“Education around money issues is dismal”

Published on: 29 March 2023

Who are these people who consciously choose to work in the pension sector? What do they do for your pension all day long? And what do they like about their work? We like to take you behind the scenes. During this Money Week, a special episode with Richard Coonen (53), who works for Geldvinder at APG. “Young people are mainly concerned with the short-term.”


What exactly is Geldvinder?

“Geldvinder is an online ‘financial fitness platform’, as we call it, for those who want to work on their personal financial fitness. It is an initiative by APG that we started three years ago. Employers affiliated with APG can support their employees with using this. Geldvinder is useful for all ages: from young people just starting work to older employees approaching retirement.”


What is your role with Geldvinder?

“Along with the coworkers in my team, my role is to optimally support the employers that use Geldvinder - which includes APG - to support activating as many employees as possible to begin working on financial fitness. Currently, that includes some 25 employers, spread across various sectors, such as municipalities, provinces, education, energy and cleaning. At the other end, I am responsible for serving new employers who come to us. I lead a team of four coworkers involved in business development as well as marketing and communications in doing this. Every day, we contribute to APG’s social goal of helping as many people as possible to get financially fit and stay that way.”


When is someone considered to be “financially fit”?

“Our definition of that is that you have enough financial room to make some choices for yourself. That’s what we call action perspective. And that you always have a buffer for minor emergencies, like, for example, a broken washing machine. Financial fitness also includes not having heavy debts that you won’t be able to repay.”


It is currently Money Week, when primary and secondary schools are working with the theme “Control the Bling”. What can you say about the younger generation and their financial fitness? Do they handle money differently than older employees?

“We are seeing that many young people have a hard time planning. As soon as they have some money, the temptation is to spend it immediately. I also notice this with my own children, who are 21, 19 and 16. When you’re young, you often have relatively few financial obligations. So, when you work, there is usually quite a bit left over to live on. Young people mainly look at what they need or what’s important to them now. My 16-year-old son and his peers are very sensitive to material things. Branded clothes, games. They are not really concerned with saving for later, let alone retirement. Often it is the parents who have put away some money for them for driver’s licenses and/or education.”

Which generation is best off financially?

“Each stage of life has its own financial challenges. Young people are quite well off financially, but can hardly buy a house anymore. And once you live together and have children, you have to be very careful with your spending, because children are very expensive. Once you are retired, other issues come into play. My parents are in their late seventies and have financial resources, but they don’t know what limitations they might face in the future and what implications that might have. How you handle your money is a topic that never ends. That makes it very relevant.”


What should young people pay attention to in order to be financially fit?

“What strikes me is that the generation now entering the job market thinks very differently than mine about work-life balance. All my younger colleagues on the Geldvinder team work four days a week or less. Work is not necessarily their main priority; they don’t live to work; they work to live. I do think that is a healthy attitude. At the same time, such a choice has consequences for your income and for your pension. It has to come from somewhere. You can’t work little and have everything. I have regular discussions about this with my kids and younger colleagues. I think it’s very important for young people to realize that what goes out has to come in somewhere. And it is good to not only pay attention to today, but also to have some kind of plan you can work towards.”


What do you think of the education around money issues?

“It’s dismal. In general, young people don’t learn much about that in school. I know from my kids that in high school they had a few lessons about income and expenses, and that was the first time they got any sense of it. As far as I’m concerned, more attention should be given to this. Money Week is a step in the right direction.”


What is your background?

“I have always been concerned with the human factor within organizations and everything related to it. That is also what I got my degree in, in HR Sciences. I am also a certified coach, executive team coach and trainer. During my career I have worked for various organizations, from large multinationals, such as Deloitte, IBM and Shell, to SMEs and start-ups - always at the intersection of people and organizations. To me, working with human behavior, the organization of people and especially their development, is very fascinating and valuable.”


Quite diverse. How did you end up at APG?

“APG approached me eight years ago. I thought it would be great to work for APG because of the social role the organization plays. Away from the ‘tough’ commercial environment where it’s all about making money, and instead helping people towards a good pension. That was a conscious choice. Another factor was that at that time I had three young children, one of whom has Asperger’s Syndrome. Before I started working at APG, I frequently had to travel abroad, which caused a lot of upheaval. I was ready for more stability and an organization rooted in the Netherlands without hard commercial targets.”


Weren’t you afraid you’d be terribly bored in a job in the pension sector?

“No, not really, because we have such diverse areas of expertise within APG, and certain parts that focus particularly on innovation and new business development for the benefit of pension participants. That is what’s interesting to me. The pension industry has a stuffy image to some people, but the innovations that we have to implement both on the front and back end to deal efficiently and smartly with systems and processes are very interesting. How you reach people, the communication side, also appeals to me. Recent research showed that some people find thinking about retirement even less appealing than taking out the trash - so how can you make that topic a little more current and interesting? To me, that is a fascinating problem to solve.”


Wat motivates you?

“Helping people is at the forefront of my mind. Being a pension administrator doesn’t sound very sexy, but our work has much more impact than many other professions and sectors. I notice that it is increasingly important to me to contribute something to society in some way. I want my work to matter. At the beginning of your career, earning money and making a career are more in the foreground, but that is no longer the case with me.”


What do you do in your spare time?

“You can often find me walking on the Hilversum Heide with Blanca, our white shepherd. I love walking in nature, alone or with others. It often leads to good conversations. I also spend a lot of time with my family. Three weeks ago, I spent a weekend with my daughter Charlotte (19) in Hamburg and last weekend I was in the Ardennes with my sons Vincent (21) and Alexander (16). At times like that, the subject of money also comes up. For now, Dad is still paying for almost everything, but eventually they will really have to fend for themselves.”


How are pension participants affected by your work?

“You should think of this financial fitness test as a financial MOT, showing you how you are doing financially. You will gain insight into your income and expenses, your assets and any debts, your buffer and risks. And, of course, your pension is also covered. We find that after doing the test, people realize that they know very little about their pension. We can then guide them to their pension fund through personal ‘routes’ and ‘actions’. In this way, we activate participants to delve into the subject more deeply. I think that’s important. We also help participants to realize that it’s not just about pensions, but that you have to look at the total picture if you want to be financially fit.”