Danske Bank apologises following meeting with Occupy

The day after meeting with representatives of the Occupy movement, Danske Bank chief apologises for the role the bank played in the financial crisis

The head of Denmark’s largest bank has apologised to the Occupy movment for co-opting imagery from the group's protests against the finance industry as well as for the bank’s role in the financial crisis.

“We should have anticipated that the pictures would be misinterpreted,” Danske Bank CEO, Eivind Kolding, told Politiken newspaper. “We were looking for images that showed the dissatisfaction with the banking world and thought at the time it was the right picture.”

Danske Bank managing director Ejvind Kolding made the statment after meeting with representatives of the Occupy Copenhagen movement yesterday following criticism over the bank's use of imagery of the movement in a recent advertisement campaign.

The campaign, entitled ‘New Normal, New Standards’, used imagery that demonstrated the world was undergoing rapid change and that the finance industry needed to adapt.

But there was uproar after the bank used imagery of the Occupy movement in the campaign. A strong theme in the Occupy movement is criticism of the finance industry and its role in the financial crisis. Danske Bank was accused of belittling the movement's message by using the imagery and, in response, Danske Bank removed the Occupy adverts from the campaign.

Following the meeting between Danske Bank representatives, including Kolding, and four Occupy representatives, Occupy spokesperson Rune Skjold Larsen told Politiken newspaper that Danske Bank had actually done the movement a favour.

“Their advertising campaign placed a new focus on our movement and because of that we thank Danske Bank,” Larsen said. “We also realised that Occupy meant something to the Danish people because they were the ones complaining about the campaign. It wasn’t actually us that were so indignant.”

Danske Bank withdrew this image from its advertising campaign after facing intense criticism (Photo: Danske Bank)Occupy Copenhagen issued a press release outlining their version of events following the meeting.

“The main thrust of Occupy Copenhagen’s criticism of the banking industry is its privilege to create money out of nothing  and develop a business doing so,” the press release stated. “Danske Bank would not take a position on that aspect of the criticism, other than acknowledging that balancing the interests of shareholders and customers is difficult.”

The group alleged that Kolding promised to implement three initiatives at the bank in order to reduce the impact of the debt and financial crises. These included reimbursing the state for the bail-outs it received, as well as phasing out all derivatives that speculate on, and destabilise, food prices.

Danske Bank responded stating that it did not recognise saying these things at the meeting, and the group later admitted the statement had been made up.

But in an editorial written for Politiken newspaper today, Kolding explained that the bank acknowledged the role it played during the crisis and that it had chosen to change its business as a result.

“In the years leading up to the crisis, when everything was going well, most Danish banks were blinded. So was Danske Bank. There was overconfidence that the growth would continue.”

At the height of the ‘good years’ preceding the crisis, borrowing became inexpensive and risky investments were being sold to people that didn’t understand what they were buying, according to Kolding.

“In our ambition to satisfy the expectations of our customers and the markets for growth and short-term profits we lost our focus on long-term value. We admit this and apologise. But even more importantly, we have learned from it.”

According to Kolding, Danske Bank will no longer measure itself on how fast it grows but on how well it satisfies customers and creates better results. Incentives for its traders to think short-term have been removed and the bonus structure for staff and management has been changed.

Kolding also stated that the bank had removed some of its most complicated and criticised products and closed particularly speculative investments.

Having lost 10,000 customers since April, faith in Danske Bank was already faltering before the misjudged advertising campaign.

According to Niels Lunde, the editor of financial daily Børsen, today’s apology was a necessary measure for the bank, to demonstrate it really had listened to criticisms levelled at it.

“[The apology] was clearly made under duress, which means that it made it simply because they had to,” Lunde told DR News.

According to Lunde, it is still unclear how the different banks contributed to the financial crisis, how deeply in trouble they were at the time and to what extent they needed state-funded bailout packages.

“All we can do is trust what Eivind Kolding is saying, and that is the credibility problem the bank faces.”