Who are those people choosing to work in the pension industry? What is it they do all day for your pension? And do they truly enjoy their work? We take you with us to have a look behind the scenes.
Julian Steenman (26) is quant portfolio manager at APG. “People wrongly assume that a quant is a numb machine who is programming all day sitting behind a monitor.”
What does the work of a quant portfolio manager entail?
“A portfolio manager manages an investment portfolio. I work within the real estate team and participate in managing a real estate portfolio of APG.”
OK, and what is a quant?
“Quant stands for quantitative. It is a rather broad and vague concept in the investment world but in general, a quant is someone who looks at potential investments in a model-based and mathematical way. We try to explain the things happening on the stock exchange by means of mathematical relations, and cause and effect. In addition, we try to make sensible statements on what the future will hold. The field I am involved in specifically, is systemizing the investment process within the real estate team.”
How does that work?
“What we do within the real estate team, simply put, is answering the question: Do we want to invest in this? with either Yes or No. And ‘this’ can be a hotel for instance. The answer is always based on substantiated arguments and convictions. A large part can be standardized. We are working on a type of decision tree which has the question whether or not to invest at the top and that works its way down to more detailed information on why we should or shouldn't. By systemizing the process that way, you make sure everyone has to go through the same steps when making decisions. It also makes it easier to compare those decisions with one and other.”
How does one become such quant?
“If you studied mathematics or econometrics, the label ‘quant’ is easily applied. I studied mathematics at the university and gradually found out my interest for the financial world.”
Yet, ‘the financial world’ sounds a bit flashier than ‘the pension industry’. How did you end up at APG?
“I never really thought about the pension industry to be honest, but accidently ended up at APG to write my graduation thesis. APG is the largest asset manager in the Netherlands; that scale and complexity cannot be found anywhere else. I enjoyed it here so much that I decided to stay. So, I did a two years’ traineeship and have been working in this new job since October.”
And, no regrets yet about the choice you made?
“Absolutely not, I have definitely made the right choice.”
What do you love so much about this job?
“Multiple things. I consider the investment process a challenging, interesting puzzle. I also very much enjoy concretely contributing to the process itself, in together making sure that it gets increasingly easier to compare why we invest in hotel A and not in hotel B. That makes the process better to explain and also more transparent. And it's a pleasing plus that we serve a public interest. Yes, we are busy making money and we want to realize that by means of investments, but there also is an idea behind the reason. We do this to make sure the people will be receiving sufficient pension payments. I enjoy contributing to that goal, although that wasn't the initial reason for me to choose the pension industry. It's still nice not to be called a money-grabber.”
What drives you in your work?
“The fact that we invest for the pension of millions of people. That is quite different at many other asset managers where you try to earn money for a small number of millionaires. When I chose to write my thesis at APG, that wasn't my main motivation but I started to identify more and more with the missions of APG throughout the years. APG is a leading company within the financial industry in terms of responsible investing, for example. Sustainability is important to me as well. I became a vegetarian a couple of years ago for environmental reasons. What drives me specifically in my work is unravelling that extremely complicated process involved in making an investment decision. And then to come up with smart, quantitative solutions gives me great satisfaction.”