comes to finances. One category is earning really good money. That category is involved in finances, but not in terms of pension. They just see: How much will I have later on, how will I be able to make it through and I just buy a house or something like that. There are also young athletes who are very much involved in their finances and who, no matter their age, have already bought some real estate in Heerenveen. They don’t even earn enormous amounts yet, so they invest in their future early on.”

 

Financially conservative

Hans Visser: ”There are also athletes who spend everything they earn and think: I live now and time will tell. Only when the liquid position becomes dire, the realization arises that things have to change. And then they all want real estate to rent out, just as trendy in sports such as ice-skating as tattoos are for soccer players. Most top athletes are conservative when it comes to finances. A few of them have been successful in trading bitcoins, but eventually they switch to real estate. It is not just the ice-skaters who think that way.


This is no different with cyclists and top swimmers. The ‘big earners’ in soccer have other financial constructions, but everyone below that level buys and rents out real estate. That provides security and peace of mind, is the prevailing opinion. Athletes shouldn’t have too much worries on their mind. If the interest rates were not this low, the money would just be stalled in a bank. Many athletes own a BV (private company, ed.) from which they pay themselves a fiscally responsible salary and from which money also houses are purchased.”

 

Pension-aware on the ice-rink

Hans Visser tells the story of a known ice-skater who managed to realize a carefree financial future without making it to the absolute top. “She took good care of her money and skated wherever she could. She never cancelled a World Cup. She was ranked in the top of the world, not often at the highest level but always part of the best. You don’t want to know how much money she managed to gather, without being part of a large team. That is pretty much at the level of a carefree future. She did what was needed on the ice-rinks with pension in the back of her mind. An exception.”


Dennis Klaster: “You should actually ask the question what an athlete considers to be pension. When it comes to pension, many athletes think about an old-age provision and as long as I have real estate, I have rent. But pension is much more than that, it can also be an investment in some education for later.”


Hans Visser: “I don’t know any athletes who put money in a pension policy. Nobody, that’s just not something they do. It’s more like: I have money in that BV, what shall I do with it? And indeed, ice-skaters all invest in real estate. But not just the ice-skaters. Top athletes in other sports also start investing in real estate.”

 

Smart sponsor deal

Dennis Klaster: “A great example. I concluded a sponsor deal with a construction company. That always revolves around the amount it should entail. Wouldn’t it be great if construction companies could just say: We build a house for an Olympic ice-skating champion? She purchases the land, that construction company will build that house for her and she then has her pension provision. Hans Visser and I then come up with a construction that is also approved by the tax authorities. Eventually two smaller houses were built. One to rent out and the other house to live in herself. In addition to the value increase, she has rental income for a lifetime.”

 

Everyone does it

Hans Visser: ”Nearly all athletes handle their money responsibly. They have to work hard to earn it and their horizon is short. I don’t know of one athlete who invests in high-risk funds. They prefer depositing their money into a bank account. No matter the 0.1 percent interest, but at least he or she knows for certain no crazy things could happen. Those athletes even consider an investment fund to be a major risk. They often don’t think about their pension yet. The horizon more often is something like: I will have something left after my career is finished. Some of them are smart and also invest in an education, but also start buying buildings early on because they hear: He or she has a building, so I need to buy another one as well. That has become more trending in recent years, but it applies to all athletes. Whether it involves swimming, sailing or ice-skating, the athletes all do it.”


Dennis Klaster: “You never know what lasts forever, but it works for them.
They also receive commercial support much earlier on in their careers. Most sports talents already have managers who are handling the commercial aspect professionally, meaning there are way less derailments than there were in the past.”

 

 

Volgende publicatie:
“Are you prepared to call your assumptions into question?”

Gerard van Olphen in response to Black Lives Matter

 

The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis has increased the global demand for joint actions in order to put an end to racism. The media and the public debate in the Netherlands have also paid a lot of attention to the subject. What is the position of APG in this discussion? Four questions to Chief Executive Officer Gerard van Olphen.

 

Is APG drawing conclusions from the developments related to Black Lives Matter?

 

“The global protests against institutional racism and police violence have caused a worldwide shock wave we cannot and will not ignore.” As an organization, we want to become more diverse and inclusive, also because we work for pension funds and their participants. We strive for an employee population reflecting the participants population of these funds and of society in general. In pursuing that objective, we want to encourage everyone at APG to be themselves and to present themselves. That is only possible when we make a statement against discrimination and work towards a culture in which inclusion is not an ambition but a reflex. A culture in which people are appreciated, regardless of cultural background, gender, and all other aspects in which people may differ from one another. As a matter of fact, we already started this development. The global social response evoked by Black Lives Matter confirms our belief that the attention for inclusion is incredibly important.”

