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Comparing Dutch and Canadian Preferences for Pension Plan Design


Dutch pension researcher Jorgo Goossens spoke to GRI members about his ongoing research into the risk, time and ESG preferences of pension plan participants in the Netherlands and Canada. The multi-year project is funded by GRI, using surveys of the Dutch and Canadian populations to gather data on investment preferences. This information will benefit pension fund managers, among others, when considering pension plan design and investment choices.

Goossens first explored risk preferences on a scale from “risk averse” to “risk seeking”, and presented data from the Dutch portion of the study that showed close to 60% of respondents were very risk averse. He cautioned that results can vary depending on factors like age, relative wealth, and how exactly researchers ask risk-related questions to pinpoint preferences. He also noted that the makeup of pension boards can affect fund allocation, specifically that older boards are generally more risk-averse than plan members.

Proceeding to discuss time preferences, Goossens said that these are measured in terms of patience (willingness and ability to save) and consistency (ability to stick to a savings plan). He presented past data charting preferences from around the world, and said that Dutch and Canadian students both generally rank high in patience and consistency. There seemed to be a correlation between income levels and both patience and consistency.

The Canadian phase of the project is underway, with the collection of survey data now complete. Goossens reported that ESG-related questions were added to the Canadian survey, seeking to identify how much plan participants are willing to trade, in terms of actual dollars, for ESG gains, specifically in this case, for reduced C02 emissions. The Canadian data will be of value to plan managers when considering asset allocation and decumulation options like lump-sum payments, front-loading and back-loading annuities, as well as communication with members of DB and DC plans. We look forward to the publication of the final research paper which is expected to provide further insights into pension plan participants’ risk, time and ESG preferences, contributing to the understanding and improvement of pension plan design and investment strategies.


Jorgo T.G. Goossens
Assistant Professor, Chair of Finance, Radboud University Nijmegen
Assistant Professor (Visiting), Department of Econometrics & OR, Tilburg University
Researcher, APG Asset Management
Research Fellow, Netspar