Banking in Sweden

puzzle with the national flag of sweden and euro banknote

Sweden’s banks have remained largely unaffected by the global financial crisis which has wreaked havoc on other banking systems throughout much of the western world. This is largely because the Swedish government has learned its lessons well. In the early 1990s, the Scandinavian country experienced its own credit crunch caused by the bursting of its housing bubble, leading the country’s government to undertake a massive banking rescue which included guaranteeing the deposits of all the country’s banks and assuming all bad bank debts and transferring them to asset management companies.

The rescue – which has become commonly known as the ‘Swedish Solution’ – was successful and in 2012 the World Economic Forum ranked the Swedish banking system as one of the soundest in the world. The ‘Swedish Solution’ has also been hailed by some economists as the ideal system to transform the United States’ current economic crisis.

As of December 2010, Sweden had a total of 114 different banks, but the majority of the country’s banking market (approximately 75 per cent) is dominated by just four banks: Swedbank, Handelsbanken, Nordea and Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken (SEB). In recent years these banks have expanded their operations rapidly and now have branches in a number of countries outside of Sweden. Handelsbanken, for example, has opened up more than 100 branches in the UK alone since 2000.

Opening a bank account as a non-resident of Sweden can be tricky. Most banks will require you to be in possession of a personnummer, a Swedish identification number which provides proof of residence in the country, before you can open an account. However, the larger banks may be willing to offer non-residents accounts, albeit with restricted services. For example, you may not be issued a Betalkort (debit card) and you more than likely will not have access to their internet banking services. If you are a non-resident, then your application to open a bank account will be dealt with on a discretionary basis, although some banks do appear to be more welcoming to foreigners than others. For example, SEB has a section on its website which offers to help non-residents of Sweden with their financial concerns. It is highly unlikely that the smaller, more regionalised banks will offer accounts to people who live outside of the country. It may be worth talking to one of the Swedish banks that have a branch in your home country (if there is one) to see if you can open an account with them that could then be transferred at a later date.

If you are a Swedish resident then opening a bank account in the country is an extremely simple process. Providing you have your personnummer – which is issued by the Swedish tax office (Skatteverket) – a form of ID such as a passport and, in some cases, proof of your address (for example, a recent utility bill) then you will be able to open an account at any Swedish bank. To begin with, especially at smaller banks, the type of account you will be able to open may be limited to a very basic current account. Some will even require you to prove that you have regular source of income being deposited into your account before they will offer you a Betalkort. Again, the larger banks are more likely to offer you a debit card immediately upon opening an account than the regional ones are. The good news is that English is widely spoken throughout Sweden so, if you don’t speak Swedish, there is a good chance that you will be able to speak to someone with whom you will be able to converse no matter what size bank you are planning to use.  It’s also worth noting that Sweden is reported to have one of the highest rates of internet banking usage in the world, and all of the major banks – and most of the smaller ones – offer the facility to bank online; many offer this service for free providing you hold a standard current account with them.

While Swedish banks do charge service fees for checking/current accounts (strömkonto), banking in the country is still more affordable than in many other European countries – Sweden ranked as the world’s 10th most affordable country for financial services in a 2012 World Economic Forum report. For example, a Key Account at Swedbank, which services includes access to internet, phone, and mobile banking, a debit card and an annual personal review of your finances, costs 39 krona (approximately £3.70) a month –  there is no service charge for students or people aged between 18 and 21. At Handelsbanken, an Allkort account, which offers similar services to Swedbank’s Key Account, costs a fixed annual fee of 250 krona (approx. £24).

These accounts are mainly used for everyday banking needs – depositing and withdrawing money, paying bills, etcetera. If you are looking to earn good rates of interest on your savings – and don’t need instant access to your money – then you may wish to open a sparkonto (savings account). Generally, you will need to have a current account with a bank before opening a savings account. At Nordea you can take out a Fixed Interest Investment, which fixes the interest rate for the duration of time you have the account for. The minimum amount you can invest in this account is 10,000 krona (approx. £950   ) and 5,000 (approx. £475) krona for accounts for children aged 18 or under.

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