, or more formally The Nordea Group
of Northern Europe
Facts and Figures
Since Nordea came into existence through the merger of countless
smaller banks, I won't even attempt give the details of their
individual histories. Instead, I'll just attempt to trace
out the path of the ever-expanding snowball.
The Finnish Core
The ball was set rolling in 1986 when Kansallis-Osake-Pankki
(aka KOP, National Stock Bank) of Finland merged with the
Bank of Helsinki. During Finland's severe recession and
consequent banking crisis in
the early 1990s banks folded left and right, and KOP first gobbled
Suomen Työväen Säästöpankki (Finnish Workers' Savings Bank)
in 1992, and then divvied up the
Savings Bank of Finland (Suomen Säästöpankki) with its
largest competitor the Union Bank of Finland
(Suomen Yhdyspankki, SYP) in 1993.
But the big bang came in 1995, when KOP merged with the
Union Bank and renamed itself Merita, the new entity grabbing
almost a 50% share of the banking market in Finland -- including the
great majority of ordinary consumers.
Across the Gulf of Finland
But Merita wasn't done it yet: it turns its eyes towards Finland's
neighbor Sweden, and in 1997 proceeded to merge with Nordbanken,
a Swedish bank itself formed from the merger of 80-odd banks during the
preceding 100 years. The new bank was promptly renamed
MeritaNordbanken, although for most part the separate brands
were maintained. Two years later, the conglomerate offered to
buy all shares of Christiania Bank of Norway, and after a year
of regulatory wrangling the deal was accepted.
And Down to Denmark
Turning the clock back a few years, in 1990 the merger of Danish
banks Andelsbanken, SDS Bank and Privatbanken had created an
entity called Unibank, another big fish in a small pond.
Unibank's holding company Unidanmark puffed itself up by
swallowing a few large insurance companies (plus, randomly enough
enough, the Polish bank Wlasnosci Pracowniczej), and then in 2000
merged into with MeritaNordbanken.
So in the space of only 3 years, a single bank had established market
leadership in all 4 of the big Nordic countries, and thus in 2001
the decision was made to unify all these operations under the single
A Former Customer's View
Immediately after the merger of KOP and SYP, Merita promptly proceeded
to abuse its near-monopoly position to lower interest rates paid
on savings accounts to a piddling 0.5% (compared to 2% earlier),
increase service fees,
and slap surcharges
for ATM use by non-customers, sending many formerly loyal
customers (including yours truly) to the competition.
Staff has been reduced radically, leading to absolutely terrible
customer service (doing anything in person at the bank requires
least half an hour in line) and a sequence of strikes as the
overworked personnel complain.
I still keep a heavily-used checking account with Nordea, because it
costs them money, but my savings are invested in competitor
A few good things have come from Nordea though. First of all,
Merita and Nordbanken customers can already
use each other's ATMs and branches freely without surcharges, and the
plan is to integrate all four banks fully. Nordea's online Solo
banking service also offers the cheapest international money
transfers that I know of, although these days using PayPal internationally
is even cheaper for small-ish quantities. Solo is also very nice in
almost all other respects, although Handelsbanken's PrivateLink
now manages everything except the international transfers and
(unlike Solo) lets you check on your credit card account in real time
In February 2002, the rumor mill was awash with news about a
possible merger between Nordea and giant Dutch bank ABN Amro.
Time will tell what happens...