“The pension sector still has a long way to go when it comes to prioritizing customer awareness”

Published on: 7 June 2021

“Do you work in the pension sector? Wow, that sounds exciting ... (but not really).” There are more than enough preconceptions about working for a pension fund or administrator. However, these may not be entirely correct, as illustrated by a series of portraits of people working in pensions every day. One of these is Roel Broen (36), the marketing manager responsible for marketing the ABP and PWRI pension funds. “It is precisely because our participants aren’t entitled to choose their pension fund that we attach so much value to customer satisfaction.”



You have been working at APG for eleven years now. Does that mean that you know all the ins and outs of the pension sector?

“Not really, to be honest. I’d rather not know them, even. In my professional field, marketing and communication, you need to retain a fresh gaze to boost your creativity. If I were to dig deeper into all the intricacies of the pension sector, I would probably no longer be capable of bringing across the message in a way that can be understood every layperson.”


Together with the communications manager, you lead a team of around 40 marketing professionals, communication specialists, and strategists. What is it exactly that you do?
“This can vary from a relatively minor task like compiling a message about a topical item for our public website to setting up a large-scale campaign, such as the ABP Reality Check, which was launched by Queen Máxima. Communication with our employees – and with our pension participants on their behalf – is also included our package of tasks. I, in turn, supervise the team and offer them an environment in which they feel safe and comfortable. Additionally, I make sure they remember who they are working for, because the satisfaction of our participants and their employers is our foremost concern. This is my first managerial position, by the way, and a wonderful development opportunity.”

A long way to go

Does this task make your marketing heart beat faster?
“Yes. When I was hired here as a trainee, I never heard anyone use terms like ‘customer focus’ or ‘innovation’. These have now become the key themes in our approach. From this perspective, APG is like a candy store to me.”


Wouldn’t you secretly prefer to work at one of those trendy marketing agencies?
“Selling a can of beer does seem a bit easier to me, and definitely not as complicated. But helping a retired person actively manage his or her pension is a lot more interesting. This sector makes a contribution to society. Every employed person in the Netherlands puts one fifth of their weekly earnings toward their pension, so that they can lead an enjoyable life later on with peace of mind. On the other hand, when you see how few people in the Netherlands are giving their pensions any thought at all, this can also be alarming. Did you know that 70 percent of people in the country haven't given their pension a moment’s thought? That’s a huge percentage! There are so many people who know nothing about the Pensioenwet [Pensions Act], when they will receive their pension, or what their options in respect of this. In this sector, we assume that they know about three times as much about their pensions than they actually do – which is practically nothing. We really need to reduce this 70 percent to 30 or even 40. Or 0, if at all possible. Because it’s not just about your future income; it’s all about the bigger picture, which extends to your health and lifestyle. What’s important to us is helping people make informed choices. We want to act as a guide to them. And we really have a long way to go in this respect.”

Enough challenges for you to deal with?
“Certainly. I want the reputation of our funds to grow stronger. Every participant, every consumer holds certain expectations with regard to the services they receive from a bank or insurer. And this applies equally to a pension fund. We want to offer a solid customer experience.”

How important is that for a pension fund that people are obligated to join?
“That makes it even more challenging, because we are actually behind in this game with a score of 1-0, so to speak. Customer satisfaction is so important to us precisely because our participants don’t get to choose their pension fund. Pension funds need to become more customer-oriented.”

Confidence in the pension sector has been dropping considerably among participants for quite some time. How do you deal with that?
“This is a challenge facing the entire sector, and something we should take very seriously indeed. Putting the participant first, transparency, and offering support when this is needed most are all things that will help restore confidence in us. We need to keep the customer’s perspective in mind in everything we do, no matter how difficult this may be. In addition to this, we need to enter into the dialog with them, particularly on more difficult topics such as responsible investment. We support funds and help them with this. But this is a slow process. Confidence is gained in inches, not miles.”

APG is like a candy store to me


If you were to work anywhere else, where would this be?
“I very quickly feel at home in larger organizations that deal with complex issues and have an impact on society. So that would have to be a bank, insurer, or funeral provider. Take DELA, for example. They are very good at putting emotion into rational and functional matters. This makes things more tangible for the consumer. Their campaign, with the message ‘Why wait to tell someone how much they mean to you if you do it today?’ has made many people think.”

Do people try to avoid you at parties when you tell them that you work in pensions?
“That depends on the party. People aren’t as interested in what you do in the soccer club cafeteria. They just laugh about what they call ‘money grubbers’. That’s the image these sectors have, after all. On the other hand, at parties with my friends from college we have in-depth discussions about the sector and the marketing and communications profession. The pension sector really isn’t that different. Many companies share our challenges: How do you deal with data, how do you ensure satisfactory customer experience, how do you transform an organization in terms of digitization, how do you activate people, how do you define an organization’s image more clearly?”