Life After Full-time Work Blog

Learn about preparing for life after full-time work through posts from Don's upcoming book.

#19: Behind The Scenes At The World Pension Summit

Here’s a personal view from a global conference on pensions


I attended and spoke at a conference recently, and I thought it might interest you to hear a little about it, if you don’t go to conferences or haven’t been to this particular one. It was a meeting of the World Pension Summit, and the venue was the Louwman Museum in The Hague, which is a beautiful city on the coast of the Netherlands. Check out the Louwman Museum on the internet, if you like cars – it has the most amazing collection, over 200, from the earliest to the most spectacular.

I’ve been on the Advisory Board of the World Pension Summit (an unpaid role, in case you wondered – I’m just happy to help and be associated with it) since its early days in 2010, when it was founded by Harry Smorenberg and Eric Eggink. It is now part of Pensions & Investments (P&I), and I’ve known those good folks even longer, so to me that’s a happy and strong coming-together.

One of the roles I’ve played is to be one of their Innovation Award judges. It’s wonderful to be aware of the innovations that are taking place around the world, via the submissions that the candidates prepare. It’s almost a shame that each category (plan design, communications, investments and technology) has just one winner and one runner-up.

For the record, this year the eight award winners came from around the world: France, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, two from the UK, and the United Nations (located in the USA). Truly global.

I was honored to be part of the prize ceremony. Chris Battaglia, VP and Group Publisher of P&I, handed out the prizes (magnificent glass sculptures) as Associate Publisher Nikki Pirrello and I announced the finalists and the award winners, and explained their specific innovation. And at the end we had a group photo with the prize winners. Quite a fancy ceremony!

This year the people representing the winner and runner-up in communications were both panelists in a session on (what else?) communicating with members. I was fascinated by the things they do, and the extent to which they go in order to discover what sorts of things work (and what sorts of things don’t work) in engaging members. I discovered that my own website makes many mistakes – and that unless I’m prepared to use social media a lot, the attention of the Millennial generation certainly won’t be attracted. I confess that my first reaction was: Oh well, it’s unlikely that Millennials will dominate the readership of my website anyway.

Dr Maribel Ortiz (of whom, more below) gently and wisely chides me regarding this attitude. She encourages me to actually “find ways to get them interested in the discussion. Early engagement is key to closing the accumulation-decumulation gap, to improve on the situation that many of our elders and seniors now find themselves in. I hope this was one of the takeaways that our session was able to bring across. Good communication is key – and in this case, communication is good when people receive the relevant information that they can proactively act upon.” Quite right, and thank you.

I wish there had been time for the panelists to also talk about communicating with earlier generations, since each generation has its own attitude that reflects what was current when it was growing up.


(Sidebar: It seems that few people are aware of how generations are classified, for these purposes. So, for what it’s worth, here’s my understanding. Millennials are those who start to reach 18 in the year 2000 – so they were born in 1982-2000. Before them, you have Gen X, born 1964-1982. And before them the large Baby Boom generation, born 1946-64. With the troops returning from World War 2, and the global prosperity that the end of the War released, together this resulted in the largest generation the world has ever seen. Before them, you have the World War 2 generation … Why, by the way, the peculiar name Gen X? Well, social scientists didn’t know what to call those who followed the Baby Boom, so they called them Generation X, and then the next one after that was called Generation Y – except that, at the turn of the millennium, it became irresistible to change the name Gen Y to the Millennials. So now you know!)


I was the moderator of another panel discussion, one that had a high-falutin’ name, but which I thought of as describing where the employer fits in, these days, as financial preparation for retirement becomes more and more the responsibility of the individual. The moderator’s responsibility is to have extensive pre-session discussions with the assigned panelists, via conference call, so that all are agreed on what the topic means, what are the issues to discuss and to present possible solutions for, and what angle each panelist is likely to focus on. Of course, when the session goes live at the conference itself, much of the preparation falls by the wayside as the panelists get excited by the atmosphere and the interaction! But at least we’ve prepared, and that helps us cope with the spontaneous changes.

Another responsibility of the moderator is to ensure that all physical preparations are ready. So, before the session, I checked out the room and how it was laid out and where we would be sitting (or standing, as it happened, in my case) and when we would be miked up – all that sort of thing.

Check out the photo I took with my cell phone. This was our assigned venue. Talk about impressive!

This was the view from the moderator’s low podium. Our two panelists sat at a table to my right. And what’s that at the back of the room? A magnificent old car, quietly adding class to the surroundings. At a distance I wondered if the bonnet indicated a Rolls Royce, but no, on closer inspection it was a Moon. I wish I could have had a drive in it!

I had two extremely distinguished panelists, who brought their breadth of experience to the session. Alwin Oerlemans is the Head of Pension Strategy at the giant Dutch pension fund manager, or more broadly, pension fund delivery organization, APG; before that he worked in banking and at the Dutch Ministry of Finance. Dr Maribel Ortiz is an economist who is the governance specialist at the International Social Security Association; before that she was in academe, in both the USA (where, early on, she was a research assistant to Nobel Prize winner Prof. Lawrence Klein) and the Philippines, where she also headed a department in its Social Security system. Between us all, we covered the subject via the examples of the US, the Netherlands, Australia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Chile … and those were just the countries I noted while we were sharing ideas.

I do enjoy the interaction with the speakers and the attendees at these conferences!

More seriously, I’m writing a companion blog post about one of the ideas we discussed, regarding how employers can help their employees in retirement planning.



I just wanted to convey something of the atmosphere at a global conference, and to confirm how much I love attending and speaking at conferences, even all these years into my graduation from work. Stopping work does not mean stopping thinking!



I have written about retirement planning before and some of that material also relates to topics or issues that are being discussed here. Where relevant I draw on material from three sources: The Retirement Plan Solution (co-authored with Bob Collie and Matt Smith, published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009), my foreword to Someday Rich (by Timothy Noonan and Matt Smith, also published by Wiley, 2012), and my occasional column The Art of Investment in the FT Money supplement of The Financial Times, published in the UK. I am grateful to the other authors and to The Financial Times for permission to use the material here.

2 Responses to “#19: Behind The Scenes At The World Pension Summit”

  1. Maribel D. Ortiz says:

    Dear Don,
    What a refreshing article, written in your inimitable style, thank you! It was absolutely not a chide – on the contrary, it was a fervent wish for your blogs to benefit the Millennials too because at this point in their lives, you are a voice from their future!
    With kind regards,

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