How Close Can You Go #4 – Jelle Ritzerveld, Chief Risk Officer Delta Lloyd Asset Management

“Find out who you are and do not be afraid to show and express yourself even though you are not perfect!”

Long time no see, but we are back with a new article of the ‘How Close Can You Go’ series. This time I had the chance to have a chat with the highly talented Jelle Ritzerveld, currently Chief Risk Officer of Delta Lloyd Asset Management. As of August 1st, Mr. Ritzerveld will move to Aegon where he will be appointed Chief Risk Officer Holdings. This management talent is just thirty-six years old and already got himself in one of the C-level (Chief) positions. Mr. Ritzerveld comes across like a really nice guy, but most of all, as an extremely intelligent man. This should not be very surprising when realizing Mr. Ritzerveld graduated with a GPA 8.5/10 from both secondary school and university, and holds a PhD degree in one of the most challenging academic fields: astrophysics.

Delta Lloyd Asset Management is an asset management firm which offers specialized products within different asset classes, such as fixed income, equity and real estate as well as balanced solutions. They also offer discretionary mandates for institutional customers and a range of investment funds for institutional and retail customers. They are an asset manager that manages the assets of Delta Lloyd’s various business lines and specializes in investments, both for third parties Delta Lloyd’s and for insurance business. The services provided to third parties focus on asset management for institutional clients, and management of Delta Lloyd’s multiple investment funds. They have over EUR 56 billion assets under management. Delta Lloyd Asset Management’s board consists of three board members, including Mr. Ritzerveld. His responsibilities include financial risk, operational risk, compliance and legal.

Mr. Ritzerveld started studying physics and astrophysics at Leiden University when he was seventeen years old. He found this very interesting and in his opinion astrophysics tackles the biggest problems that exists in the world – the universe itself. Besides that, astrophysics is full of mathematics, physics and a lot of computer science which are major elements in the corporate world and could be very useful when you decide not to continue in astrophysics after graduating. Furthermore, he has always been a beta-talent and enjoyed this field to the fullest. During his time at university, he worked at multiple IT businesses (consultants) during the pre-dot-com-bubble. He wanted to learn the corporate world and how to work in a team. He really enjoyed working in the corporate world, which therefore motivated him to join the corporate world after graduating. However, this idea changed when Mr. Ritzerveld successfully did the research for his thesis. In this way, he learned new things because he discovered them by himself and that is what he enjoys the most; learning new things. His thesis was so successful that he got an offer to do a PhD in astrophysics at Leiden University. Because Mr. Ritzerveld always had, and still has, the desire to learn new things, he accepted the offer and completed his successful research after four years. Major lessons were defending his opinion and research in front of very critical audiences. According to Mr. Ritzerveld, in the academic world, where each and every detail is heavily scrutinized, you learn that the path of most resistance leads to the best results, and this is an insight he still benefits from in the corporate world.

After receiving his PhD degree, Mr. Ritzerveld visited various sectors to determine where to start his corporate career. Among them were Shell, McKinsey and some financial services businesses. He decided to work within the financial services business because this was the field where, in his opinion, he could learn the most. After starting his corporate career as a quantitative risk analyst at ABN AMRO, he moved to LeasePlan, the biggest leasing firm in the world (and also a bank and insurer), where he was given the chance to set up their financial risk team, and was eventually given the responsibility over the total risk department of LeasePlan in the Netherlands. After five years and rolling out other risk teams in multiple countries, he was given the chance to become director risk management at Kempen Capital Management for four years after which he moved to Delta Lloyd Asset Management where he is currently Chief Risk Officer. As of the 1st of August, he will move to Aegon where he will be appointed Chief Risk Officer Holdings.

What does your week look like?

That is very hard to say because it differs all the time. Most of the times I am working like fifty hours a week at the office, but most evenings, I am reading some articles or minutes so it is probably more, but not extremely so. At most C-levels, you have to stay reachable all the time. It is important that you can deal with this constant sense of responsibility, but if you can work efficiently, you certainly have enough time for your family and friends, even at a C-level position.

