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Little girl with moneybox

200 years of money and life

Every single person must be able to build up their finances so that they are strong enough to improve their circumstances – that was the idea behind the opening of the very first savings bank in 1820. Since then, the concept of the savings bank has been a guiding force for what came to be Swedbank. Our history is not just a story about a bank, it is about Sweden too. Join us on a journey through our first 200 years!

A poor country

200 years ago, Sweden was one of the poorest countries in Europe. Anyone who did manage to save a little found it difficult to put it away for a rainy day, as there were hardly any banks – and certainly none that ordinary people could go to. They had to buy things of lasting value instead, such as silver spoons. Which they then had to bury in the woods to keep them safe from light-fingered thieves.

One of The poorest countries in Europe, old black and white photo

A bank for everyone

When the first savings bank opened in Gothenburg in 1820, it brought a minor revolution. Ordinary people could now deposit and withdraw sums at any time, no matter how small, and lay the foundations of their own financial security, and maybe even dare to invest in an idea or a dream. That savings bank in Gothenburg was the very first Swedish savings bank and is the origin of what is now Swedbank. But it was not a bank we would recognise today. It was located in the founder’s residence, and customers were received directly in the home.

A stream in the city, old photo

The very first customer: Carolina, aged three

The first person to deposit money in the newly-launched bank was three-year-old Carolina Bernhardina Hammardahl, presumably with a little help from her parents. The bank’s other 741 customers who followed during the year included 291 children, 41 wives and widows, 66 craftsmen, tradesmen and apprentices, 37 factory workers, day labourers and boatmen, 40 unmarried women, and one seaman. What started on a modest scale grew rapidly, and savings banks were soon appearing in one town after the other. At their height, in 1928, there were 498 savings banks all over Sweden.

Photo: Gabriel Hildebrand, Royal Coin Cabinet

The first savings book, old black and white photo

Good saving habits for children

Savings banks acted quickly to make saving a good habit. In 1894, the savings bank in Enköping issued a savings book with a small sum of money to the town’s newborn children, and other savings banks followed their example for many years. The most well-organised was the school savings scheme, which ran for several decades. Pupils in every class were able to put money into their own compartment in the class savings box, which the local savings bank would then come and collect.

Little girl adds coins to her savings box, old black and white photography

Helping to build society

Society developed rapidly during the second half of the 19th century. Municipal authorities built sewer systems, streets, healthcare facilities, electric power systems, and homes in the expanding towns and cities. This was often funded by the savings banks, which made the development of society possible. Savings banks also became involved in the home-ownership movement that emerged during the early years of the 20th century. In 1966, the savings banks established Fastighetsbyrån, which to this day helps buyers and sellers with their property transactions.

Del av samhällsbygget

Farmers take matters into their own hands

Sweden’s first agricultural cooperative credit society was formed in 1915. These were member-owned societies that offered short-term loans to their members. They also aimed to encourage savings, just like the savings banks. The agricultural cooperative credit societies eventually became Föreningsbanken, which merged with Sparbanken Sverige in 1997 to form FöreningsSparbanken– which is now Swedbank.

Photo: The Federation of Swedish Farmers’ archive at the Swedish Centre for Business History

horses pulling a plow, old black and white photo

Sweden’s oldest children’s magazine

Lyckoslanten, Sweden’s oldest children’s magazine, has been published by savings banks since 1926. It is still being distributed by Swedbank and the savings banks to pupils aged between 9 and 11. Many creative artists have been involved in the magazine. One of the best known is Birgitta Lilliehöök, who created the comic strip about Save and Waste. This comic strip is still running in Lyckoslanten, now with Lena Forsman as illustrator. And the preaching tone of the past is now a distant memory.

A symbol of security

During the 1920s, the oak tree started to be used as a collective symbol for the savings banks. In the version created by the artist Akke Kumlien, it was supplemented by a text describing what the oak tree symbolised: “Firmly rooted is the security built on money saved.” A number of different oak trees have come and gone over the years.

Advice for all phases of life

In the mid-20th century, savings banks organised savings clubs at workplaces, where people would meet up on payday to make their deposits together. There was also an unwavering ambition to provide financial advice for all of life’s situations. Brochures such as “Living together without being married” appeared when cohabiting became common, as did “Your money”, a guide to the finances of people who had recently divorced. The guide entitled “About your tax return” appeared from 1967 in five different languages. Mailings have always been common – for example “Bankboken”, a guide to financial matters that was sent out to 1.7 million households in Sweden in 1999.