 

Is discrimination something people within APG are affected by?

 

“It is not a theme capturing a lot of visible attention within the organization. But it would be naive to assume there is no discrimination within APG, that we do not have any people affected by it. Not everyone who is confronted with such conduct reports it - for any reason whatsoever. And not everyone who is guilty of discrimination, is aware of that fact. We all have our assumptions towards other people, sometimes even biases. That is almost inevitable. However, it is more important to ask yourself whether you are prepared to call those assumptions into question, to become aware of it and to adjust your behavior and beliefs. The subject is at least more existent, colleagues talk about it more often than they did in the past. And we also encourage colleagues to share their concerns and ideas. So we are able to show leadership that contributes to eliminating the disadvantages some people and groups have in this society, whether it involves race, gender, sexual preference or beliefs.”   

 

What are the actions APG takes to combat discrimination?

 

“We already initiated a number of initiatives in the past years in the field of Diversity & Inclusion. In the coming period, we shall work our way from valuable initiatives towards a clear D&I vision and ambition. In order to achieve this, we will engage in a number of elements. Integration of D&I into our strategy, for example, but also the creation of awareness and exemplary conduct by role models within the organization. Our approach will be data-driven and is refined based on insights from HR data & analytics. Diversity and inclusion will also be reflected more expressly in our recruitment and selection efforts, for example by working with more diverse lists of applicants and selection committees. I firmly believe in that approach.”

 

When has APG achieved that objective of being a diverse and inclusive organization?

 

“If there is anything we have learned from our conversations with other companies, it is that realizing Diversity & Inclusion requires perseverance. We still have a long way to go, but the development has started.”

Volgende publicatie:
“Crisis? We want to know what is going on with our holiday allowance”

“Crisis? We want to know what is going on with our holiday allowance”

Published on: 18 June 2020

Founder Tom Romanowski about financial platform Kandoor

 

As long as the government is still providing generous support to the millions of Dutch affected by the crisis, financial platform Kandoor has not seen a rise in work pressure yet. But it will not take long for that to change, is the opinion of founder Tom Romanowski.

The nails of the crisis are already scratching on your front door, you fear for your income, you could really use some help and you enter “Help with... In the top five of the lists of suggestions within your search engine, the keywords “low income”, “losing weight”, “debts”, “depression” and “divorce” are competing for the top position. Comforting to know you are not the only one with worries. But what to do now? The ads of financial consultancy offices are forcing their way in, while you are only looking for someone who thinks along selflessly about the loss of income, so you are able to continue.

 

Ability to continue

 

Ability to continue - Kan door! That is exactly what business expert Tom Romanowski (38) thought five years ago when pension provider APG asked him to think about a platform providing people with an answer to their financial questions. There already were plenty of questionable forums with desperate people and fortune hunters, and foreign companies were very eager to shake up the market completely. But APG was looking for something different. “Not a system with perverse incentives where others are making money out of your problem”, Romanowski says. “APG wants to contribute to a healthy financial system, a humane economy, based on helping each other. The so-called sharing economy, assisted by technology and the independent commitment of people who understand their business. It is all about trust. When you are indebted to the hilt, you do not talk about it until you really see no way out anymore and start looking for a smart uncle or friend. Someone who makes you feel safe, with whom you are able to discuss the issue after which you are able to continue.”

 

A lot of stress

 

When will I get my holiday allowance? How much money will I be paid exactly? Can I get an advance payment? Is my employer allowed to withhold that amount? “Many questions can be answered quite easily, but every question can be asked in twenty-five different ways or more”, says Romanowski. “There are users who ask a question in a few words, other users need half a page to explain their issue. That already shows how people sometimes struggle when it comes to financial matters. They also wait as long as possible, allowing the stress to rise abnormally high. The government also extends more and more responsibility to us. The communal facilities have been cut back in the past years, the labor market became more flexible and the retirement age moved up. People underestimate the financial consequences these measures have for them.”

