Fascinated by formulas
What was your first full-time job – and do you remember what you were paid at the time?
In 1961 I took what I intended to be a job during a school holiday at what turned out to be an actuarial bureau. I was paid 375 gilders (€170) per month. I stayed at the same office and became a partner as an actuarial consultant in 1980.
What was the best piece of advice that anyone gave you career wise and did you take it?
I’m still very grateful to that friend who ‘showed me the light’ and encouraged me to take that holiday job. Actuarial topics and investments, and the social aspects of the pension fund business have become a part of my life.
How did a nice person like you become involved in a pensions career?
My friend drew my attention to the office where his aunt was working, and that was where I started during my school holiday with the intention of only working there for a short period. But it turned out to be a profession for a lifetime. I was so fascinated by actuarial formulas that I took up study to become an actuary and combined working and study. In the mid-1980s I took the full-time job of director of PMA. As managing assets became increasingly demanding I felt that I needed to know much more about investments and I completed the Dutch Association for Investment Analysts’ investment analyst course.
What was the most satisfying achievement during your career – and why?
The most satisfying moments in my career were that PMA could increase in some years the build up of pension rights of all the participants by an extra 12.5%, in addition to the regular compensation for inflation and that the scheme could maintain a high quality level of quality despite the difficult years for investments after 2000. Our funding ratio gave a great deal of sustainability.
And what was the worst moment in your career – and why?
The worst moment? I’m a lucky guy; there has never been a really very bad moment. You know, running a pension fund is not more difficult than running any other business or company and there are always difficulties. However, most of the time one can overcome them, especially when the relation with one’s board of trustees is good, at it always was in my case.
How would you sell a career in pensions to a prospective newcomer to the industry?
It shouldn’t be too difficult to persuade somebody to go for a job that includes management, investments, mathematics and social aspects. But I think that these beta professions should be more focused on education. Insurances and similar areas are still not so popular.
What would you do differently?
Maybe less hands-on and more focus on management in a hands-off style.
Do you have any unfilled ambitions?
No, I don’t think so.
Are you retiring or are you be recycling yourself into some new role?
After many years with PMA the time arrived to hand the job over. But leaving the profession? No. I am very lucky that I can still be involved in several ways and that I can help pension funds as an adviser or as a professional trustee. Besides that, I’m very much involved with the Dutch Association of Investment Analysts. In fact, the jobs that I’m doing now cover a broad spectrum of the pension funds profession: I am a member of the boards of trustees of two pension funds, a general adviser with another fund, an investment adviser and chairman of a fund’s investment committee. And what a chance to be able to make use of the knowledge and experience gained over the years. Being a part-time pensioner suits me very well. In addition, I will have more time to pursue one of my hobbies – playing banjo in a Dixieland band.
Your words of wisdom for those in the pensions industry?
My words for everybody in the pension fund business are: try to think about the work you do as a job that is appreciated by the participants of the fund. Each time that PMA gave a small bonus on the occasion of each fifth anniversary we received a lot of letters from thankful pensioners. We must keep the quality of our pension schemes at a high level, including maintaining a reasonable chance of indexation. This means that a funding ratio must be much higher than the funding that Dutch central bank, the sector’s regulator, requires for the solvency test for nominal pensions. For a proper long-term policy there should be more focus on the continuity test.
Looking to the investment side and risk management, there is a good chance that in future risks will be segregated by category of participant. An ageing population will of course also occur in pension schemes and we are also seeing an increase in the number of non-active members. Both developments will lead to a change in the ratio between the active and non-active members and this will mean that the contribution level may not be enough to increase the funding ratio of the pension fund as a whole should it be necessary. I think that contributions to keep the pension fund at the desired level should be related to the liabilities of the active members only, in other words the pension fund should be split into two groups: active and non-active. In such a case it would be logical to adopt different investment strategies for each group, and the liabilities of the non-active members should mainly be covered by fixed income to reduce interest rate and inflation risks.
This category would then be seen
to be ‘self-supporting’.
In addition, within pension
schemes there could be more room for different types and levels of indexation ambition for the various categories of participants, again to
reduce the inflation risk and cut costs.
The pension and investment
business is constantly changing and solutions that are found today will maybe not useful in the future. For example: an ongoing shift from DB
to DC and collective DC will require
new investment approaches and
new risk allocations.