It may be a coincidence, but exactly one hundred years after ABP, the largest pension fund in the Netherlands, was set up — and from which APG emerged — the Netherlands is embarking on unprecedented and rigorous pension reform.
APG plays a significant role in this. As the country's largest pension administrator, with seven other pension funds in addition to ABP as clients and some 4.8 million pension holders, we have a duty to do so. We see it as our task to use all our expertise to build a transparent and future-proof new system.
And to think that the Netherlands already has one of the best pension systems in the world, built on a sense of solidarity that connects young and old, rich, and poor, working, and non-working people. This will remain intact in the new pension system, and we are delighted about that. APG believes in solidarity and collectivity: that is how we make more possible for the individual participant. It is no accident that poverty among the elderly is much less prevalent in the Netherlands than in most other Western countries.
It is going to be important. The deadline for pension funds to switch over to the new system is January 1, 2027, but we expect some of our clients to do so earlier. Suddenly, it is not so far away anymore: we have three years to build up a completely new policy and capital administration to which the data and the accrued capital for those millions of participants will be transferred safely and smoothly.
In the current system, it is reasonably certain what the final pension amount will be. In the future, this will fluctuate with economic developments and investment returns. The “Pension of the Future” will be a long-term pension pot that is also transparent and personal. Participants will gain insight into their own pension assets, which will lead to more questions. We provide the information participants need to understand their own pension in plain and simple language.
As a pension administrator, APG will become even more of a modern communications and IT company, with a different organization in the background in which our pension administration and asset management activities will grow closer together. This transformation, which has already started, will affect the entire organization. The changes are so great that we have to make clear choices. The new system is the top priority. This means, among other things, that we will put certain projects on the back burner for a while, retrain or reskill employees, and recruit digitally trained people. We already started doing this in 2021. Since then, “the store is open as usual” and we must not relax the services we provide at any time. We will, of course, continue to strive for maximum pension value for our clients' participants and we will do everything we can to achieve a healthy return. We are committed to keeping the quality of our administrative processes in order, even during these changes. Naturally, we will also do this at the lowest possible cost.
New pension law
Although we have to pull out all the stops, we are still facing many uncertainties; APG is not alone in having to make clear choices. One is that the new pension law, which is expected to take effect in early 2023, is still being discussed by the politicians in The Hague. Moreover, with negotiations on this still underway, it is not yet clear how the new regulations will be designed. However, the main outlines have been established. Our main concern is that no unnecessary complexity should be added in the next phase of the process; that would not be in the interests of the participants and it would complicate APG’s work. Naturally, we will inform and support the parties in this. Here, too, the motto is clarity.
It is all about the participants, that is the most important clear choice. They must be confident that the new system is there for them, and that their pension is well cared for. And that APG — on behalf of the pension funds — is there for them. We want to help people, help generations. We build sustainable, good income for today, tomorrow, and beyond at the lowest possible price per participant. Together with the funds, we help people to become financially fitter. This will play an even more important role with the new pension, in which everyone has a personal “pot.”
We also contribute to a world that is worth living in. With the assets that we manage for our pension funds and their participants, our investors make a difference. Last year, we saw these pension assets under management grow from €573 billion at the end of 2020 to over €636 billion at the end of 2021. This makes APG an organization that has a major influence on our future and can contribute to solutions. We see that as our responsibility to society. All the knowledge and expertise we have in the field of sustainability brings with it a responsibility. We will follow trends in society even more closely and we will look more explicitly at how investments measure up to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We will prove that we belong to the world's top in terms of responsible investment, and with good reason.
APG itself has set a good example and taken significant steps in the area of sustainability and corporate responsibility. We moved in Amsterdam to Edge West, the most sustainably redeveloped building in Europe, with the highest possible BREEAM rating. In addition, we “greened” our mobility policy in 2021: we are going to travel less. The train is now the standard for distances up to 500 kilometers, and air travel is only permitted if there is no other option. For all air travel, we search for the flights with the lowest CO2 emissions.
Of course, mobility has also changed at APG due to COVID-19. Working from home has become part of the work pattern. From now on, the offices will be used in a different way: much more as a place where we meet or, more importantly, where we meet and inspire each other. More than ever, we realize that we like having colleagues around us, at least for part of the workweek. But APG is fortunate that it is a close-knit club of committed and enthusiastic people. It is also an important reason why we performed so well in 2021.
We ended the year with a good operating result, better than the social return we pursue. Not only did we see our clients' pension assets under management grow by more than 10% in 2021, but we also made considerable strides in providing services to participants to increase their financial fitness. For example, our online platform Kandoor replied to over a million questions about pensions, State pensions (General Old Age Pensions Act), and other financial matters in 2021, roughly double the previous year's figure. We launched the Pension Coach, which allows users to generate their own pension proposal with the help of a digital coach. We also worked hard on Strategic Workforce Planning: we set up “academies,” including in the areas of data and digitalization. Given the new pension system, we still have a lot of training to do.
We look forward with confidence to the coming years of change. Because at APG, we can put our shoulders to the wheel together. The Works Council, among others, embodies that collectivity. Over the past year, the excellent collaboration with the Works Council has greatly helped us. We are living in complicated times — with a system reform, COVID-19, and a relocation — and these require clear, decisive policies. The critical eye and advice of the Works Council are essential in all of this.
There are still major challenges ahead of us. What is certain is that for the time being we will have to work with a number of uncertainties. That is why we are making clear choices now — to be able to weather the transition to the “Pension of the Future” and to continue to build a robust pension system. APG can handle that. Our employees, at all levels of the organization, have proven that they can adapt to new, exceptional circumstances with dedication. Because they know that, at the end of the day, their work always concerns people: people who receive a pension now, in the future or later.
This deserves my great thanks. I am also very grateful to our pension funds, shareholders, unions, employers, participants and strategic partners for their support and contributions during what has been a complicated period for all.
APG — along with the funds — will be ready in time for the new pension system, I am convinced of that. As far as I am concerned, we'll also have the best system in the world for the next hundred years.
At the moment of finishing this foreword, I have to say we are shocked by the war that broke out in February when Russian troops invaded Ukraine. We cannot ignore the violence that accompanies this war as well as the humanitarian consequences. Our sympathy goes out to all those affected.
chair of the executive board
Amsterdam/Heerlen, March 8, 2022