Nordea, or more formally The Nordea Group, is a conglomerate of Northern European banks.

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 brand Nordea.

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 Handelsbanken.

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 for free.

Future Plans

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...