Rolf, our chairman of trustees is having a reception to mark his 30 years working for Wasserdicht. An engineer by profession, he was worked for us all over the world and has many stories to tell about the company, its people and projects through the decades.
And he does not hold back in telling them. As I arrive, he is holding court with some of the senior management, and is deep in animated conversation about a water project in southern Africa in the 80s. The mood is good, which takes everyone’s mind off the uncertainties of the world and the upcoming elections here in the Netherlands.
A little later, Rolf introduces me to his daughter Anneke. While Rolf is a company man through and through, his daughter could not be more different. She is a web consultant and developer working for herself, and very much the entrepreneur. She is a smart young woman with clients in London, Milan and Paris and is constantly on the move. As a self-employed person she is what we call a zzp’er in Dutch.
Yesterday she had a presentation for a new project in Lisbon and on Monday she will be back in London working with existing clients.
When she is Amsterdam, Anneke pays for space in a collaborative open office, sharing the facilities with other self-employed people. ‘She pays a ridiculously high price for what she gets,’ says Rolf.
‘What I get is a comfortable, flexible workplace when I want it with high-speed broadband and all the infrastructure I need,’ Anneke tells me. ‘I can also bring clients there if I need to.’
The downside for her is having no direct colleagues, since she is self-employed. ‘But my shared workspace brings me into contact with like-minded people all the time,’ she says.
‘We also have regular social events. It’s like working in a private members’ club. I’ve forgotten how many times I have got new clients or ideas from interacting with the other people.’
What about Anneke’s future plans? ‘I want to grow my business,’ she says. ‘And, for me, that will be my future security. I want my business to be my retirement, so I put everything into that and I don’t put money into a pension.’
Unlike most of the rest of us here in the Netherlands, the self-employed can choose whether to save for retirement.
Anneke is certainly not a chip off the old block, given her father’s involvement in pensions. It doesn’t make him very happy.
Some political parties competing in our national elections this March want to make zzp’ers like Anneke pay into a pension.
‘But for someone like me it really is an advantage to be able to put everything into my business when I want to,’ Anneke says. ‘It also means I can undercut larger providers in my field because I don’t pay the premium for social costs.’
That is exactly what some politicians and commentators don’t admire about people like Anneke.
Pieter Mullen is investment director at Wasserdicht Pension Funds