Alecta loses chairman after just one week in deepening crisis

Carina AkerstromPhotographer: Erika Gerdemark/Bloomberg

OSLO: Alecta is losing its new chairman after just one week in the job, the second bungled appointment for that role within a few months, as the pension fund sinks deeper into a crisis.

Carina Akerstrom, a seasoned banking executive, was supposed to restore confidence among clients of Sweden’s biggest pension fund after a series of failed investments and management departures, but her sudden exit casts doubt over the fund’s ability to manage its affairs.

Under its oversight are 1.2 trillion kronor (US$116bil) of retirement savings for a quarter of Sweden’s population.

Akerstrom is stepping down with immediate effect, a spokesperson for Alecta said.

Her resignation follows a report by newspaper Dagens Industri highlighting an apparent conflict of interest with Heimstaden Bostad AB, a heavily indebted landlord and Alecta’s largest single investment.

Vice-chairman Jan-Olof Jacke will take the reins at the pension fund, Alecta said in a statement last Sunday.

There’s no need to convene a shareholder meeting to sign off on his appointment, Alecta said.

Jacke had steered the fund since October in an interim capacity after Ingrid Bonde stepped down as chairman.

Akerstrom’s former employer, Svenska Handelsbanken AB, is Heimstaden Bostad’s creditor, Dagens Industri reported earlier in the week. This would have put one of her key responsibilities, to scrutinise Alecta’s US$4.8bil investment in the landlord, at odds with her contractual demands with Handelsbanken.

While Akerstrom stepped down as Handelsbanken’s chief executive officer at the start of the year her contract runs until October 2024 and requires “full loyalty” with Handelsbanken until then, Dagens Industri said.

She has signed life-long non-disclosure agreements for all Handelsbanken related business, the newspaper added.

“It’s regrettable that Carina Akerstrom has changed her view on her ability to fulfill her tasks as chairman of Alecta and decided to resign. No new information has appeared we were already aware of,” said Kenneth Bengtsson, chairman of Alecta’s supervisory board.

“Throughout the process we have naturally asked Carina Akerstrom comprehensive questions regarding this. Our view is that there were no conflicts of interest which could not be handled in a regular fashion.”

Alecta took a 19% writedown in the value of its Heimstaden Bostad stake in the fourth quarter, shaving 8.7 billion kronor off the holding.

Heimstaden Bostad is currently striving to offload properties amid credit-rating downgrades and a steep jump in borrowing costs.

As chairman, Akerstrom would also have led the renegotiations surrounding the disadvantageous shareholder agreement with the company’s co-owner, Norwegian billionaire Ivar Tollefsen.

Europe’s property sector is in turmoil after years of zero rates ended with central banks jacking up rates at a fast pace, causing real estate valuations to fall and squeezing landlords who need to refinance large debt piles.

In Sweden, the financial regulator has warned the full effect of rate increases is yet to be seen.

The Heimstaden Bostad debacle is the second high-profile crisis for the retirement fund, after it lost US$2bil on risky investments in US niche banks, including Silicon Valley Bank a year ago.

The fiasco led to the departures of a number of top executives and even prompted an investigation by the country’s financial authorities.

Alecta’s stake in Heimstaden Bostad is also under investigation by Sweden’s financial watchdog, as well as the prosecutor.

The losses, while attention-grabbing, do not threaten Alecta’s stability or solvency, the fund has said previously.

Akerstrom became chairman at Alecta on Feb 22 and her resignation is Alecta’s second recruitment failure in short succession.

The former Handelsbanken chief executive was tapped for the position after the nomination of former Danish central bank governor Lars Rohde also fell through after a “conflict of interest” as he was also appointed as candidate for the board of Nordea Bank Abp. — Bloomberg

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