 

Online neighbor

Of the meanwhile fifty thousand questions Kandoor receives every month, 98 percent is handled automatically by a chatbot. Questions that are too complicated or more personal are transferred by the “Kanbot”, as they call the chatbot at Kandoor, to one of the hundreds of guides. “We call our volunteers guides. Guides are experts. They include the chairs of pension funds, financial advisors, mortgage advisors and account managers. There are also many APG professionals among them. And they answer the questions in their spare time because they want to help people and at the same time to stay informed about what's going on in their field.‘
A moderator monitors if an independent consultant is not trying to get some business from the platform but that has not happened yet, according to Romanowski. “Guides also check each other’s answers to prevent people from being assisted incorrectly. It is a way for them to keep up to date with everything that is going on in their profession. A user commented: Kandoor is an online neighbor in my pocket. I was really happy with that comment as that is exactly what I was aiming to make. Someone else said: But what is the catch? There is no catch but people find that hard to believe.”

 

Increase in concerns about income
The success of Kandoor illustrates the importance of independent information, especially during the crisis at hand. Romanowski notices this from the questions asked. While three-quarters of the questions previously related to pension and taxes, he now sees more questions from sole-practitioners and employees with expiring contracts. But there is no big rush yet. “A lot of the questions are currently related to the entitlement to holiday allowance. I have witnessed an increase in concerns about income, but I do not see the sentiments on our platform like the ones on a forum such as Radar. Possibly because we do not feel the full pain yet because of the support provided by the government. But that pain will surely come.”

Harrowing cases
Kandoor is confronted with some harrowing cases though, but that has always been the case. “People who slip through the safety net, are not entitled to any form of support and who have reached rock-bottom. They are sent back and forth and eventually end up with us, feeling devastated. Despite the fact that we are not always able to help them practically, they appreciate being able to tell their story. We have experimented with a hotline to the Social Insurance Bank, but things have been made so complicated in the Netherlands that there is no person ultimately responsible for every problem.”

The engagement must be increased
Finances: it is not something we are enthused about. But Romanowski refuses to give up the fight. He aims to do more than just offering ad hoc first line support, he wants to be ahead of distress and help people structurally to get their financial planning in order. Even more so: he wants to make finances more fun.

“Or maybe not fun but engaging. The engagement must be increased. The health care industry has already succeeded pretty well with apps and suchlike. Checking out the pedometer every day, we are already more proactive than we used to be. Having people monitor their financial health will be a lot more difficult, but wouldn’t it be great if everybody starts monitoring his/her financial life-planning as of the age of eighteen? Of course, you have a lot less influence on your income, pension and investments than on daily exercise and the composition of your meal, but if we make it extremely accessible and reduce the process to small steps, maybe, just maybe you will enjoy it someday. This crisis could potentially be the time to add some discipline to your financial life.”

Great deal of knowledge
The guides of Kandoor are meanwhile doing what they do best: helping people move forward. They may be facing some busy times, especially if they are well versed in dismissal law and debt rescheduling. “They have not joined us to handle monotonous questions. They have a great deal of knowledge and experience and want to use this to help the people who need it the most. Well, this will be their time to shine.”

Any questions about financial matters? Pay a visit to www.kandoor.nl

Volgende publicatie:
"Our ability to change is considerably larger than we thought"

"Our ability to change is considerably larger than we thought"

Published on: 12 June 2020

How do three top managers in Dutch business deal with the company- and personal challenges that the global corona crisis poses for themselves and the organization?

 

What insights has the crisis yielded so far, what does Activity Based Working mean for the organization and what will these managers take into account in the much-discussed 'new normal'?

 

These questions were at the heart of a virtual roundtable on leadership in crisis time with directors from different sectors. Board member Annette Mosman was one of them.

 

Read the full article (Dutch) in Management Scope.

 

Photography: ABN AMRO / Maartje Geels / APG

Volgende publicatie:
"Search for young people in places where they often come"

"Search for young people in places where they often come"

Published on: 28 January 2020

For a day, Salma Ahabbat was in charge of APG. As Tomorrow’s Leader 2020 (Baas van Morgen), the 14-year-old MAVO student took place last week in the chair of Francine van Dierendonck, member of the board of directors. She helped think about how the subject of pensions can be made more interesting for young people. Before that, Salma visited a number of teams that are all working with participant communication: Marketing Intelligence, De Groeifabriek, the Customer Contact Center and Webcare.

 

With her critical and fresh look, she let APG people look at their own work through the eyes of a 14-year-old. Salma: “Look for young people in the places where they naturally come a lot and let them get acquainted with the subject of pensions. For example at bus stops, because we travel a lot by public transport. ”She also gave tips on how APG can use social media even better.

