Handelsbanken to close more than 100 branches across Sweden

Swedish bank Handelsbanken is set to close almost half of its branches in Sweden, in a bid to cut costs.

Handelsbanken to close more than 100 branches across Sweden
Handelsbanken said more and more of its customers were using digital banking. Photo: Vilhelm Stokstad/TT

Handelsbanken joins the ranks of lenders downscaling their physical presence in face of growing digitalisation in the sector.

It said in a statement that it plans to reduce the number of branches in Sweden to 200 from around 380 at present in a bid to cut costs to 20 billion Swedish kronor (1.9 billion euros, $2.3 billion) by the end of 2022.

The closures will affect some 1,000 employees – or one in seven of its domestic workforce – over the next two years, the statement said.

Negotiations were currently under way with trade unions, but Handelsbanken said it would set aside 1.5 billion kronor in its fourth-quarter accounts “to facilitate these adjustments”.

At the same time, the group said it would invest 1.0 billion kronor over the next two years “in order to take its digital customer offering to an entirely new level”.

“We're currently observing that customers are using digital channels and other means to meet up, rather than in our branches,” chief executive Carina Akerstrom told SVT public television.

Unlike its Nordic competitors, Handelsbanken has until now set great store by its bricks-and-mortar presence on the high street.

Rival Swedbank, for example, currently has only 160 branches in Sweden.

In addition to its domestic workforce of 7,000, Handelsbanken also employs 5,000 staff outside Sweden, notably in Britain, Denmark and Finland.

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What happens if you don’t pay a bill in Sweden?

Sweden's Enforcement Authority is responsible for collecting unpaid debts, fines, and declarations of bankruptcy. So, what happens if an unpaid bill reaches the Enforcement Authority, and can you do anything if you have a black mark on your record?

What happens if you don't pay a bill in Sweden?

What happens when you have a bill?

Usually, if you have a bill in Sweden, you will receive an invoice (faktura) either digitally or via post, which will include details such as the amount owed, who to pay and the date payment is due (förfallodatum).

If you don’t pay the invoice in time, the person you owe money to may turn the case over to inkasso, or a debt collection agency, who will again send you an invoice for payment, plus the agency’s fee.

If this invoice goes unpaid, the Enforcement Authority will get involved.

The Swedish Enforcement Authority, Kronofogden in Swedish, is responsible for collecting unpaid debts. It does this by providing advice and support to those who are unable to pay their debts, as well as helping creditors – such as, for example, landlords whose tenants have not paid their rent.

The debt collection agency will pass unpaid bills on to them, and you may receive a betalningsanmärkning or black mark on your credit record.

Before you receive a black mark, however, you will first receive an ansökan om betalningsföreläggande from the Enforcement Authority. If you pay this in time, your debt will not be registered as a betalningsanmärkning.

There are some types of payment where you can receive a betalningsanmärkning without the bill going through a debt collection agency first. These are usually payments owed to the state, such as unpaid tax, unpaid student loan repayments or unpaid municipal parking fees.

You are unlikely to come into contact with the Enforcement Authority unless you miss or forget to pay a bill.

What happens if you get a black mark?

A black mark can have pretty major consequences – it can stop you from hiring a car, getting a credit card, borrowing money (including getting a mortgage), taking out a phone contract or even renting an apartment, as well as barring you from ordering anything on credit or paying via invoice.

This is due to the fact that whenever you apply for a loan or credit in Sweden, the lender will check your credit score (kreditupplysning) to see if there is any risk of you not paying up. Many lenders have a strict policy on not lending to individuals with black marks on their credit score to minimise risk, no matter whether the mark is due to an unpaid phone bill or a missed mortgage repayment.

How can I check if I have one?

You can check if you have a black mark by contacting a credit check company – here is a list of all credit check companies in Sweden. Some may charge a small fee for the service, whereas others offer it for free.

One advantage of checking your own credit score before contacting a lender is that your credit score is not affected when you carry out a check on yourself. 

If, however, a bank carries out a credit check on you, this can affect your credit score – it’s usually not an issue if you carry out one or two checks, but a lot of checks in a short period of time could cause issues.

Can you do anything to remove it?

Unfortunately, no. 

All you can do is wait – a black mark will disappear from your record after three years for private individuals or five years for businesses. 

The best strategy is to avoid getting a black mark on your record in the first place – such as by paying your bills via autogiro (direct debit), keeping an eye on your post (as well as your digital post), and paying for items up-front if possible to avoid invoices, rather than using “buy now, pay later” credit services such as Klarna or Clearpay.