In each issue of Swedish Chamber Insights, readers have the opportunity to get to know the Swedish Chamber members better. This month, Swedish Chamber Insights talked to Theo Stam, director of BD and Sales Montae & Partners, part of Söderberg Netherlands. In his role, Theo Stam has been at the center of Söderberg & Partners’ entrance to the Dutch market in 2017. We talked about how the expansion process has been, the value of fostering sustainable employment, and Söderberg & Partners’ motivation behind sponsoring the #NordicTalks2023 Summit.
Söderberg & Partners, a major player in the insurance sector, made a strategic move to enter the Dutch market in 2017. Could you share insights into this decision? What factors led to the selection of the Netherlands as your next expansion destination, and how has the journey been so far?
Absolutely, it’s a significant step for us. To provide some context, we were already the largest insurance broker in Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Norway. When considering expansion beyond the Nordic countries, the Netherlands stood out geographically, and culturally, there were striking similarities. Looking at the map, it seemed like the most logical choice. Interestingly. But most important was the, then upcoming, pension scheme change in the Netherlands. Sweden did the same in 2004 and they wanted to bring this experience and know-how to the Netherlands.
Soderberg & Partners are also making strides in Austria, Spain, and the UK. In this way, we are strengthening our position as a growing European player.
Currently, Söderberg & Partners in the Netherlands involves around 30 companies with nearly 1800 employees. Although they operate under their own brands, collectively, we may already be the second-largest insurance broker in the country.
Secondly, another compelling factor for entering the Dutch market was the systematic changes in the pension scheme system last July. Sweden did the same in 2004, so this created a conducive environment for our expertise.
The entire process has been quite smooth, and I believe that is thanks to that Söderberg & Partners always keep the entrepreneurs on board when acquiring new companies. I consider this one of our biggest strengths, as it ensures they remain active players and owners, fostering a collaborative environment for growth. This entrepreneurial spirit is what sets us apart from more centrally organized insurance companies, and it’s a key driver of our success.
How does your approach to work differ between Sweden and the Netherlands, and how are these differences influenced by the distinct cultures of the two countries?
Certainly, navigating the cultural nuances between Sweden and the Netherlands is an integral aspect of our operations. However, our strategic collaboration with local partners in each country is a game-changer. This ensures that we have experts on board who thoroughly understand the intricacies of each culture.
At Söderberg & Partners, we’ve launched a specialized service tailored precisely for this purpose – linking international companies with subsidiaries across multiple Nordic countries and the Netherlands. We’ve coined the Northern European Approach. This approach allows us to provide on-the-ground support in every country, reinforcing our commitment to comprehensive assistance. By applying the Northern European Approach streamlines, you can enhance the efficiency and simplify implementing employee benefits programs and pension schemes across multiple countries. In this way, Söderberg & Partners take on a coordinating and facilitating role in navigating across borders.
For instance, my observations of Dutch employees highlight their strong emphasis on communication and transparency. Most companies have detailed handbooks outlining the array of offerings for employees, ranging from parental leave to mental health services. Surprisingly, many employees are unaware of these benefits and resources. Hence, being a sustainable employer in the Netherlands involves not only providing these services but also ensuring that employees are well informed about what is available to them. This means being informative about both what is offered, and what isn’t offered.
Once again, each culture is different. In the United States for example, some companies go to extraordinary lengths, even offering pet care for their employees. In contrast, Sweden and the Netherlands share a similar ethos regarding sustainable employment. Companies in both countries strive to support and assist their staff without overly intruding into their personal lives.
On a broader scale, our focus is on creating working conditions that prioritize the well-being of employees, both physically and mentally. The overarching goal is to cultivate an environment where employees are happy, simply put.
This edition of Swedish Chamber Insights focuses on sustainability. Can you elaborate on what sustainability means for Söderberg & Partners, particularly in the context of pension planning?
When it comes to pensions, there are a lot of choices to be made. First, the employers must choose a pension provider. In today’s Dutch pension market, there are 6-8 providers, each varying in their sustainability practices. The responsibility then extends to individual employees who can opt different options, such as sustainable investment funds or lifecycle options.
In Sweden, more choices are placed in the hands of individual employees, whereas in the Netherlands, employers wield more influence. As pension advisors, we see it as our duty to educate clients on the significance of opting for sustainable pensions. If everyone would choose to only invest in sustainable fonds for example, there would be stronger incentives for providers to offer only this eventually.
Going back to the new pension system in the Netherlands, it needs to be implemented by every single company before January 1, 2028. This mandatory update prompts all companies to reconsider their pension schemes. At Söderberg & Partners in the Netherlands, we perceive this as an opportunity to not only adapt to the changing pension landscape, but also to encourage broader shifts, particularly towards sustainability. We want to grab this opportunity.
Söderberg & Partners in the Netherlands is a prominent sponsor of #NordicTalks 2023, a summit organized by all the Nordic Chambers and Embassies, centred on the health benefits of Nordic Outdoor Living. What motivated your decision to sponsor this event?
The sponsorship of #NordicTalks2023 aligns seamlessly with our strategic objectives. It serves as a fantastic opportunity to forge connections with all four Nordic countries and the Netherlands simultaneously. Given the Nordic focus of #NordicTalks2023, we view it as an ideal platform to showcase our capabilities in the Nordic European Approach and engage with Nordic companies.
Moreover, one of the main overall goals of Söderberg & Partners is to foster employee engagement and help employees be as happy as possible. We offer a comprehensive range of services covering the entire employment lifecycle, from onboarding to various life events in between, and ultimately, departure from the company, whether through entering pension or other reasons. Life events like having children or going through a divorce impact the decisions we make regarding pension schemes, underscoring the interconnectedness of personal and professional life.
In addition, our core objective is sustainable employability, ensuring that individuals remain content, healthy, and able to contribute to a company for as long as possible. All these facets, coupled with the financial advisory services we provide, are intrinsically linked to overall health and well-being. Hence, we value the topics of #NordicTalks2023 highly and are very excited to learn more about the health benefits of Nordic Outdoor Living and discuss it with fellow attendees.
Theo, having been an active member of the Swedish Chamber of Commerce for an extended period, what, in your opinion, is the value of Swedish Chamber membership?
Being a part of the Swedish Chamber holds significant value for us. Given that our mother company has strong Swedish ties, maintaining a connection with Sweden is essential, even as we operate as a Dutch company. Membership in the Swedish Chamber is a means for us to sustain that connection. Looking ahead, we’re enthusiastic about deepening our involvement, actively engaging with other members, and broadening our network.
Additionally, we perceive the Swedish Chamber of Commerce as a professional, well-organized, and engaging chamber. The events they organize provide valuable opportunities for participation, and the network itself offers avenues for valuable connections. We see the chamber not just as a professional organization, but also as a vibrant community, making our membership a source of both business and interpersonal enrichment.