Norway’s competition authority had ruled against the purchase of the small and popular bank called Sbanken by the country’s biggest and most profitable bank, DNB. Late Wednesday afternoon, however, an appeals board overturned the decision.
“It’s a sad day,” responded leader of the activist group Redd Sbanken (Save Sbanken). It’s made up of around 10,000 Sbanken customers who had left DNB because of its high fees and market dominance. They were very happy at Sbanken, only to see DNB controversially snap up its small but feisty competitor.
The appeals board, Konkurranseklagenemnda, announced that it had decided that DNB’s acquisition of Sbanken would not reduce competitiveness in the “relevant market,” savings accounts that invest in funds. DNB was predictably delighted, since the board’s decision is final. “This is the news we have expected and hoped for,” stated DNB chief executive Kjerstin Braathen. She claims the two banks “have a lot in common already, and we look forward to show customers what we can do together.” She now expects the acquisition to be final within 10 days.
It’s by no means certain Sbanken’s customers, whose strong opposition to the deal was a public relations disaster for DNB, will stick around. “I think this is a sad day for all of us customers who like Sbanken,” Christian Jahr, who’d headed the opposition to the deal, told state broadcaster NRK. He and the activist group been pleased when the competition authority ruled against it, and he called the appeals board’s decision “both surprising and very sad.” He predicted that many of the thousands of of customers in the group “will either find another bank or do other things to make sure they’re not customers of DNB.”
The new head of the competition authority, Tina Søreide, was also surprised by the appeals board’s decision. She said she and her colleagues would now read through the board’s reasoning as to why it didn’t think DNB’s acquisition would harm competition.