NETHERLANDS - The Netspar pensions research network has been formally launched at Tilburg University in the Netherlands.

The network, which is dedicated to research in the area of pensions, social insurance and ageing, is the brainchild of Tilburg academic Lans Bovenberg, who dedicated the €1.5m Spinoza prize he was awarded last year by the Dutch National Science Foundation to set up Netspar.

Netspar – Network for Studies on Pensions, Ageing and Retirement – will bring researchers from different universities to work on theses areas, he said at the launch.

“Netspar plans to build links within the pensions and insurance sectors,” he said. “By allowing various participants to network with each other and to discuss longer term strategic issues, Netspar intends to strengthen mutual trust, open communication channels and build common visions.”

He also said Netspar had a role in strengthening the presence of the Dutch pensions and insurance sector in the European debates on pensions reform.

Bovenberg described Netspar’s three-pillar approach as “fundamental research, education and knowledge exchange with partners in the public and private sectors”.

The core research team consisted of about 40 experienced researchers, plus 12 associate professors and 12 PhD students. There are 20 foreign scientists involved as international fellows.

Among those supporting Netspar is the Foundation Institute GAK, which supports research in social insurance, with a donation of €1.5m. Bovenberg paid tribute to the role played by Dick de Beus, then executive director of PGGM, the Dutch health care pension fund. “Dick welcomed the idea – to put it mildly.”

Roderick Munsters, chief investment officer of ABP, the pension fund of the Dutch civil servants, welcomed the formation of the network. He advised Netspar to start from a “broader than usual perspective on pensions research”.

“There are communication and marketing issues as well,” he pointed out.

On possible research topics he suggested that one should be to put Dutch pensions in an international perspective. “There are still numerous lessons we can learn from pensions and abroad.”

Of the numerous areas to be tackled, Munsters outlined four in particular. First, looking for a better match between the duration of liabilities and the investment horizon of retirement savings. Second, research into the possibilities of combining a country’s public finance needs in the long run, with pension funds’ desire for real long-term returns.

Third, the effect of accounting and regulatory rules on the price and quality of retirement arrangements and fourth, the effects for the pension industry of benchmarking and herding on long-term investment returns.