- A Dutch pension provider is ready to go international. So which country should be first?
- We looked at the market and cultural factors. We also shared our first-hand entrepreneurial experience to illuminate realities beyond the numbers.
- We ranked 3 top options, creating concrete business cases for each: investments and operational development needed; best- and worst-case revenue scenarios.
- We signposted a clear winner for the client’s expansion and ensured the project knowledge stayed within their team.
Vast assets and tight margins. Established players and consumers wary of new providers. Different saving and investing cultures per country. The pensions market is a complex beast. For a norm-busting Dutch pension provider ready to expand abroad, choosing the right first destination would be make or break.
Jacob Greidanus, strategy consultant at The Strategy Office, and Bernadette Wijnings, founder of The Strategy Office, utilised first-hand knowledge of expanding business in Europe to pinpoint a clear first choice.
This Dutch pension provider was born to break with industry tradition. The company believes that profit margins on traditional pension products are too high, giving customers a raw deal. They launched prioritising quality customer service and with lower profit margins, differentiating themselves in an otherwise stuffy, distanced and opaque sector.
This paved their way to success in the robust Dutch pensions market. Now, the company is ready to continue growing by going international. But which country is their best bet to start in?
Our market study began as you’d expect: gauging pension market size and competitor numbers across 12 European countries and the USA.
As we’d anticipated, the USA was quickly dropped from the list. A very mature market, low margins and vast competitors mean it’s too big a leap. To narrow the candidate pool further, we phased in-depth analysis of the competition, including customer uptake of their products, assets under management, and technology used.
A first-hand take on barriers to entry
We also looked at barriers to market entry: would this Dutch pension provider be easily accepted as a newcomer? Would regulatory hurdles crop up? Here, the entrepreneurial experience of our colleagues at The Strategy Office added value in ways traditional consulting firms just can’t offer.
The Strategy Office’s founder, Bernadette, had rolled out a fintech company she founded in Belgium and France. While a different specialism, the learnings were relevant for our client. Take her hands-on knowledge of Belgium’s regulatory complexity and sprawling financial subproducts: attempting to translate these into the Dutch pension provider’s IT backend would have created a monster.
In France, she’d experienced the unforgiving protectionism of the banking system. Establishment banks banded together to sue her fintech firm one after the other. Each time, the suing bank stood no chance. But the tactic drained the fintech’s time and resources. As soon as one ordeal ended, the next bank would sue.
Numbers and desk research can never hand you this kind of insight. You need consultants who also have first-hand knowledge, as founders and entrepreneurs, of the human factors at play.
Gauging brand and cultural fit
We looked at brand fit at this stage, too. This pension provider’s look and feel is deliberately norm-shattering — and also very Dutch, in a way. Laid-back whilst professional, conversational and relaxed, vibrant and stylish. All positive things, but potentially a shock to the system for customers who’d only easily trust a more traditional provider.
We also looked at how comfortable citizens were investing their money in stocks, as this varies hugely per country. In the Netherlands, investing is widespread. In Germany, though, people prefer to keep their cash in bank accounts and real estate. The German market is vast, but its people want certainty, not risk.
Concrete business cases
We ranked the top 3 destinations for the pension provider’s first expansion abroad, drawing up business cases for each:
An overview of the next 5 years
What investments the pension provider would need to make
How its organisation would need to develop operationally
Revenues it could expect in best- and worst-case scenarios
A clear winner
Our analysis signposted a clear top choice for the pension provider’s expansion. The client is now carrying out the next research phase, visiting the top 3 countries to familiarise themselves with their dynamics. Quite rightly, they wanted to do this stage themselves. Ultimately, they’re the ones that need to do business there.
Knowledge stays in the client’s team
We worked with 2 people from the pension provider’s team, benefiting from their company know-how. The key outcome here is that the project knowledge is internalised within the client’s team, so they can take it forward. A far cry from the traditional in-out consulting model, where a team of juniors descends for weeks or months and then disappears — knowledge along with them.
At The Strategy Office, we’re invested in ensuring our clients retain and benefit from the knowledge each project generates. No reeling you into funding another project that will reach much the same conclusions a few years later, just because the original insights evaporated.
As a collective of independent consultants, we’re free to choose our assignments. We’re not constrained by managers’ sales targets like at the big firms — we’ve all been there, and we got tired of it. Instead, we choose to stay curious and energised, to keep learning and bring fresh thinking to each project. All backed by the option of drawing on our collective’s experience and knowledge. That means freedom to excel, with the best bits of a bigger consultancy thrown in.