Clean bill of health

Judge’s comment: “This is what I call an achievement. It shows the CEO’s willingness to look beyond her fiduciary duty. The sense of social responsibility PenSam has assumed should serve as a role model for the industry.”

Helen Kobæk has been chief executive officer at PenSam for 29 years and her achievements at the scheme encapsulate a strong and combined focus on customer needs and corporate social responsibility. With a reach beyond PenSam and its home market of Denmark, she has a reputation for breaking new ground by introducing products that have been an inspiration for the entire pension industry

Kobæk was the main driver behind products and solutions that enable people contributing to PenSam to take early retirement as a result of invalidity. This reinforces the objective of PenSam’s labour market pensions model to ensure if offers an adequate pension to all its members.

Despite the success these solutions enjoy at PenSam and the reassurance they offer members, the Danish authorities initially largely ignored the concept. Kobæk thus decided to take action to promote PenSam’s lead in this area and the result is different types of products across the industry in Denmark that recognise the special needs of those that are forced to take early retirement as a result of health issues. Moreover, Kobæk’s lobbying has had a much wider impact on Denmark’s social welfare system in general and the way it views those whose ability to work has become impaired.

Kobæk is naturally proud of PenSam’s lead. “Early retirement due to invalidity is a welfare problem and it is usually the responsibility of the Danish government. But despite the obvious evidence, the Danish authorities did not engage with this issue. Thus, in short, what PenSam has achieved is an augmentation of the social responsibility of the pension sector with PenSam at the forefront,” Kobæk says. This had not been seen before but it has gradually changed the whole pensions sector as well as the wider the Danish welfare industry. In recent years, other pension companies in Denmark have also introduced health products.

PenSam’s constitution meant it was well placed to spearhead the campaign to raise awareness of the issue of disablility, according to Kobæk: “Even though PenSam was a pension fund, I could not bear to do nothing about a severe problem. So I found the courage and ability to break new ground. I decided to take on the responsibility of securing the social welfare of our customers.”

PenSam’s customers mainly work in the public healthcare sector as nursing home assistants, hospital porters, cleaners, nursery assistants and child carers. “These are jobs where the risk of deteriorating health is substantial and far higher than the average,” Kobæk continues. ”This fact is reflected in early retirement statistics. Early retirement is a big obstacle to the supply of an adequate old age pension because it means pension savings are paid out too early. So a range of products that have a positive impact on the health of our customers has been developed.”

These solutions include products that enable PenSam to react before an injury or illness becomes too difficult to manage. PenSam offers a number of different products designed to address specific issues, with some initiatives designed to address problems long before they emerge.

The innovation Kobæk has encouraged at PenSam is evident in two key areas of her drive to secure adequate early retirement provision. One concerns is health initiatives in schools and the other its digital ‘electronic’ doctor, which is available to all PenSam’s active customers. The results speak for themselves. The risk of early retirement for each member at PenSam has been reduced from 45% to 33%.

Kobæk’s idea has also led to the development of a care and work rehabilitation programme for the long-term sick and those with the early signs of prolonged illness that could lead to early retirement. This has resulted in a return to full employment for 93% of PenSam’s customers who had been ill for five to 26 weeks and 53% of those who had stopped working for more than 26 weeks. This compares favourably with those PenSam has not helped where the figures are just 79% and 44% respectively. ‘Focusing on keeping people in employment is a key aspect of the recent reforms of early retirement laws and procedures in Denmark that was also inspired by PenSam’s initiative,” Kobæk concludes.

Helen Kobæk

  • Chief executive officer at PenSam
  • Previously management board secretary at PKA
  • Bachelor of laws (LLB) gained at Copenhagen University


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