October 1, 2018 / 10:28 AM / 17 days ago

Nordea sees room for 'tactical' M&A after HQ move: CEO

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Nordea (NDAFI.HE), the Nordic region’s biggest bank, will focus on improving and expanding its IT systems in the near term but might still make “tactical” M&A moves in the region, CEO Casper von Koskull told Reuters.

Nordea's Group CRO Julie Galbo and Nordea's Group CEO Casper von Koskull ring the bell at Nasdaq Helsinki, Finland October 1, 2018. Lehtikuva/Martti Kainulainen via REUTERS

Nordea on Monday became the largest company run out of Finland, overtaking Nokia (NOKIA.HE) in market value, as it moved its headquarters to Finland from Sweden in a bid to avoid tougher rules and cut costs.

Following the move, von Koskull said the bank was focused on reforming its banking platform and developing new digital services, a plan that has included major job cuts and IT investments.

“The focus is to become a true digital bank ... but that might of course include tactical moves,” von Koskull told Reuters, pointing to Nordea’s recent plan to buy Norwegian Gjensidige’s (GJFS.OL) online banking business for about $673 million.

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Asked about any plans to return to talks with Dutch lender ABN Amro (ABNd.AS), von Koskull said the idea was not topical at the moment. Nordea had talks about a possible merger with ABN’s owners in 2016.

The Nordic banking sector has been rocked recently by Danske Bank’s (DANSKE.CO) money laundering scandal but von Koskull said Nordea had been unaffected by it.

“I demand even more cooperation to build a common and a safer system for funding and finances,” he said, welcoming an EU plan to create a new agency to tackle money laundering.

EUROPEAN LEVEL

With the headquarters move, Nordea is looking to save about 1 billion euros as it does not have to comply with Swedish regulations.

The bank also wanted a level playing field with rivals supervised by the European Central Bank. Finland is in the euro zone while Sweden is not.

“We compete on a European level. That’s why it’s so important that we also have the same rules and regulations as our European peers,” von Koskull said.

Nordea has a balance sheet of around 600 billion euros, which is close to three times Finland’s annual economic output. However, regulators consider the risk that Nordea would ever require state money as very small.

While the move’s immediate economic benefits will be limited, the Finnish government has celebrated it, expecting that it could help attract new players to the country.

The move is not expected to have any immediate impact on the bank’s personnel or customers. Von Koskull said he and head of group compliance Matthew Elderfield were the only employees that actually moved.

Nordea’s move has drawn strong criticism in Sweden, with unions and politicians accusing the bank of being greedy and shortsighted.

“I think all the Nordea people know that overall the process of why we are standing here today has been a bit controversial from a Nordic point of view,” said Lauri Rosendahl, president of Nasdaq Nordics, before von Koskull rang the opening bell at Helsinki bourse.

Reporting by Jussi Rosendahl and Anne Kauranen; editing by Niklas Pollard and Jason Neely

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