Sweden’s largest pension fund Alecta is facing the embarrassment of losing another of the leaders it hoped could drag it out of its reputational crisis, after Carina Åkerström quit only a week after being installed as chair.

The SEK1.2trn (€110bn) occupational pensions giant announced yesterday that the deputy chair of its board, Jan-Olof Jacke, was returning to chair the board of Alecta following Åkerström’s resignation on Sunday.

Kenneth Bengtsson, board member and chair of the pension fund board’s review committee, said: “It is regrettable that Carina Åkerström made a changed assessment of her capacity to fulfil the task of chair of the board of Alecta, and chose to resign.”

He said no new information had come to light that the committee did not already know.

“During the process, we have of course asked extensive questions of Carina Åkerström about this,” he said.

“Our view is that there was no conflict of interest that could not be dealt with in the usual way,” said Bengtsson.

Åkerström’s resignation came a day after Swedish business daily DI had reported on Saturday that the former Handelsbanken chief executive officer faced a potential conflict of interest by remaining under a loyalty obligation to the the bank while her employment contract was in force until October 2024.

According to the newspaper, Handelsbanken has extended several loans to the Swedish residential property company Heimstaden Bostad.

Alecta has a large ownership stake in Heimstaden Bostad, whose business problems have forced the pension fund to write off SEK12.7bn of its investment.

A spokesman for Handelsbanken told IPE the bank ”could not comment on alleged customer relationships out of respect for banking confidentiality”.

Åkerström said in today’s DI: “My assessment is that I will not be able to look after the interests of the pension savers in a way they have a right to demand.”

She told the paper she had been completely open and transparent with Alecta’s review board throughout the whole nomination process.

Asked whether she should have raised her latest misgivings earlier, Åkerström cited the sheer speed of her appointment – following the failure of Alecta’s attempted appointment of former Danish central bank governor Lars Rohde as chair – as a reason why this did not happen.

Åkerström’s appointment had been passed to the Swedish FSA for approval.

Alecta’s woes: A timeline

March 2023: Alecta reveals €1.3bn in losses on three US niche banks, which exposes the pension institution’s famously-concentrated equities portfolio to external scrutiny, as well as its preference for foreign investments over more familiar companies on home turf.

Alecta wins new five-year contract as default provider in Sweden’s ITP pension system.

CEO Magnus Billing fires equities chief as pension fund tries to shore up confidence, and investment strategy is hastily changed to slash the number of foreign holdings.

A week later, Billing is sacked himself, but the company states that the bad investments were made within the mandate. At its annnual general meeting, Billing is granted discharge by the board.

May 2023: Sweden’s FSA launches probe into whether risk management rules were followed at Alecta in the lead up to huge US bank losses.

June 2023Peder Hasslev, chair of Denmark’s PFA and CEO of Swedish state-owned venture capital company Saminvest, appointed as CEO from September.

More strategy changes announced – to increase the number of stocks in portfolios backing both of Alecta’s pension products, and moving to smaller stakes in non-Nordic companies in future. Active management is to continue, but some index management said likely to replace some of that on the defined benefit (DB) side.

Henrik Gade Jepsen, the new chief investment officer who had been on long-term sick leave almost since his arrival, formally leaves Alecta.

August 2023: Pablo Bernengo, CIO of AP3, poached by Alecta to head up investments.

September 2023: Swedish FSA starts investigation into Alecta’s investment in cash-strapped residential property firm Heimstaden Bostad, saying the probe is to protect Swedish pension savers’ money.

New CEO Hasslev admits Alecta should never have made Heimstaden Bostad investment, as pension fund enters talks to renegotiate the terms of that deal.

October 2023: Following criticism about her role in the bad investments, Alecta chair Ingrid Bonde resigns, saying there was too much focus on her personally.

November 2023: Swedish FSA reports at least one person to the police on suspicion of corruption regarding Alecta’s investment in Heimstaden Bostad – though few details made publicly available.

More top staff leave Alecta under Hasslev’s leadership, including legal chief William McKechnie and real assets chief Axel Brändström in December.

January 2024: Alecta celebrates having secured former Danish central bank chief Lars Rohde as its proposed new board chair, only to reject him a week later after discovering Rohde was also in the running for a board job at the bank Nordea.

February 2024: Carina Åkerström – who had also been shortlisted – ushered in as chair instead, and voted in at extraordinary board meeting on 22 February.

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