Your pension, your future
Love your future. Shell Pension.
Your pension, your future
Love your future. Shell Pension.

November 2020

Double interview with board member Fridoline van Binsbergen-Stierum & Chairman Martin ten Brink

“It was quite a hectic year”

This year, instead of the usual foreword we present a candid conversation between board member Fridoline van Binsbergen-Stierum and chairman Martin ten Brink, who discuss the corona pandemic, socially responsible investing and new challenges.

Martin: “It wasn’t so bad. I was lucky because I already knew some of the board members from my former job. So I was not completely unprepared. I think that the step you took is much more exciting: giving up your day job to strike out on your own as consultant.”

Fridoline: “It is true that I thought it quite exhilarating to leave Shell after 17 years. Also because it happened in such uncertain times. Nevertheless, I am thrilled and enjoy the new challenge. I consider it a fresh start after the past corona year. How do you look back to 2020?”

Martin: “It truly was an eventful year. A year in which the global economy took an enormous beating. The economy is set to shrink in 2020 by 4 percent. To put it in perspective: that is already more than the contraction we saw during the 2008-2009 financial crisis.”

Fridoline: “What impressed me the most was that countries all over the world closed their borders to protect their own population and prop up their healthcare system. Everything ground to a standstill, transport, people who were unable to get to work.”

Martin: “I think we can safely say that the impact corona has had is beyond compare, even though it has not been the same for every industry. While the aviation, entertainment, hospitality and tourism industries were hit very hard, tech companies did rather well. We have also seen immense differences between individual countries.”

Fridoline: “I am sure that many people wonder how the corona crisis will affect their pension.”

Martin: “The central banks extended their monetary policy even further, causing interest rates to drop even more. This resulted in a considerable reduction of our coverage ratio (the ratio between capital and pension commitments), which unfortunately means that it will not be possible to index the pensions this year. On the other hand, our investments remained stable; after the first wave, the stock market saw a marked recovery.”

“I consider increasing the involvement and knowledge of the participants one of the principal challenges”
—Martin ten Brink

Fridoline: “Because the stock market recovered so quickly, many people believe that not much damage has been done, but I’m afraid that more is still to come. On the other hand, I don’t want to be a doomsayer. We must remain hopeful that all will end well. Did the corona crisis have any positive sides for you?”

Martin: “In fact, I did detect some positive signs, despite the economic consequences and the immeasurable suffering of many people, including among our own participants. For one thing, we seem to have become more concerned with our fellow human beings. Take for instance the many initiatives that were taken to help people that are all alone.”

Fridoline: “It would seem that this crisis has helped people realise that our society is something to treasure. The care system, the climate… These are so essential to ensure that we will be able to continue living a good life on this planet. In that respect I think the crisis served as a wake-up call.”

Martin: “Another positive development is that many people started working remotely. This poses very little problem in the Netherlands, due to its excellent digital infrastructure, and most people value it highly.”

Fridoline: “It works fine within the Board as well; I’m impressed with the team’s resilience and efficiency. Still, I miss having in-person meetings from time to time.”

Martin: “You’re right. I also regret that it is impossible for the board members to meet in person. Especially because there have been quite a few changes in the team. Hopefully it will become possible to meet again in person in the second quarter and that the ‘onboarding’ of new members can take place physically.”

Fridoline: “Last year the government and the central organisations of social partners concluded a Pension Agreement. Many people in my circle still have lots of questions about what the impact of the Pension Agreement will be for SSPF.”

Martin: “The Pension Agreement covers many aspects. This makes it so complex. The main point is that it prescribes a defined contribution plan for future pension accrual by active participants, whereby the amount of the pension is linked to the investment return. This means that although the pension becomes less certain, it does become more affordable. Furthermore, the contribution will no longer be age-dependent. As regards pensions that have already accrued and benefits that have already become payable the Pension Agreement will allow social partners to waive conversion to a defined contribution scheme if this were to result in a highly uneven outcome for different groups of participants. Closed pension funds and funds benefiting from a sponsor guarantee are mentioned as examples. In the end, it is up to the social partners to decide on both the future accrual and about what must happen to existing pensions. It is not expected that these decisions will be taken before 2022, when the legislation is finalised.”

“What we want is to offer an inflation-proof pension, but we must do it in a socially responsible manner”
— Fridoline van Binsbergen-Stierum
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Fridoline: “I am quite curious about the outcome of the talks between Shell and The COR (the Central Works Council). It is now up to them to jointly agree a new pension scheme, based on the new pension legislation.”

Martin: “The choices they make will be very important to the Board. Still, it is incumbent on us to make sure that the new scheme is feasible and to explain it, and that the interests of all participants are fairly taken into account.”

Fridoline: “Another major item on the agenda for this year is having the results of the ALM study (an analysis of the strategic policy, ed.) translated.”

Martin: “I think it very important to conduct an ALM study every three years, because the world is constantly changing. As soon as the results of the study are available we will be able to tighten the investment policy.”

Fridoline: “What I like is that all board members share the same investment convictions. We all want to make sure that the participants can enjoy an inflation-linked pension, provided this is socially responsible.”

Martin: “Given the significant amount in assets it manages SSPF has a responsibility as to how it invests. We have made great progress in terms of socially responsible investing (ESG), which has been remarked upon. We have managed to retain our middling position in the ranking compiled by the VBDO (the Dutch Association of Investors for Sustainable Development).”

Fridoline: “It is also good to see that companies that are committed to becoming more sustainable are also outperforming on the stock exchanges. Fortunately our participants have picked this up and support our sustainability choices. All that rests is ensuring that pension becomes ‘top of mind’…”

Martin: “I consider that one of our principal challenges: to increase the involvement and knowledge of the participants. I have complete faith in our new communication policy, which focuses on transparency (a clear message), awareness (what impact will it have on me?) and perspective (encouragement to act).”

Fridoline: “That latter element especially is becoming increasingly important. With the introduction of the new pension system we can no longer afford to sit back and wait. We must already start making choices during our career.”

Martin: “That is why I welcome the possibility participants have to make video calls if they have any questions about their pension. I also expect, for instance, that the new administration system of our pension administrator that is being set up will improve the transparency and create more understanding.”

Fridoline: “Have you set any personal goals for yourself this year?”

Martin: “To live a healthy life and remain healthy. I also hope to make up a bit for lost opportunities in 2020: to travel, visit cultural events, go to a restaurant, a bar... What about you?”

Fridoline: “Apart from remaining healthy with my loved ones, I hope my kitchen garden will yield more fruit and vegetables. Everything depends on the weather!”

A lady with guts and with confidence in the future

After a satisfying career at Shell, where she held various financial, facilitating and HR positions, Fridoline van Binsbergen-Stierum has become the proud owner, since 1 January, of At Firm Base. As consultant and interim manager she helps companies and government agencies to improve their business operations. She considers it an honour to be selected to sit on the board as a ‘sleeper’.
— Fridoline van Binsbergen-Stierum

Former Shell stalwart and bon vivant
A man with a red-yellow heart: that is Martin ten Brink in a nutshell. After having worked at Shell for more than 35 years, he retired last year to spend more time with his family and on his hobbies. He is still closely involved in the fund as chairman of SSPF and is dedicated to ensuring a good Shell pension.
— Martin ten Brink