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

Published on: 11 January 2022

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


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

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


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

“Yes, that's correct.”


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

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


What is it you enjoy about your work?

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


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

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


Why did you decide to opt for APG?

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


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

What do you tell people about your work at parties?

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


What does your workday look like?

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


When does your department move into action?

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


What are the questions you receive most frequently?

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


That doesn't seem like the most challenging work.

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


What is it that gives you satisfaction?

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


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

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


What else do you do in your daily life?

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

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

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


And, are they allowed?