Private banking, asset management and risk shine in Q1

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Asset managers, private bankers and compliance and risk specialists can all look forward to being in demand this year, if the latest clutch of first quarter results of the big Nordic banks are anything to go by.

Q1 results for January to March have been just released by Nordea, Swedbank, SEB and Handelsbanken and show clearly an environment of solid recovery, a continued tight grip on bonuses and staff costs, some significant restructuring. However, there are also indications of where demand has been proving strong.

At Swedbank, which turned in operating profit of SEK1.016bn, against a loss of SEK3.36bn this time last year. One key development was the creation of a new group business support division, the final part of its ongoing reorganisation, said CEO Michael Wolf.

This will be "responsible for the development, operation and management of the bank's products," he added, and follows on from the creation of a new Large Corporates and Institutions division, incorporating Swedbank Markets, large corporates from Swedish Banking and the bank's international branches.

In turn these changes have raised the profile and activity of operational risk, meaning that "monitoring of the group's business areas and reporting by those business areas to the group's central risk control function have been expanded", said Swedbank.

Employee numbers since the start of the year had been reduced, with just over a 1,000 positions going, although staff costs - including bonuses - were up by nearly a quarter compared with the same quarter last year.

At Nordea, which reported operating profit up 5% to SEK8.46bn against Q1 2009, private banking was doing well, said CEO Christian Clausen, with 12,500 gold and private banking customers being added each month during the quarter.

Staff costs as a whole were up 3%, to SEK6.62bn, with the number of employees falling slightly, to 33,477 against 33,653 at the same point last year.

Private banking was also doing well at SEB, said CEO Annika Falkengren, along with asset management and life, though corporate credit demand remained low overall.

It reported operating profit of SEK1.075bn, down 40% from the SEK1.802bn at the same quarter in 2009.

Staff costs were down 12%, mostly because of the bank now employing 1,624 fewer full-time workers, it added.

Finally, at Handelsbanken, which reported virtually static operating profit of at SEK3.79bn against SEK3.81bn last year, variable compensation was up 2.5% at SEK91m. Total staff costs fell 4% and number of employees fell by 266 to 10,624, the bank said.

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