Bengt Emriksson is retiring as managing director of Kyrkans pensionskassa, the SEK8bn (€856m) pension fund of the Swedish church, after eight years in the job. He talks to George Coats about his career
What was your first full-time job - and do you remember what you were paid at the time?
I joined SPP, which was then Sweden’s largest pension insurance company and provided pensions to the private sector, in 1965. I got a job in a unit called SLO, which was the occupational accident department for Swedish farmers, and I was paid SEK1,750 (€188) a month. Back in those days, pension insurers did not hire so many graduates but rather took on young people and trained them up in in-house schools. I joined after just a year of university education.
What was the best piece of advice that anyone gave you career-wise, and did you take it?
No I didn’t get any advice from anybody, I have always made my own choices.
How did a nice person like you become involved in a pensions career?
It was an accident really. It could have got a job in a bank or perhaps in the public sector but it happened to be in a pensions insurer and I have been in it ever since. The state later took over SLO and then in 1973 AMF Pension was created as a new company inside SPP. Back then I was one of the team that got it up and running. Later I was again one of the first employees of another new SPP subsidiary company, SPP Fritt Val, or SPP Free Choice.
This was later sold to Handelsbanken which more recently sold it on to Norway’s Storebrand, but by then I had left it. I was head-hunted in 2000 to head Kyrkans pensionskassa, which was being created as a result of the separation of the Swedish church and state. Previously church pensions had been paid from government tax revenues but because of the disestablishment of the church, the church had to insure the pensions and for that they needed somebody with experience.
So it was natural for them to look for somebody within SPP or AMF, and there I was. In addition, my career has encompassed the most important change in the Swedish pensions industry, the switch from DB to DC. Kyrkans pensionskassa has both, with newer members joining the DC scheme. Of our SEK8bn, SEK6bn are in the DB plan and SEK2bn the DC.
What was the most satisfying achievement during your career - and why?
Looking back I can say it was when I was one of the very first employees at AMF Pension. The initiative came from the trade unions. While SPP was a company providing pensions for salaried private sector employees, that is the while-collar workers, AMF Pension was established to handle the STP, a supplementary pension scheme, for private sector non-salaried employees, the blue-collar workers. I was working on pensions in SPP and in 1972 I was asked to join the AMF Pension start-up group. AMF Pension remained part of SPP until 1991, when it became too big and was separated, and it has since grown into one of the major actors in Sweden’s pension industry, and indeed is the most important player.
And what was the worst moment in your career - and why?
It was when SPP and the insurance company Trygg Hansa tried to merge in 1991. We in SPP realised it was an impossible project and didn’t understand the motivation behind the merger. However, they tried to make it work and the two organisations worked together, although stopping short of a full merger, over a three-year period. In the event it was unsuccessful and it had not been very enjoyable. I looked at it like a winter and I was looking forward to the spring. That came when the attempt ended and we separated again in 1994. It was after this that we created SPP Fritt Val.
How would you sell a career in pensions to a prospective newcomer to the industry?
Some people say the pensions sector is boring but I say it is very exciting, indeed increasingly so in recent years, and it will be still more important in the future because of the demographic situation when we will have to find new solutions. So for the right people it will offer a fascinating career. However, while pensions are very important for everybody, a job in pensions is not for everybody. The right people must have an interest in mathematics, statistics, economics and IT, they must have the makings of an actuary, rather than wanting to pursue the humanities.
What would you do differently?
Nothing. I am very satisfied with my career and would not have dreamed when I started out that I would have got so far or that it would have been so good for me.
Do you have any unfilled ambitions?
No. After 44 years of full-time work I am satisfied.
Have you retired or have you recycled yourself into some new role?
No, I am leaving in March 2009. I have had a number of approaches from people asking whether I could help them as a consultant when I retire. For example, there are not so many people working now who know about the old DB plans. But I am not sure whether I will. A little perhaps, but not so much. I have a garden at home, my daughter just got married so in a year or so I will probably be a grandfather. So that will take up my time.
Your words of wisdom for those in the pensions industry?
Work, work and think positively and you will be happy.