Brochure The Savings Bank helps you with more than money, photo

Investment funds become a popular movement

Saving in funds became a popular movement in the 1980s, not least through Allemansfonderna. But the savings banks had already launched the equity fund Sparinvest back in 1967 through the new company Robur. In 1980, Robur launched a fund that selected companies based on sustainability criteria. Swedbank Robur is now one of the leading asset managers in the Nordic region, with a vision of being a world leader in sustainable value creation, and one in three Swedes saves with them.

Boys in a row holding a sign about savings, old black and white photo

Companies come onto the scene

New banking legislation was introduced in 1969, allowing savings banks and agricultural cooperative credit societies to offer banking services to companies as well, not only to private individuals, as had previously been the case. It was now natural for many small and medium-sized companies to turn to savings banks. When the credit market was deregulated in the 1980s, the business market really took off. Swedbank is now one of the biggest business banks in Sweden, with hundreds of thousands of business customers.

Företag entré

Technology makes life easier

Being able to do your banking business in a convenient way has always been important. In the beginning there were money boxes for the home, money box emptiers going around on bikes, and banking buses. Developments in technology brought new ways of making the bank accessible. In 1977, the savings banks launched Minuten, a nationwide system of cash machines that were connected online – the first in Sweden and among the first in the world. The central data solution also made it possible to offer payment cards. The 1980s saw the arrival of “SparbankenDirekt”, one of Sweden’s very first telephone banks, online banking came along in 1995, and in 2012 Swedbank’s first mobile app was launched. Swish also appeared in the same year, a partnership between six banks.


Crisis and development

The financial crisis in 1990 affected the whole country – including the savings banks. Credit losses lent an extra sense of urgency to the discussion that had been under way for a time among savings banks about profitability and corporate form. In 1992, eleven of the country’s biggest savings banks merged to create Sparbanken Sverige, at the same time becoming a limited liability company instead of the old savings bank structure. The next major merger came in 1997, when Sparbanken Sverige and Föreningsbanken formed FöreningsSparbanken – which subsequently changed its name to Swedbank.
The savings banks still play an important role as owners of Swedbank, meaning, among other things, that some of Swedbank’s profits go to research, education, sport, business and culture.

Caption: Photo from information meeting ahead of stock exchange listing. Photo: Rolf Adlercreutz, with the permission of Filmpoint Communication AB.

Kris utveckling

A bank for the Baltics too

In 2005, the bank acquired the Baltic bank Hansabank. Setting up banking operations in the Baltic region was a natural step after the countries gained their independence in 1991. It was a modern interpretation of the original savings bank concept: helping a greater number to achieve financial security. In 2006, the bank changed its name to Swedbank. The Baltic States are now a natural part of the bank’s home market, and Swedbank is one of the most popular brands in the Baltic region.

Photo from a demonstration for independence in Lithuania in 1989 from Wikimedia by the user Kusurija.


The tough years of the financial crisis

The financial crisis of 2008 hit the Baltic States hard. The banking system was part of the crisis. Swedbank, like other banks, had lent too much and too quickly. Swedbank’s work on insolvency loans involved not only helping private and business customers who had been affected, but also minimising the bank’s losses by managing and disposing of insolvent parties’ assets.
Work on insolvency was more or less completed around 2012. It was also at this time that the Baltic States’ economies started to recover.


A sustainable future

In 2019, Swedbank was one of the first banks to sign the UN’s Principles for Responsible Banking. This means that the bank aims to contribute to a sustainable future and help its customers to make sustainable choices. One important part of this work is the battle against money laundering. As investigations revealed that Swedbank had previously had deficiencies in its procedures, the bank rolled out a wide-ranging programme of measures in 2019. The aim was to be an industry leader in work to prevent money laundering and other financial crime.

Hållbar framtid

The same values, then as now

200 years after the first savings bank opened, Sweden is one of the most modern countries in the world. Our very first customer, three-year-old Carolina Bernhardina, grew up with living conditions very different to those of present-day children. And what was viewed as a revolution back in 1820 – depositing money in a bank – is now the most natural thing in the world. But we are still guided by the concept of financial security.
We want to be a bank where you always feel welcome, where you can build up your finances, and where you come when you want to invest in an idea or realise a dream. Welcome!

Framåt då. Framåt nu.