Innovation is in our DNA

23 September 2021


Sebastiaan van den Dries started as chief executive officer at BeFrank earlier this year. Together with Jan Hein Rhebergen, he forms the board of the PPI. What are his findings from roughly his first two hundred days at the pension administrator, which is celebrating its anniversary this year?

You have been with BeFrank for more than six months now. What are your experiences?
“I like it very much. What strikes me is the energy of the people at BeFrank, their customer focus. This is really a beautiful company and a beautiful brand. It gives a lot of energy to work there. At the same time, we are also looking at how we can develop customer solutions together with other parts of NN Group and help each other. The past few years have also been dominated by the integration of the NN PPI and BeFrank PPI, which has been completed in a solid manner. Now that this is behind us, we have to get ourselves ready for further growth.”

I am sure there are also things that could be improved.
“BeFrank has grown very fast in the past few years. However, it is important to keep innovating and developing; to make sure that it won’t stop. There are still plenty of opportunities for further development, such as further automation and process improvements; we are constantly looking into them, as well as further product innovations.”

BeFrank began ten years ago as a startup and can now call itself the largest PPI in the Netherlands. What makes you so successful?
“The world has changed compared to ten years ago. I think that BeFrank’s mission to bring pensions closer to people has been very clear and consistent throughout these ten years. We want to offer matters to people clearly, simply and online, so that they understand them and have insight into their pensions themselves. I think that this general approach has worked very well throughout that period. And if you look at the people at BeFrank: they are very motivated and committed. A close-knit team has been formed for which the customer takes centre stage. We try to listen to customers and advisors as much as possible. Finally, we switch quickly internally. And of course, compared to pension administrators that have been around for decades, we have had few, if any, legacy issues in these ten years. What I also think very important is that while we celebrate successes, we want to improve continuously and continue to set the bar high for ourselves.”

Pension is complicated for many people. BeFrank claims to make pensions understandable. Explain how you manage to do that?
“We try to do a lot to achieve that, to do better than the average in the market and to be leaders in that. At the same time, we have to keep a critical eye on whether customers really understand. You should not just assume that. It remains a complex financial product and is sometimes undervalued or only given attention to when it is too late. It is essential to involve people in their pension at an early stage. How we do that? No difficult terms and lengthy letters, but explained online and easy to understand. We are also further developing our communication. Think of offering tooling and portals that offer ever more insight and that are simple and intuitive. But also things like explanatory videos that make the subject matter very accessible. This is a topic that continues to be a focal point. We have done some good things, but we cannot afford to stand still.”

Do BeFrank customers understand pensions better than the average Dutch person?
“In general terms, there is a lot of room for improvement in the Netherlands. Our customer satisfaction is good. We try to make everything as clear as possible and if people still have questions, they can always contact us. That is the most important thing. It is not a matter of course that everyone will understand it; it depends on how much time someone puts into it, what their background or level of education is. We try to accommodate that as best as we can. This works well, but there is always room for improvement. By the way, we have a high login rate of over 70 per cent. That does not automatically mean that everyone will understand it, but it does say that they are triggered by the activation e-mail and will at least take a look. We also have the BePanel, to which, for example, we submit new features on the portals. You have to check whether it is clear to everyone. We are not under the illusion that everyone is looking in-depth at every detail of their pension, but we are doing our best.”

How does BeFrank differ from other pension administrators in general? And from other PPIs?
“The big difference is in the culture and people. This is a very enterprising and enthusiastic lot; with people who come from the pension sector, but also from completely different sectors, and who bring insights from those. That is the most distinctive factor. And undoubtedly the communication, activation and everything else we offer to help people (literally) get over the threshold to learn more about their pensions.”

Your focus is on sustainability and innovation, among other things. Aren’t they just – not even trendy – marketing terms?
“In a general sense, that is true. If you look at innovation, we have been leaders from the start. Take, for example, the app that we introduced and expanded. In ten years, this has been the focus of an enormous drive. The people here have innovation in their DNA. And speaking of sustainability, I agree with you that the term is used all the time. But we have really focused on that as well. For our products, but also for our organisation. For example, we offer a CO2-neutral pension and have a sustainable impact dashboard on the customer portal. The theme of our anniversary year is sustainability; this is not just a word, but it is also demonstrable.”

How are the preparations for the new pensions system coming along?
“We are ready for it, even though the regulations still have to be worked out in more detail. That is still unclear, but when the details are known, we will have plenty of time to implement them. Last year we already had all kinds of sessions, also with advisors. We have looked at what is needed and also anticipated certain things. The choice for additional savings, for example, can already be enabled by default if employers so wish. This allows participants to automatically put in extra contributions.”

This year, BeFrank is celebrating its tenth anniversary. Where will you be in 2031?
“We still think that the DC market will continue to grow. That market will keep moving, and we expect further consolidation in the market. We have the ambition to keep developing and not to come to a standstill. We want to remain at the forefront and listen carefully to questions from customers and advisors. We also want to remain customer-oriented, innovative and, of course, reliable. And further product innovations will follow.”

This interview was published on AMweb on 21 September 2021.