APG’s Vaessen on the impact of AI on human capital

The Dutch pension investor’s head of research and analytics real assets believes AI helps to democratize investment team discussions.

Huib Vaessen APG PERE Europe
Vaessen speaking with PERE editor Evelyn Lee at the PERE Network Europe Forum this week

Around the world there is growing concern about how artificial intelligence will reshape the way we live, with much of the fear focused on how it may push people out of jobs.

But Huib Vaessen, head of research and analytics real assets at APG Asset Management, takes a different view and believes the Dutch pension investor’s AI capabilities make for a better workplace. “I’m not worried at all for jobs,” he told the audience during a fireside chat at the PERE Network Europe Forum in London this week.

Vaessen has been at APG since 2016, and was hired because the team was facing investment decision-making challenges at the time. Specifically, the investor had difficulties with allocating capital, particularly in comparing risk-return profiles and determining which investment opportunities were considered the most attractive. This led APG to significantly increase the amount of data that was incorporated into the investment process. From there, to help the team navigate these greater data sets, APG created a so-called ‘digital butler’. That digital butler then evolved into an AI tool with both search and decision-making capabilities, a “digital colleague” known as Samuel, PERE explored in a deep dive story last year.

Essentially, Samuel is a suite of analytical tools that helps with decision-making. Far from driving out human employees from the workplace, Vaessen said, it encourages more robust and effective debate and helps upskill and educate junior employees. “We saw more open debate… Because of this very transparent, explicit decision making process, the hurdle for new colleagues or for a junior colleagues is a little lower to join the discussion and to challenge others on their substantiation of key decisions,” he said. “Because we have standardized metrics for everything… People feel more invited to join these discussions.”

Of Samuel, Vaessen said: “It’s like a new colleague that is very good in some parts and not good in other parts.” He stressed that APG will not ever get to “automated decision making” and said while Samuel can help the real estate team’s human colleagues, the digital portfolio manager is unable to perform certain analytical tasks, like form a forward-thinking view on real estate trends.

Meanwhile, Vaessen noted that increasingly, coding abilities are becoming a standard skill among APG investment professionals. “Within each team, the tech skill set will develop… I expect going forward coding will be a completely normal skill set in any team,” he said. For new hires and graduates, he pointed out, it is almost unusual that coding is not part of their qualifications – with even primary schools these days teaching the skill.

He expected people will look for tools to automate repetitive tasks they do regularly as part of their jobs, rather than ask the IT department for assistance.