“My recommendations matter. I’m proud of that”

Published on: 17 June 2021

“You work in the pension sector? Wow, exciting...” There are plenty of preconceptions 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. Like Jan Bonenkamp, who works as an expert strategist at APG Asset Management (AM). “Our investment strategies must provide the participant with a good pension.”


What does an expert strategist do at APG?

“I make recommendations to pension funds - ABP in particular - on their strategic investment policy. For example, should they invest more or less in risky investments? To do this, I create all kinds of possible scenarios based on model calculations. What could the economy do? What impact could changes have? What impact will that have on the coverage ratios? Or on the likelihood that pensions may be increased or will have to be reduced?”


You do that by yourself?

“No, I work with a whole team of strategists. Everyone has their own role and expertise. We also consult a lot with coworkers from other departments. We need their input, for example, to be able to create economic scenarios and realistic proposals for investment policy.”


What do you like about doing that?

“I enjoy finding solutions to complex problems. You look at them from various perspectives, make connections. The combination of being analytical and being able to explain the story behind the calculations is interesting and challenging. The fact that I have to deal with many different parties makes it dynamic. Every day is different.”

“I enjoy finding solutions to complex problems”

But do you know in the morning what you’re going to do that day?

“That turns out surprising sometimes.  Like now: we’ve just delivered analyses that our pension funds will be meeting about this week. At the last minute we receive requests to look at some extra variants for certain themes. Then you push everything aside to respond to that.”


Are you also playing a part in the design of the new pension contract?

“Yes, I’ve been working on that quite a bit in the last few years.”


What was your role in it?

“Primarily consulting with various ministries, social partners, regulators, other implementing organizations, scientists. In fact, with the entire pension field. At the beginning of last year, for example, the discussion about the new pension contract reached a dead end. There was a kind of stalemate with the social partners. The Ministry of Social Affairs then made a request: ‘These are the wishes of all parties: can a solution be devised that meets all these conditions?’ We then worked out a contract proposal with a small group of experts. Then, of course, came the political process. Because everyone has an opinion about the new pension system. But I’m not involved with that part.”


You talk to policymakers, implementers. Never with participants?

“No, I have no direct relationship with them. But the wishes and needs of participants do seep through to the strategic team via the pension fund. Of course, we are primarily focused on collective solutions. But we are careful not to submit proposals that might cause problems for individual groups. It’s always a balancing act between different considerations. That’s what makes it fascinating. It’s rare for a proposal to turn out well on all fronts.”

Is your circle of acquaintances also captivated by your profession?

“That depends. If I tell someone at a party what I do, I notice that they are usually not very excited about it. It’s not something they can relate to. At my sons’ soccer club, other parents don’t have much affinity with it either. That’s fine. But many friends and fellow students have the same background as me. They like what I do. And they understand why it interests me. When they change jobs, they sometimes ask me to look at their pension plans.”


I’m curious: how did you end up in the pension industry?

“It just kind of happened. After studying economics, I got a job at the Central Planning Bureau. At one point they were looking for someone who could estimate pension premiums for the estimates of the Dutch economy. Nobody wanted to; pensions were not a hot topic. So, I decided to do it on the side. That was before 2000, a time when the economy was doing well. Then came a number of crises, as a result of which pensions became increasingly important. I also started to enjoy my work more and more and it grew into a day job. After that, I got a job at APG.”


And now you go home happy every night?

“I get a lot of energy from my work. It has meaning; it helps people.  A pension fund board makes a decision based on a proposal from our team. I’m also proud that I was able to contribute to a national discussion that had been stuck for ten years, and that afterwards there was a concrete bill. That’s satisfying. It means that your work doesn’t disappear into a desk drawer.”

“Pensions are sensitive to financial uncertainties. You shouldn't keep up the pretense that things will always work out”

Are you also proud of the bill itself?


“Yes, although I also see some snags. It remains a challenge to sufficiently preserve the strong points of the current system - the solidarity, the collectivity. I do believe it can be done. The new pension system is more transparent. It increases awareness that there are also risks associated with pension investments. I think that’s a good thing. Pensions are sensitive to financial uncertainties. You shouldn’t keep up the pretense that things will always work out. To protect participants, we must devise policies that take those risks into account as much as possible. So that they do not end up in undesirable situations. Everything we do must lead to a good pension for the participant. That’s what it’s all about.”