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Meet the researcher: Mark Graus, Lisa Brüggen, & Joyce Augustus-Vonken

Posted on March 08, 2019

Meet TFI research grant winners Dr. Mark Graus, Prof. Dr. Lisa Brüggen & Joyce Augustus-Vonken! They will investigate how personalized pension communication can increase engagement with retirement. Who are the researchers, what is their project about and what motivated them to apply?

Even though retirement planning is important, from both a personal and societal point of view, pension plan savers are typically not very engaged with their retirement. There are a number of obstacles that play a role, ranging from negative emotions associated with retirement to a lack of financial understanding. An additional challenge in engaging pensions plan savers is that they are very heterogeneous, differing in age, income, level of education, decision making styles and numerous other factors. These differences result in different preferences with regards to how pension plan savers are approached best, or how they want their information presented and formulated.

Personalized communication is a possible way to overcome these challenges; by tailoring the content (e.g. the level of detail) and style of communication (e.g. tone of voice) to match individual user characteristics and preferences may result in increased engagement. In our research project we will use data from surveys and the way pension plan savers interact with information regarding their retirement to construct a model that infers pension plan saver communication preferences and characteristics. We will then use this model as the basis for an adaptive system that tailors the content and style of communication to the individual users’ inferred preferences and characteristics. By involving APG, one of the biggest parties responsible for pension plans in the Netherlands, we will be able to test the research findings in an actual population of pension plan savers. Furthermore, this collaboration will ensure that the academic findings may be generalized to an applied, commercial setting, not only by pension providers but ideally any party that needs to communicate about financial matters with consumers.

“Low retirement engagement has consequences for individual pension plan savers, as well as for society as a whole.”

What was your motivation to apply for the Think Forward Initiative research grant?

Retirement is an important topic for every adult, yet engagement is very low. This low engagement has consequences for individual pension plan savers, as well as society as a whole. Our mission is to conduct research that helps to accelerate people’s retirement planning by investigating whether personalized pension communication can help to increase member engagement.

The Think Forward Initiative allows us to conduct this research. What we find interesting about this initiative is that it brings together academia and practice. Hence, we strive to have our research not only make an academic but also a societal contribution, as our findings will help pension funds and policy makers to improve engagement with retirement planning.


How do you expect that your research will contribute to people’s financial well-being?

If personalized communication really increases member engagement as we hypothesize, it will have a direct impact on financial well-being. Higher engagement means that people are more informed about their personal situation and the options available to them, so that they are better able to take decisions that fit to their personal situation and increase their (financial) well-being. What distinguishes our approach is that we take a more fine-grained perspective and cater to individual needs and preferences. Ensuring that people are provided the information in a way that is most beneficial to them, will increase people’s awareness and provide them the means to make more informed and hopefully better financial decisions, which will ensure their financial well-being in the future.

Mark Graus is assistant professor data-driven personalization at Maastricht University and simultaneously works at the Brightlands Institute for Smart Society (BISS) in Heerlen. His research combines fundamental psychological theory with machine learning to investigate how data about the way people interact with technology can be used to learn about these people’s needs, preferences and goals, and how this knowledge can be used to adapt these systems in a personalized fashion to allow the people using them to do so more efficiently and effectively. This research happens in various domains, such as multi-media consumption and personal finance. He obtained his PhD in Human-Technology Interaction at Eindhoven University of Technology.

Elisabeth (Lisa) Brüggen is full professor of Financial Services at Maastricht University and holds a PhD in marketing. She has published multiple studies on financial well-being and pension communications in, among others, the Journal of Marketing and the Journal of Business Research. She is head of the Advisory Board of the “Elinor Ostrom Fund for Female Scientists”, holds a position in the advisory board of NIBUD, and is a Netspar Fellow (Network for Studies on Pensions, Aging and Retirement), The Netherlands.

Joyce Augustus-Vonken is Senior Advisor Marketing and Communication at APG, All Pensions Group in Heerlen, the Netherlands. Her areas of expertise include data science in pension communication, neuromarketing and consumer research. She is member of the committee on pension communication at the Dutch Pension Federation in The Hague and has previously worked as lecturer in Marketing at Maastricht University.