Clients Who Quit Nordea Now Find Themselves in Swedbank Fire

The headquarters of Swedbank AB stands in Riga.
Photographer: Peti Kollanyi/Bloomberg

In Sweden, finding a bank not embroiled in controversy is getting difficult these days.

A number of clients who left Nordea Bank Abp after it opted to move to Helsinki from Stockholm ended up at Swedbank AB. Now, they’re questioning whether that was a good choice given allegations of money laundering against their new lender.

Customers to have left Nordea since its 2017 decision to move to Finland include some of Sweden’s biggest trade unions and even the ruling Social Democratic Party of Prime Minister Stefan Lofven.

“It doesn’t feel very good that we switched banks for one reason and then ended up as clients at another bank that seems to have acted in a dubious way in a different matter,” Tommy Wreeth, the chairman of the Swedish Transport Workers’ Union, said by phone.

Lofven’s Social Democrats have asked Swedbank for a meeting to get it to explain the allegations and what it plans to do, according to spokesman Martin Rynoson.

European Union Leaders Attend Trade Summit

Stefan Lofven

Photographer: Dario Pignatelli/Bloomberg

Asked whether Sweden’s governing party might consider changing bank again, Rynoson says they’re monitoring the case.

Swedish broadcaster SVT said last week it found about 40 billion kronor ($4.3 billion) in suspicious flows linking Swedbank to the $230 billion Danske Bank A/S Estonian money-laundering scandal. Sweden’s oldest bank is now being investigated by the financial supervisory authorities in Sweden and Estonia.

The Swedish prosecutor has launched a separate probe relating to a possible breach of insider information rules by Swedbank. Meanwhile, local media are raising questions around the response of the Swedish FSA, and why it didn’t react sooner to indications that Swedbank wasn’t complying with money laundering rules.

Read more: Swedbank Scandal Deepens as Laundering Linked to Yanukovych

Lofven, who just started his second term as prime minister, has been vocal in expressing his concerns about the allegations against Swedbank. In an interview with news agency TT last week, the prime minister said that if "they are found to be involved in these kinds of operations -- laundering money for criminals -- it undermines trust in the whole system. And trust is everything."

Lofven, who also has personal savings in Swedbank funds, said Sweden may need to strengthen laws against money-laundering in response to the scandal.

The Swedish Trade Union Confederation LO and the Union of Commercial Employees were also among clients to have changed banks from Nordea to Swedbank. The Swedish Municipal Workers’ Union, Kommunal, moved some money it had with Nordea to its main bank Swedbank.

Read more: Nordea’s HQ Move Draws Swedish Anger as Opposition Pounces

Wreeth at the transport union said he will now monitor how LO -- the central organization for 14 affiliates that organize some 1.44 million workers -- responds to the developments at Swedbank.

“The unions are free to do what they want, but it’s of course difficult to change banks each time something happens,” he said. “It’s also difficult to measure what is worse, money laundering or when a bank is trying to flee from the Swedish banking system, as we thought was the case with Nordea."

Christoffer Jonsson, who as head of LO’s investment company Bantorget Forvaltning manages its assets, said he met with Swedbank’s Chief Executive Officer Birgitte Bonnesen on Feb. 22.

"We are looking at this very seriously, of course," Jonsson said. "When it came to my knowledge, I booked a meeting with Birgitte Bonnesen to hear their version, as we represent a rather large group that has Swedbank as the main bank."

Jonsson is now awaiting the results of the external investigation Swedbank has asked Forensic Risk Alliance to conduct, as well as the findings of separate investigations by the financial watchdogs in Sweden and Estonia.

"We have to wait and see where it lands," Jonsson said. "If it turns out that these are serious money laundering events, we’ll have to assemble everyone and see what we do with that information. But it’s too early to say if we are going to leave the bank."

( Adds reference to FSA questions.)