Former CEO: Swedbank different in Estonia and Sweden

Robert Kitt.
Robert Kitt. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Ex-CEO of Swedbank Robert Kitt says in an interview to Toomas Sildam that Swedbank operates based on different regulations in Estonia and Sweden and the two arms' results cannot be compared.

Is Minister of Finance Martin Helme right when he claims Swedbank is twice as profitable in Estonia than in Sweden, while the profitability of its pension funds in Estonia is half of Sweden's?

The words twice and half sound good. As far as I remember those figures, Swedbank's productivity is quite uniform across all home markets. Pension fund productivity can be compared in different ways; the difference between Estonia and Sweden is not that great.

Swedish pension funds sport better productivity than Estonia's.

That depends on where those funds invest, the period of reference. There are more options in Sweden, it is possible to invest in hundreds of different funds. I'm sure there are those sporting far better productivity than funds in Estonia, while there are also those that fall short. The situation is more complicated than what can be summed up in a simple sentence.

If I am a Swedbank client in Estonia and have an account here, can I walk into a Swedbank office in Sweden to send money to a friend or pay my September utilities?

No, you cannot. They are different banks in different countries.

It's all Swedbank to me as a client.

Yes, but the arms operate under different supervision, in different legal environments and must follow different rules.

A colleague who takes an interest in the economy and banking asked me to put to you a crisis question: if Estonia is occupied while I, as a Swedbank client, am in Sweden, will I be able to use my Estonian bank account there?

Such a disaster scenario is not sensible. I cannot say what would happen if Estonia was occupied.

The point is that I seem to be a client of Swedbank and not be one at the same time.

You are a client of Swedbank in a given country. What if Estonia was occupied… I do not even want to pronounce that sentence. No one can say what the consequences would be.

Why are home loans cheaper for Swedbank's Scandinavian clients than for those in Estonia?

Very good, let us take a few minutes to unravel this mystery.

It is only possible to compare comparable things. Home loans cannot be compared from one country to another. In Estonia, a person signs a contract with the bank, agrees on a loan margin — usually Euribor plus a certain percentage — and that interest rate remains constant for up to 30 years as the average home loan period is 22.5 years. When it comes to home loans in Sweden, the interest rate for the first three months is agreed on, and then the rate will change in three months and again in another three months… No one asks the client.

It is clear that the longer the interest rate risk for the bank in fixed contracts for 30 years, the higher the margin.

Does Estonia have higher risks?

A fixed 30-year interest rate is a bigger risk. Is Estonia generally more risky than Sweden? International ratings agencies see a slight difference, but I would say both are quite risk free.

The full interview can be found on ERR in Estonian.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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