The biggest Nordic asset managers are either holding or increasing stakes in banks dragged down by vast money laundering scandals.
In a region where the concept of ethical investing is regularly held up as a goal, none of the big institutional investors contacted by Bloomberg said they would consider divesting shares of banks under investigation for laundering. A number have taken advantage of share-price declines to add to existing stakes.
At the top of the list is Norway's $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund, which this month underlined its intention to remain a long-term investor in the Nordic banks caught up in dirty money affairs. The biggest pension funds in Denmark and Sweden have made similar statements. The funds Bloomberg spoke with said it was their intention to stay invested to take on a more activist role.
"Of course we take it very seriously," said Eva Halvarsson, the chief executive officer of one of Sweden's biggest pension funds, AP2. "We have shares in all the banks and are also cooperating with them in our role as asset managers. We follow the developments closely and have contacts at various levels."
"It's important that we wait and see how things develop," she said. "But it's of course in the cards for us to stay active and have a dialogue. They need to explain what they are doing about it and how they see their future."
Danske Bank and Swedbank are being investigated in Europe and the U.S. amid allegations they handled billions of dollars in dirty money from the former Soviet Union via their Estonian units. Those who reportedly benefited from the transactions include convicted felon Paul Manafort and ousted Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych, among others. Nordea Bank is also under investigation for laundering, though allegations against it are on a much smaller scale.
Preliminary charges have already been brought against a number of former Danske executives, including its ousted CEO, Thomas Borgen. Swedbank fired its CEO, Birgitte Bonnesen, amid allegations she misled the public about the severity of the bank's laundering scandal. Bloomberg Intelligence estimates that Danske may be facing a fine of about $1 billion in the U.S., and as much as $500 million from investor lawsuits against it.
"I have a great understanding for the complexity of it but of course the banks need to take it seriously in order to regain trust," Ms. Halvarsson said.