Looking back, Salma is happy that she participated. "It was a fun, educational day. I am happy that as one of 350 students throughout the Netherlands, I had the opportunity to look into the kitchen of a large company. So I could see at close quarters how things work in a company and I could ask questions. " Salma had imagined the atmosphere at APG very differently. "I expected it to be boring and old-fashioned. But it was just the opposite."

 

Francine found Salma very self-assured and spontaneous. "What touched me was that she said" I want to work in healthcare, because then I can help other people." That is in line with what we at APG consider important." The visit to APG has ensured that Salma is now choosing a different career. "I would like to have the same position as Francine, so a member of the board of directors. That is also a way of caring for people, but on a different level."

 

Tomorrow’s Leader is an annual project from JINC to help children who can use a helping hand with a fair chance on the labor market. Francine: “By participating I hope to show Salma and other children, boys and certainly also girls, and believe that the world is at their feet. Always stay curious, keep playing, keep learning and always dream much bigger than you had ever dared!”

Volgende publicatie:
APG will reward female employees equally

APG will reward female employees equally

Published on: 22 May 2019

Equal work will be rewarded equally at APG. More than 125 female employees of the pension delivery organization have received a letter today stating that from 1 June their salary will be brought to the same level of male colleagues with similar positions, experience and years of service.

 

APG conducted a study across the APG offices in the Netherlands. The study shows that women at APG in The Netherlands, receive an average 2.2% less salary at APG. More than 125 female employees will receive a salary increase on June 1. That is 13% of the total number of female employees. For the remaining 87% of women working at APG, there is no difference in pay with comparable male employees. APG employs around 3,000 employees, including 960 women.

The higher remuneration of this group of employees with an unequal salary is achieved within the existing budget of APG.

 

Marloes Sengers, HR director at APG: “At APG we stand for equal pay for equal work, which is why we rectify this today. The difference in remuneration will also be solved by us in a sustainable way: financially and with additional attention to managers and employees. In this way we prevent repetition in the future and we tackle the causes of the unequal pay in a sustainable and fundamental way.”

Volgende publicatie:
APG and BF+DA: Pledge to Improve Human Rights in Apparel Sector

APG and BF+DA: Pledge to Improve Human Rights in Apparel Sector

Published on: 6 December 2018

APG and BF+DA (Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator) introduce the Brooklyn Pledge to Accelerate Change, named after the location of an inspiring event with apparel companies, investors and stakeholders which spawned the pledge. This pledge is intended to address human rights within the supply chain of the apparel sector. “The apparel industry accounts for 2% of the world’s GDP and employs 60?75 million workers worldwide. Unfortunately, this industry is still characterized by poor working conditions, i.e. unsafe workplaces and underpaid workers. Improving this is one of the thematic engagements for APG, but also for ABP and bpfBOUW, some of the pension funds APG provides Asset Management services to,” says Anna Pot, manager responsible investments at APG US.

 

57 recommendations

The pledge is part of a whitepaper that lists 57 recommendations to improve human rights and sustainability within the industry, for example through transparency in reporting, empowering employees, adjusting sourcing programs, building consumer awareness and demand for more sustainable clothes. The recommendations are 57 concrete actions defined by the professionals and experts who attended the ‘Connecting Finance and Sustainability: A dialogue towards action on human rights in the apparel sector’ event in September at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. APG and BF+DA now lead the call on apparel companies investors and stakeholders to pledge action on one more of the recommendations from the list.

 

Making progress

“Of course, APG needs to walk the talk. We focus primarily on making and keeping sustainability top of mind for the boards of companies that we invest in. We talk to senior management of relevant companies about their sustainability agenda and progress in the implementation. Between 2015 and 2018, we have corresponded, spoken on the phone and met with 19 apparel companies. As a result, overall brands and retailers have strengthened their procurement policies and audits, and some have limited the number of suppliers. We also ask for more transparency about where and how clothes are made, so consumers can make educated decisions. As of November 2018 an organization called Fashion Revolution counts 172 brands and retail chains that have published their supplier list on their website. More investors calling for transparency will help get this number up,” explains Anna.

 

Partnerships in the US

She continues: “Sustainability has become a more and more mainstream discussion in much of Europe, whereas companies and investors in the US are still finding their footing on this topic. We partner with respected US institutes like BF+DA to catapult the discussion here into more mainstream forums. My personal target for next year is to speak about sustainability in the apparel sector at US investor conference outside the ‘sustainability bubble’. Somewhere where this topic is not yet top of mind, but needs to be!”

 

BF+DA is a hub for ethical fashion and design located in New York. One of its key aims is to increase the level of sustainability within the apparel sector.