Danske shareholders look to brighter future after purge of board

COPENHAGEN • Danske Bank A/S shareholders, who’ve lost more than 40% on their investment this year, are looking to a brighter future after the lender took another step to purge its leadership.

Denmark’s largest bank last Friday replaced its chairman following October’s ouster of its CEO, as it seeks to atone for its role in one of Europe’s biggest money laundering scandals.

“We’re on the right track,” Jens Munch Holst, the CEO of shareholder MP Pension, said on the sidelines of last Friday’s EGM in Copenhagen.

“We’ll likely pay more attention to the share and stay closer to the management and talk more to them then we would in other situations.”

At the EGM, Danske’s shareholders picked Karsten Dybvad, an economist who heads Denmark’s biggest industry association, as chairman. Dybvad “is completely different” from the departing Ole Andersen, said Anton Grau Larsen, co-author of a comprehensive study of Denmark’s power elite that ranked Dybvad as No 2.

“We hope Dybvad will aid our dialogue with authorities which we expect will take up considerable time in the coming years,” Robert Maersk Uggla, the head of AP.Moller Holding, which owns about one-fifth of Danske, said at the EGM. Uggla also said he hopes that the board and the management now will “establish Danske Bank as the best bank in the Nordic region for society, clients and shareholders”.

Danske has admitted that much of about US$230 billion (RM959.1 billion) that flowed through a tiny Estonian unit in 2007-2015 was probably illicit in origin. Whistle-blower testimony suggests the unit became a go-to money laundering shop for clients from the former Soviet Union eager to shovel their wealth into the West.

Last Friday’s EGM “was a good thing for shareholder democracy”, Mikael Bak, CEO of the Danish Shareholders’ Association, said in an interview. “It’s the first step of many towards a future that will hopefully be brighter than what the bank has gone through in recent years.”

Dybvad told Bloomberg that the bank’s priority is to earn the trust of the public and its customers and then the stock market will follow.

“I hope that it will go hand in hand, that the regaining of trust in Danske Bank will be transferred to investors who will also believe in Danske Bank again,” he said.

Andersen’s departure sweeps the board clean of the last non-employee members who were seated during the laundering and the first failed attempts to stop it. Two will step down when their terms end in March.

The board now needs to form “a strategy for the future”, Allan Polack, the CEO of shareholder PFA Pension, said. — Bloomberg