Bartjan Happel

IT-engineer (QRM-expert)

"Maths isn’t about numbers; it's about using logic to solve problems. Numbers are important in my work, but what really matters is the human behaviour behind them. That's what I try to predict with the models I build."


Puzzling for pros

"Banks are all about money; everyone ‘gets’ that. We issue money in the form of loans or mortgages. And we collect it through savings and other investments. But precisely how that financial traffic flows within the bank is less well known. Before ABN AMRO issues a mortgage for - let's say - half a million euros, we obviously aren’t going to wait until someone happens to put exactly EUR 500,000 in their savings account. That money flows back and forth between departments, which pay and receive interest. My department’s called Asset & Liability Management and it monitors all these transactions. We’re effectively the bank within the bank. Our customers therefore aren’t private individuals or companies, but our own colleagues." 

Mathematical fortune teller 

“We also predict the future of ABN AMRO. There are two kinds: theoretical and actual. The first is based on everything that’s set down in writing. That's pretty easy to grasp, since contracts don’t change. But people do. Take the mortgage I referred to just now. Suppose we’ve agreed it will be repaid over 30 years. But what if the customer repays it sooner, buys another house or refinances that mortgage? This may not be what’s expected, but it's what often happens in the real world. And that's more difficult to predict. Hence there’s a lot that we can’t know, but which we must know. Both to safeguard our own position and to comply with strict regulations. I build, implement and configure mathematical models that show the behaviour behind the numbers.” 

 Smart with a mission

"The more abstract the maths, the more enjoyable it is. That’s why I decided to study it. But the only numbers I encountered were the page numbers in my textbooks. Maths is much more about using logic to solve problems. It's advanced code-breaking - wonderful! When I received my degree, they said to me: ‘Right, now you’ve got an analytical brain. Best of luck!’ I wasn’t attracted by the academic or scientific world; I was more interested in business. So I joined an IT consultancy and eventually ended up in the department where I’m still working today, four years later. And I’m still doing what I enjoy: figuring things out and putting them together differently so that they work better."

Polo shirt, not stuffed shirt

"I went to my job interview wearing a suit, not knowing any better. But I needn’t have, because in our department, our customers are our colleagues. Coming to work in a polo shirt is just fine, they said. That says a lot about the culture. It’s professional yet relaxed. And it makes you feel safe. There’s an acceptance of who you are and an ear for what you’ve got to say. I was recruited with a whole bunch of other juniors, and that showed in the vibe, i.e. lots of energy. You have to deal with technical rules, some of them imposed by people who don’t really understand them themselves. But there’s plenty of scope to discuss things and offer your views." 

Managing my own schedule

"My work is extremely varied. Obviously we need to agree what has to be done, but after that I decide for myself what I do and when. If I want to concentrate on numerical analysis, I immerse myself in a model. But I also help to recruit new employees and deliver presentations: everything from quarterly reports for stakeholders to sharing knowledge at a QRM conference in Chicago. I even took a course in storytelling so that I could learn how to convey abstract concepts in an exciting way - very useful. There’s a lot you can learn here, and you’re given plenty of scope to do so. You have to organise it yourself though." 


"We switched to Microsoft Azure quite a few years ago. This created scope for innovative tooling and working methods, via Scrum/Agile to DevOps. New technology is the order of the day here. But because we’re also a large organisation, we sometimes have to wait a long time for approval. What I always say is: never just accept it. Always keep on asking ‘Why?’ At the same time, you also need to understand that some rules are there for a reason." 

A job with prospects

"While I don't sell green mortgages, my work nevertheless has an impact. Because we know exactly how much the bank is spending, we can make cost savings and improve our choices. And hence manage the risks both for ourselves and our customers. That's also what I say at parties when people complain about negative interest rates or fines: we may need to improve our due diligence, but ABN AMRO really does always put the customer's interests first. I’m proud of that. I’m in the right place and I know what I want: to become a Chapter Lead* and ultimately manage my own teams. And make 20 to 80 people better at what they do. It’s great to know I can do that here." 

* Since then, Bartjan's ambition to become Chapter Lead has become a reality!

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