A key issue facing the Dutch pensions market is that public does not know how well it is taken care of, especially compared with other countries. This point was made at the recent VB annual conference in Baarn by the association’s chairman Ton Wennekus.
The VB in association with others is determined to fight this lack of knowledge through a media campaign. “We need to fight against this and reintroduce some real state of consciousness about the real state of pensions among the Dutch population.”
Part of this, he said is to explain to the widest audience possible what exactly is the task of those responsible for running pension funds. The government also needed to do more to get the questions of ageing across to the public, so that they would be prepared.
“As the origins of our system in the agreement between employers and worker representatives, it is they who decide whether or not there is to be a pensions system. They co-operate in the governance of the funds” But as there is no requirement on them to publicise what they do, the public can a get the impression that these activities are occurring “in the dark or behind closed doors”.
“Now we would like to be heard and to be transparent as to the way we ‘govern’ our business. As it is their money, it is our obligation to be transparent,” said Wennekus.
The VB has made this campaign a high priority for 2004, confirms its director Peter Borgdorff. “This is an issue for the whole pensions industry, we believe. Our view is that it is import to communicate with the Dutch people at large – young, middle aged and elderly.”
At OPF, a different approach was taken to a publicity campaign, as Jeroen Steenworden explains: “The OPF is in favour of excellent communications to the participants in pension plans. However, we do not believe that a general national communication campaign is the most cost effective communication tool. Individual pension funds are best equipped to deliver tailor-made communication to their participants. They can directly include the scheme specific issues, and use the appropriate language and communication media. This will increase the added value of the information.”
There has been a certain loss of confidence in pensions and funds, the VB says. “There are a lot of jokes about what we did with the money.” So the VB decided to tackle two key issues. “The first is to make people aware of the importance of pensions for themselves – ‘pensions are about you – you are responsible for your own pension!’” The second message is that pension funds can provide everything needed for your pension. “We want to make sure they have confidence about pensions again.”
The VB is participating in two campaigns in fact. “One of these - the Pensioenkijker - is jointly with others,” he points out.
The Dutch minister of social affairs, Mark Rutte launched this cross-industry initiative last year to promote pensions awareness amongst Dutch citizens.
The concept, which literally means ‘pensions viewer’, was first floated by pensioner lobby organisations but has since gained the backing not only of the VB, the Dutch insurance association, pension funds ABP and PGGM and consumer organisations.
The Pensioenkeijker is advertised in the press and aims to inform the Dutch about their pension provision as well as provide a pensions calculator where savers can get a rough estimate as to how much pension they will retire on. The Stichting Pensioenkijker is headed by Elske ter Veld, a former pensions minister.
The other campaign is purely a VB activity. “This is about ‘pensions knowledge’, so that people know what the different pensions terms such as contributions, inflation linked and so on. Hopefully, with this knowledge, it also helps to win confidence in the system.” This is being organized as a free publicity campaign, by stimulating journalists across the different media to address these issues. “Here local door to door freely distributed newspapers play an important role,” says Borgdorff. “We have to think in terms of the man on the street!” Here a publicity agency is used to ensure the message is got across in a way that can be understood.
The first stage about how the pension system works started in February and has been followed by the second theme that if the returns of pension funds, asset allocation and so on. “Many people think we only have our assets in bonds and nothing in equities or real estate.” All this has to be explained, he adds.