Swedbank has canceled the severance pay of its former CEO and accepted a record fine of 4 billion Swedish Krona (U.S. $390 million) in the wake of the findings of an independent investigation into its anti-money laundering (AML) deficiencies.
Law firm Clifford Chance, retained by Swedbank in February 2019 to conduct the probe, revealed its findings during a press conference Monday morning. Many of the issues revealed mirror the conclusions drawn by financial watchdogs in Sweden and Estonia in assessing the $390 million penalty last Thursday.
Swedbank said Monday it would not dispute the regulators’ findings and added its board unilaterally agreed to cancel the agreement of severance pay to the bank’s previous CEO, Birgitte Bonnesen, which was expected to begin March 29. Bonnesen was dismissed from her position by the board in March 2019.
“Clifford Chance’s report confirms the bank’s failure,” said Swedbank Chairman Göran Persson in a press release. “In its anti-money laundering work, the bank has not measured up to the requirements that customers, owners and society are entitled to set. We now have the facts and are working hard to solve the problems.”
Clifford Chance’s investigation covered customers, transactions, and activities from 2007 through March 2019 and how the bank handled internal and external information disclosures. The probe determined Swedbank’s Baltic subsidiaries recorded €17.8 billion (U.S. $19.2 billion) of incoming payments and €18.9 billion (U.S. $20.4 billion) of outgoing payments that represented high risks of money laundering from March 2014-2019.
Further, Clifford Chance found Swedbank’s Estonian and Latvian branches “actively pursued” high-risk customers as a business strategy, and Swedbank Estonia took on high-risk customers after they had been offboarded by other banks in Estonia for their risk levels. High-risk customers in Baltic Banking were also allowed to open accounts in the bank’s other business areas in Sweden, the probe found.
Clifford Chance concluded the bank’s AML controls were poorly designed during the entirety of the reviewed period from 2007-19 and that the bank’s CEOs, including Bonnesen, during that time had “a lack of adequate appreciation for the risk posed by the high-risk non-resident customers to the bank.” The report also notes it wasn’t clear if Swedbank’s board put enough pressure on management regarding the deficiencies.
“It is obvious that there have been cultures in the bank that are not acceptable,” said current Swedbank President and CEO Jens Henriksson. “This is serious. I have initiated a review which aims to examine the culture and identify actions needed. This work is under way.”
During his portion of Monday’s press conference, Henriksson shared an update on the bank’s AML initiatives plan in progress, which, as of the end of 2019, included a total of 152 initiatives to meet. Of that total, 67 have been completed and 68 remain in progress.
Henriksson said the program is up to 180 initiatives today, and the goal is to conclude implementation by the end of 2020. Customer due diligence, monitoring, and internal regulations are among the areas receiving the most attention.
“The goal for the bank is to be an industry leader in the fight against money laundering,” Henriksson said. “Although much work still remains, a new chapter in the history of the bank is now beginning. Thanks to the financial supervisory authorities and Clifford Chance, we now know what went wrong and we are fixing the problem.”
Henriksson added a probe into the bank’s corporate culture, launched in December 2019, remains ongoing.
“We will leave no stone unturned,” Persson vowed.