“We always say: compliance is really for everyone”

Published on: 5 September 2022

Who are these people who consciously choose to work in the pension sector? What do they do all day for your pension? And what do they like about their work? We take you behind the scenes. Sara van den Bleeken (35) is a Senior Compliance Officer. “We promote that everything we do at APG complies with laws and regulations and is in the interests of our clients and pension participants.”


What does a compliance officer do?

“Together with my team, I deal with integrity within the organization in the broadest sense of the word. This includes supervision of compliance with laws and regulations and their interpretation, as well as the professionalism and integrity of the employees themselves. For example, we advise on avoiding conflicts of interest and, when outsourcing services, we ensure that the organizations we do business with are not guilty of criminal activities such as money laundering. In addition, we do risk analysis and risk management. In short, it comes down to promoting that everything we do at APG complies with laws and regulations and is in the interests of our clients and pension participants. But ultimately, we do it together. We always say: compliance is not only part of the compliance department, but really for everyone. Yes, we contribute to it, but everyone who works at APG has an important role to play in maintaining the APG's good reputation and confidence in the company.”


What does your average workday look like?

“Within the team we have different focus areas. For example, I am less involved with employee integrity, but focus mainly on the integrity related to the products and services APG provides. Currently I am particularly busy with all kinds of things related to the upcoming pension transition. My workdays mostly consist of consultations with coworkers about current issues, things we are developing or things that may not have gone well.”


How did you end up at APG?

“Before I started at APG in February, I worked as a supervisor at AFM, the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets for over eight years. That is the last station, so to speak, in terms of behavioral supervision of the financial markets. It was extremely interesting, but I wanted to be just one step ahead of that. Not to act only after things have been implemented, but to be able to steer and intervene earlier. That’s why I made the switch to APG. Because in the compliance department, that is exactly what we do. Through the advice we give, we can really have an impact on what happens.”


Isn’t your work boring?

“No, I really enjoy it. What particularly appeals to me is the diversity. You’re not responsible for one specific focus area, but you collaborate in the entire width of the company. Very challenging and interesting.”


What makes it so interesting?

“The pension world is in a state of flux. The sector is on the eve of a major transition. That brings with it many challenges which we, with the entire team, are focusing on now and in the years ahead. The profession of compliance officer also continues to evolve. People sometimes think that in this role you only tick boxes for legislation and regulations, but it is much broader, if only because of new technologies and possibilities. Within compliance, we are increasingly preparing ourselves for a digital future, which data analyses and real-time monitoring are part of. But the social context is also changing. That requires a different perspective. You also have to constantly think for yourself whether what we are doing is the right thing. What was seen as ethical ten years ago, we may now consider to be completely unacceptable. It’s precisely this dynamic environment that makes the work interesting. Both the pension world and the compliance profession are still developing and far from crystallized.”

When you’re at a party, what do you say about your work?

“I mostly talk about how much I love working for the biggest pension administrator in the Netherlands and contributing to a good pension for Dutch people. I think often people don’t understand exactly what I do, but they do find it interesting to hear what’s involved and how big the interests are. That appeals to the imagination.” 


What do you do in your spare time?

“I love being outdoors. I live near the beach and I often go there with my two-and-a half-year-old daughter. I also go for bike rides quite often and since recently, I’ve been spending time on the water. I enjoy having people around me. Drinks with friends, good food and cooking.”


What character traits do you have that make you the right person for this job?

“I am critical and curious, which are qualities that come in handy in this work. I always want to know exactly how something works and I put out my feelers to hear and see everything. In this job you also have to be able to think analytically and dare to take initiative. To do your job well, it is also important that you can communicate well. Because what you have seen, you must also be able to convey in a convincing, connecting manner. If these are character traits, I think I have them.”


What gives you satisfaction in your work?

“It is very satisfying to me when I feel like I can make a difference in some way. For many people, pensions are not really on their radar, even though almost everyone is accruing them. If it’s not in order, it takes a long time to find out. That makes it all the more important that all parties in the sector do their work well. I think it’s great to be able to contribute to older people having a good pension. Ultimately, that’s also good for the Netherlands. That social component is one of the reasons why this work attracts me so much. Because of APG’s size, what we do here really matters.”


What do pension participants notice about your work?

“If we do our job well, pension members can be confident that their pension is good and that their interests are being acted upon. In a perfect world my work would be redundant. But human behavior is not always perfect. Everyone can overlook something from time to time. As compliance officers, we try to be the sidelight, to get to the best possible end result. That is very important, because if we are not compliant, it can lead to reputational damage and loss of clients or harm to their pension participants. What we do, we do for them.”