It Is Thrilling When a Business Immediately Uses Your Research

Merle Willemsen started her job at PGGM during her internship, which meant that she could immediately apply her thesis research on freedom of choice. Now she is doing a traineeship at PGGM.

Merle Willemsen
Merle Willemsen

What was your thesis research about?

Freedom of choice is hip, so I wanted to look into that. You see more and more differences between people and in their needs. We already have a limited number of options in the Netherlands, but no one makes much use of them yet. I found that interesting. Why was that? Why do people not use them? My research was about that. On one hand, it was a factual approach, a data analysis. What are the options now; how are they used (or not)? After that, I started looking at why people do not use those options. In addition, I looked at behavioral patterns. I compiled questionnaires and looked at the differences between groups of people. For example, differences in education levels, income, health, or working
versus retired.

And… Do people want more freedom of choice?

People with a higher education take more advantage of the freedom of choice. That is because they know more about the options, but also because they have more financial  resources. Those with less education also want more freedom of choice, but that is not always possible yet. For example, the less-educated tend to prefer a large, one-time payout at the beginning of their retirement period. Ill people also have that need, which is not that surprising.

And then you were offered a job at PGGM, besides your internship…

I was able to directly put my research into practice – to see what we could improve with that research, what we could do with the results. The fact that a company like that is also prepared to immediately do something worthwhile with your research is tremendously thrilling. As part of my job, I have looked into things like how we might better design communications and the selection process. I have also looked at product options: what are the consumer’s needs and how can we serve them better?

What did you think of the Netspar track?

Before I went into it, I did not expect I would like pensions and retirement so much. My thesis for my bachelor’s degree was on health status and investment profiles. I studied  life course and life cycle, and their impact on your economic status. Pension and retirement affects so much. Social factors and economic factors come together here. The Netspar track reveals that combination very clearly. It prepares you well for the industry.

The Netspar track prepares you well for the industry’

In five years’ time…?

As part of my traineeship, I have already gained experience in marketing intelligence and public affairs. My interests center primarily on data analysis, a mathematical approach, but also how you communicate that to the outside world. How do you translate those complexities for participants? I hope to pursue that further.