Smart ideas for a better service

Published on: 13 August 2020

Voice machines, facial recognition and predicting questions


Times are changing and pensions change along with it. While the pension system is radically revolutionized, the developments in service provision are also moving on. What is the role of innovation in this process?

Chris Veerkamp of the GroeiFabriek, the ‘breeding ground’ of APG, elaborates on the way in which they help pension participants move forward by using advanced technologies.


Pension participants living abroad, every year have to prove they are still alive. These days, they sometimes have to go to the embassy in order to fulfil that process where they have to identify themselves and are given a signed form that has to be sent to the pension fund. Time-consuming and cumbersome. There had to be an easier way to accomplish this, APG suspected, and the GroeiFabriek and a team from the organization came up with a solution. That solution was an app pension participants are able to use to identify themselves by means of facial recognition. An experiment with this solution turned out to be a success and is now being implemented within APG.



“A small solution with a major effect for that target group”, says Chris Veerkamp, one of the three Business Innovation Managers within the GroeiFabriek. In that position, Veerkamp is responsible for inventing several solutions for both pension participants and employers. “We always start with a problem experienced by the target group. What is the best solution for that problem? We explore new and innovative ways to, for example, improve the service provision and customer satisfaction. It all starts with an idea, after which we investigate during a period of experiment whether it is feasible and what we need to execute that idea in concrete terms.”



The GroeiFabriek tries to improve the service provision in smart ways. Of an entirely different nature is the deployment of a voice machine the GroeiFabriek is working on right now. That voice machine has to enable APG to develop new solutions with voice control. An example could be for pension participants to be able to ask questions to their smart speaker (like a Google Home) instead of to an agent of the customer service. Such device can also be implemented at employers, if they want to know for instance how many of their employees will retire in the next five years. Instead of wrestling through all kinds of reports, an employer only has to ask the question to the device after which a response is given immediately.



“We make ideas concrete, one step at a time,” Veerkamp says. “We continuously ask: Is this possible, does that fit, is that working? We constantly check whether we are still on the right track and always with the target group: Is this what we want to solve, is this the way we want to do it, do you think that’s fitting? Would that help you? And are we able, as APG, to execute this? If the answer to one of those questions is No, we stop.” As with all experiments, not all of them are successful. There once was an idea for a dating app to combat loneliness amongst the elderly, but that idea never took root. The idea to let people get used to pension savings by saving small amounts at daily purchases, was also parked after an initial phase. “If you are dealing with innovation, you must experiment as much as possible and also hear from our target group as soon as possible that you are doing the wrong thing. That may sound strange, but that is how you learn. If a solution appears not to be fitting or feasible, you just have to stop.”



Once a project is completed - whether or not successful - the GroeiFabriek proceeds to yet another possible solution. Another experiment that is now conducted involves the call center. “Based on all data gathered from the conversations held, there is a smart way to make connections with algorithms”, Veerkamp explains. “This results in us being able to predict what someone’s next question will be. Call center agents are now shown a tool stating what a customer is likely to ask. Then they are prepared for it and provide better assistance to the customer.”



The GroeiFabriek also collaborates quite often with third parties, such as universities and colleges, says Veerkamp. “By doing things together with others, you gain new insights and obtain different knowledge. That sometimes works better than doing it yourself and on your own.”


The new pension system also brings new challenges. Take the lumpsum, for instance, included in the agreement. People who retire are allowed in the future to withdraw 10 percent of their pension payment at once as a lumpsum. “That is a new choice people will be facing, in addition to matters such as the high/low construction or early retirement. The choice process is already difficult at the moment and the level of difficulty will only increase. That is an issue we will dedicate our attention to. When that time comes, what new problems will arise or what problems become bigger? And what kind of solutions could and should we develop to address these issues? We want to respond to those problems proactively.”


Look ahead

It is simply not an option not to innovate, according to Veerkamp. “APG is the largest pension service provider in the Netherlands. The world is changing rapidly and the standard for customer experiences is developing along with it. The new laws and regulations also entail many changes in the pension industry. We must look ahead to be able to move along with the developments in order to offer customers at least the same level of service compared to the service providers people know from products and services other than pension. It is better to anticipate than to respond. Innovation enables us to see on time what is needed tomorrow and translate that to the present.”