SWEDEN - The occupational pensions firm Alecta has lost its largest customer as the Swedish airline SAS is withdrawing SEK7bn (€772.5m) in assets for its pilots' pension fund.

The assets will be transferred to a newly created subsidiary of Handelsbanken called Handelsbanken Life & Pensions, reports the Swedish business newsletter Pensioner & Förmåner today.

With this decision SAS attempts to solve the long-standing problem of including the surplus in the pension fund - estimated at SEK2bn - in its balance sheet. According to the report Alecta, which has a monopoly on managing assets under the white-collar ITP DB plan, has so far been unable to provide exact figures on pension fund surpluses for each company. Currently, 27,000 companies and 750,000 people in total are covered under Alecta.

With Handelsbanken SAS hopes to be able to control the pension fund surplus better and make use of the international accounting standards (IAS19).

For SAS it was possible to withdraw the assets because when signing the ITP agreement SAS was granted an option of putting the money either with Alecta or with its subsidiary SPP. This exception to the monopoly rule was made because of the size of the SAS assets.

In the meantime, SPP has acquired the Irish company Euroben which was now renamed Handelsbanken Life & Pensions. "Putting money with this company also offers SAS possibly a more pan-European perspective on investments," Mikael Nyman, editor of Pensioner & Förmåner, told IPE. 

The transfer of the pension assets to Handelsbanken costs SAS an increase in pensions rbenefits under the pilots' pension scheme and an increase in premiums under the DC part of the ITP plan from 2 to 4%, according to the newsletter. Since 2001 the pilots had criticised the SAS for including the scheme's surplus in its balance sheet without having exact figures.

Alecta, with €44bn in assets at the end of October 2006, is mutually controlled by the social partners.