She is a dermatologist as well as a pension administrator. Those two roles have a lot in common, says Amber Goedkoop, the new CEO of SPMS, the pension fund for independent medical specialists. “The medical and pension worlds touch each other, which is fascinating to me.”
When Amber Goedkoop gives an interview, it is usually about the dangers of skin cancer, due to too much and too frequent exposure to the sun. In recent years, for example, she has told women’s weekly magazine Margriet and the Jeugdjournaal how best to protect our skin from the sun. (We repeat it here once again: apply, apply and re-apply sunscreen - even to the tip of the nose, ears and lips). “Skin cancer is becoming more and more common and that worries me,” she says from the St. Antonius Hospital in Utrecht, where she is a dermatologist.
Talking about her medical profession is a lot easier for Dr. Goedkoop than talking about her role as the brand-new CEO (as of March 1, 2023) of SPMS, the pension fund for the 18,000 independent medical specialists, she laughs. But she is willing, because the financial health of her fellow professionals - now and in the future - is also close to her heart. “As a young specialist, retirement seemed very far in the distance; it was something I had never dealt with it. Only once I started looking into it did I see its importance: not only for myself and my colleagues, but also in a social sense. Incidentally, I also see a lot of common ground with the healthcare sector.”
What parallels do you experience between your roles as a physician and pension administrator?
“As a doctor, you talk a lot with patients: what is the problem, what treatment can we choose for it, and what are its advantages and disadvantages? You’re always weighing the options, always keeping the patient’s best interests in mind. And as a pension administrator, you’re basically doing the same thing. In that role, you also listen to participants and weigh all the interests against each other, ultimately arriving at financially sound choices in pension policy that you then communicate clearly. So, the medical and pension worlds touch each other, which is fascinating to me.”
SPMS is a mandatory pension fund. As independents, are medical specialists not capable of providing for their own pensions?
“Sure they are, but there are many advantages to mandatory membership in a professional pension fund. First of all, it is more favorable fiscally. Also, as a fund, we can get better investment returns because we have more scale and can invest in different categories than private investors. Plus, the costs and risks of asset management are shared. The majority of our participants see the added value of this; there is a lot of support for mandatory membership. For example, eighty percent of independent medical specialists are members of our professional association, even though only sixty percent is required for a mandatory pension scheme.”
Don’t younger specialists prefer to manage their pensions themselves?
“It’s true that they are sometimes more skeptical than older participants about mandatory pension schemes. When you finish your training as a specialist, you’re usually around 35. At that age, a number of life events come together: you start a family, you buy a house near the hospital where you settle, and you buy into a partnership. So, a number of things come together financially as well. If, in addition to your mortgage and all the other expenses, you also have to pay your pension contributions every month, that can be quite challenging. Young specialists also sometimes say: why can’t I just invest for the future myself? We therefore want to enter into more discussions with them in the near future: explain what we have to offer them as a fund and find out what they expect from us. But often the subject of pensions doesn’t appeal to young specialists. However, the returns are greatest if you start building up a pension early and consider in good time whether you need to take additional measures for a healthy financial future.”
How do you try to get participants - young and old - more interested in their pensions?
“In our communications, too, it is especially challenging to reach younger specialists. We are looking for all kinds of new ways to better convey the message to our participants. For example, we have now switched to paperless communication; everything is going digital. We also recently started putting the fund’s financial performance and, for example, the sustainability report, on LinkedIn to appeal to people’s wider interests.”
Medical specialists are highly educated; do they understand their UPO right away?
“Being highly educated does not mean that you immediately understand complex pension issues. So even for this group, you have to write it down comprehensibly and explain it well. As a fund, we also employ financial planners who can advise people about their financial situation and their pension choices, free of charge. We feel that this is part of our duty of care. This will certainly be important later, when we switch to the new pension system. But we would actually prefer to talk to every new entrant into the fund right away: how do you make sure that your finances are in order for now and for the future? The financial planners act as our ears and eyes for the executive board. Another thing that helps is the Meeting of Delegates. It includes about seventy medical specialists from all hospitals and independent clinics, both active and retired. These seventy people have all received thorough pension training and act as a solid bridge to our members.”