Picture: BLOOMBERG
Picture: BLOOMBERG

The acting head of Danske Bank acknowledged on Thursday that the Danish lender has its work cut out to regain trust after becoming embroiled in a massive money-laundering scandal.

“We know we have a huge task ahead of us in restoring the trust of our customers and society,” acting CEO Jesper Nielsen said as the company released its first quarterly earnings since revelations of the staggering scale of potentially suspect money that flowed through the bank’s Estonian branch.

Investigators in Denmark, the US, Brussels and London are looking into Danske’s Estonian unit between 2007 and 2015, with the focus on 15,000 non-resident clients, including many Russians.

Danske has acknowledged that much of the approximately €200bn that went through the branch during that period may need to be treated as suspicious in origin.

The bank, which has seen its market capitalisation tumble by nearly half since the start of the year, said on Thursday that it took a major hit to third-quarter earnings. However, the drop in net profit to 2.3-billion krona (€308m) from 4.7-billion last year was due in large part to a contribution of 1.5-billion krona to a foundation that fights financial crime.

Excluding this and exceptional costs to strenghten anti-money-laundering efforts, the dip in net profit was in the low single digits. It reported lending growth across the Nordic countries for the first nine months of the year.

“Overall, it’s a good report,” said Sydbank analyst Mikkel Emil Jensen. “It shows that the previous momentum has continued, especially when you look at volumes outside Denmark.”

The bank’s shares rose by as much as 6.5% following the earnings report, although they missed analyst expectations. Jensen said  the rise was due to investor relief that the bank’s momentum in its operations was continuing. 

“The big question is still about potential fines,” he noted. The uncertainty about the size of fines it will face will likely affect the share price for some time, he added.

Nielsen, in an interview with Bloomberg TV, said Danske has been “very prudent in terms of capital and can basically withstand large fines or sanctions”.

Denmark’s financial market watchdog has ordered Danske to set aside 10-billion krona to cover potential fallout from the scandal. The equivalent of roughly €1.3bn, but that may not be enough to cover the eventual fines. 

Dutch bank ING agreed last month to pay €775m to settle a money-laundering investigation in The Netherlands.

AFP