Alecta’s head of governance and sustainability, Carina Silberg, has said many important topics came up for debate in the latest corporate voting season – but the lack of physical or interactive annual general meetings (AGMs) meant there was not enough discussion about them.

Elsewhere in the new responsible ownership report from the SEK1.1trn (€108bn) Swedish pension fund, its chief executive officer said increased foreign ownership of companies in his country may put strains on the Nordic corporate governance model.

In a commentary on the report’s publication today, Alecta said one thing that had really stood out during the 2020/2021 shareholder meeting season was that – contrary to common practice in Sweden – there were no physical AGMs, and few attempts at interactive digital versions.

All voting was carried out digitally or via mail, it said.

Silberg said: “Normally, when we vote on a somewhat controversial topic, we can motivate our decision at the AGM and thus give an explanation to other shareholders and the management team.”

But this kind of dialogue had been lacking at a time when dialogue had been crucial, she said.

Just over a year ago Alecta announced the creation of a new, united corporate governance and sustainability team within its asset management operation, led by Silberg. She said at the time that one of the new team’s main aims was to help bring about a closer dialogue with invest companies to clarify what Alecta expected of them.

“Many important topics have been up for debate during this special year and would have benefitted from the broader discussions that normally occur during voting season,” Silberg said, in today’s statement.

“Moving forward, we see the need for AGMs where both shareholders and management can explain their reasoning,” she said.

On the topic of growing foreign ownership of Swedish companies, Alecta CEO Magnus Billing said in the report: “At Alecta, we attach great importance to the work of nomination committees, board appointments and ongoing collaboration with our holding companies.

“But increased foreign ownership may place new demands on how we work within the Swedish, or Nordic, model for corporate governance,” he said.

Billing said the Swedish ownership model worked well, with clarity and transparency, and that his firm would continue work to maintain it.

“The questions we ask ourselves in the exchange within our newly-established ownership council are, among other things, how we can contribute to upgrading Swedish corporate and corporate governance, how we can collaborate with the largest owners for the good of the companies, how we can preserve the strengths and at the same time strengthen the legitimacy in a new ownership context,” he said.

As part of Alecta’s new corporate governance operation, the pension fund established an ownership council (Ägarrådet) — an advisory body including experts from outside the company.

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