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Swedish banking giant quits Baltics – says it's not worth the cost

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Swedish banking giant quits Baltics – says it's not worth the cost
Handelsbanken's office in Stockholm. Photo: Alexander Larsson Vierth/TT
11:54 CEST+02:00
Swedish banking giant Handelsbanken is closing down its Baltic operations, but denied the decisionhad anything to do with recent money laundering scandals tied to two other Scandinavian banks.

Handelsbanken said on Thursday it was leaving the Baltics due to unsatisfactory performance.

"We have come to the conclusion that profitability is too low, while costs are too high. Despite efficiency-enhancing measures in the past few years, the operations in the three Baltic States have not shown satisfactory profits," Richard Johnson, head of Handelsbanken International, told AFP.

He went on to say that circumstances had also changed drastically since the bank established its presence in the region a decade earlier, and that local offices were no longer necessary.

"Rapid technological advances, which have resulted in new players on the market, and new opportunities, mean that we can now help many of our customers directly from the home markets," Johnson said.

The bank would therefore start to wind down its business in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania during 2020.

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Johnson also stated that the bank's decision had nothing to do with the recent scandals surrounding allegations of extensive money laundering at two other Scandinavian banks tied to Baltic operations.

Denmark's largest bank Danske Bank is currently the target of criminal probes in several countries over some 200 billion euros ($226 billion) in transfers that passed through its Estonian branch between 2007 and 2015, involving some 15,000 foreign clients, many Russian.

Swedish competitor Swedbank has also been embroiled in a scandal since February when an investigative news show on public broadcaster SVT claimed to have seen documents showing that at least 40 billion kronor ($4.3 billion) of suspicious transactions had been channelled to Baltic countries from Swedbank accounts.

Many of the transactions took place between 2007 and 2015, and some of the money may have first transited Danske Bank.

Handelsbanken has largely remained clear of the money laundering scandals and its operations in the Baltic States have only represented a fraction of some of its Nordic competitors.

For instance, according to the Estonian Banking Assocation, Handelsbanken's market share in Estonia in 2017 was only one percent, compared to Swedbank's 40 percent.

 
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