What advantage do you get from a PhD in the financial world?

You obtain a spectacular skillset to analyze complex problems and, as I said before, you learn how to defend your opinions and research in front of a tough crowd. Also, you travel a lot between universities, which shapes you to deal with various cultures in an international context.

Astrophysics is one of the most difficult academic fields. How did you stay motivated in this period?

I really liked the beta aspect of astrophysics and I think astrophysics tackles the biggest problem in the world. That is what makes it so interesting. Thereby, my job in IT was also one of the elements in my study which kept me motivated. The combination between the beta side of astrophysics and the corporate world made it exciting.

Why are you in this position and not anyone else who is working at Delta Lloyd Asset Management?

Firstly, you need the right kind of experience and expertise in the field you are working in. Secondly, you should be able to explain complex problems to a four-year-old child. Communication skills are so important. You have to understand your employees, clients and other stakeholders, and they have to understand you. This is a crucial one. Thirdly, be curious and challenge yourself in the choices you make. Do not make yourself comfortable in life, always look for a challenge. I think I have mastered those skills quite well.

I have heard that the amount of freshmen almost doubled for the coming year in studies like economics or finance. How can students, in your opinion, ensure themselves to stand out of the crowd in such a large number?

Of course, internships, board years, high grades, and so on, are crucial in standing out of the crowd, otherwise you will not even pass the first round of your job application. However, in the end, it is all about you as a person. How have you developed yourself as a person in the past couple of years? You should be a trustable partner, who knows (or wants to know) what he or she is talking about. How do you communicate? Do you have self-confidence? All of this is also noticeable in a curriculum vitae and motivation letter. Also, personally, I like to have someone who wants to constantly challenge himself.

What is the most important tip for current students?

Find out who you are and what makes your clock tick. If you sort this out, you automatically have an intrinsic motivation to perform at a high pace in the environment of your choice.

What are the biggest risks in the current Dutch financial market?

The Dutch economy is strongly linked to the global economy, so we have to deal with the global macroeconomic risks. Today, we have to deal with very low interest rates and volatility. These are signs that there is something going on, but nobody knows how it will actually play out. Also, geo-politically, we, as a country, but also the EU as a whole, are forced to rethink what our position is in this world. Unfortunately, I do not hear any statements from politics about this topic that are clear and firm enough to pave the way for the coming decades. Finally, we have to rediscover what our expertise is as a country. Do you really want to become a knowledge-based economy? Then you have to accelerate investing in education. Do not get me wrong, because our education system is not bad, but if you want to position yourself as a top tier knowledge-based economy, you really have to be top notch.

What will financial markets look like in ten years?

That is really hard to say. I think there will always be platforms where supply meets demand. Technology will probably facilitate this in an improved way. I also think there will still be demand for human knowledge in this industry. Maybe there will be no need for it anymore in fifty years due to artificial intelligence, but I am not sure. In ten years, the focus will be switched to aspects where we really can add value. To summarize, financial markets will probably be more accessible and balanced in ten years.

What is your position with respect to algorithm trading as an asset manager?

I think you have to see asset management as a product, and when there are opportunities (like algorithm trading), which are legal, to compete with our services, this is a chance the market gives you. It is what it is.

You are in the “Goudhaantjes top 100”, a ranking for management talent below forty-five years old. What do you think about this?

Well, I think it is mainly a marketing-driven initiative. I can imagine there is much more (better) management talent around which the people involved perhaps did not spot on LinkedIn. So yeah, I therefore do not feel very honored or impressed.

Last question, what is your most important lesson of life?

All successful people work hard and are very smart. This is just the basis to qualify yourself for being successful. In the end, it is all about who you are as a person. You have to inspire your people and have to take the leadership role in an authentic way. If you find yourself in an early stage, this will help you a lot. Reflect on yourself every day! What can you improve? What was going well? And last but not least, be successful in the things you do and be a reliable partner to work with. Find out who you are and do not be afraid to show and express yourself even though you are not perfect!