DNB’s announcement on Wednesday that it plans to close more than half its branch offices, and lay off 600 employees, has set off protests from the large national labour organization representing many bank workers. Finansforbundet claims both DNB and its major shareholder, the Norwegian state, are acting irresponsibly.
DNB became the second bank this week to announce that it was shutting down more branches because most customers now use digital banking services and rarely, if ever, actually visit a branch. Bergen-based Sparebanken Vest announced on Tuesday that it was also closing dozens of branches and laying off up to 200 employees.
The job cuts in the banking industry come just as Norway is experiencing rising unemployment, mostly in the oil and offshore industry. The state owns 34 percent of DNB, after bailing it out in the early 1990s during a national banking crisis, and employee representatives believe the state should be hindering more unemployment, not adding to it.
“I had expected more from the state as an owner, than being eager to simply get more dividends out of DNB,” said Pål Adrian Hellman, leader of Finansforbundet, which has thousands of members working at DNB. He and many others were quick to point out that DNB has logged huge profits in recent years, and has both the financial means and social obligation to at least cut jobs at a slower pace than now announced. Hellman also thinks the bank and the state should do all they can to avoid layoffs.
“I understand that new technology leads to a reduced need for employees and local offices,” Hellman stated. “But laying off 600 employees so suddenly is irresponsible.” DNB plans to shutter 59 on its 116 branch offices in Norway, and has been cutting other staff recently as well.
Monica Mæland, the government minister from the Conservative Party in charge of business and trade, disagreed that the state should halt the staff cuts. She wrote in an email to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that she can understand the situation is difficult for those who face losing their jobs, but she contends that’s not the state’s responsibility.
“I can see that people are raising questions about the state’s role here as an owner in a case like this,” Mæland wrote. “But there is broad political agreement that it’s the board of DNB that makes such decisions, not the government trade ministry or the Parliament.”
Northern Norway is due to be hit the hardest, according to the bank itself. Fully 15 communities will lose their local DNB office, including relatively large cities in Finnmark, Troms and Nordland like Kirkenes, Hammerfest, Fauske and Narvik. DNB branches in the north will also be closed in Vadsø, Andenes, Ørnes, Mosjøen, Sandnessjøen, Brønnøysund, Levanger, Namsos, Solsiden, Heimdal and Sirkus.
Oslo will lose its DNB branches at Solli Plass (which itself was the last remaining branch in the Frogner/Vika area after DNB moved its headquarters from Aker Brygge to Bjørvika) Røa, Stovner, Manglerud and Sætre. The Bekkestua branch will also be closed, while others will be shut down in Holmestrand, Notodden, Slemmestad, Lier, Ås, Kolbotn, Nittedal, Årnes and many other communities in Southwestern, Western and Eastern Norway.
The closures will be carried out during the first half of this year. DNB claimed it will still have a presence in all Norwegian counties, and that most of its customers will have less that and half-hour drive to their nearest branch.
“In situations where customers want to speak with the bank face to face, we will offer competence and good advice,” Trond Bentestuen, director of personal banking, told NRK. “We will also increase staffing at our customer center, where anyone wanting it can get personal service around the clock.”