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REVEALED: Danish banks’ policies on non-Danish speaking customers

We asked Denmark’s largest banks about their policies towards customers who don’t speak Danish. Here’s what they told us.

REVEALED: Danish banks’ policies on non-Danish speaking customers
We asked Denmark's leading banks about their policies for non-Danish speakers after reports that one bank had refused customers who do not speak Danish. File photo: Thomas Lekfeldt/Ritzau Scanpix

Anyone with legal residence in Denmark or another EU country has the right to a bank account and banks are obliged to offer basic accounts within 10 days of application.

But rules are not always complied with when the potential customer does not speak Danish, according to a recent report by newspaper Politiken.

One bank in Denmark, Coop Bank, has turned away customers who don’t speak Danish, Politiken reported, citing the case of a Malaysian man who was told that he could not have an account because he didn’t speak Danish. 

READ ALSO: Danish bank Coop refuses to open accounts for non-Danish speakers

A reader of The Local contacted us to say they had also experienced being turned down for an account by Coop Bank.

“They refuse to open the account for me too. They didn’t ask if I have some one that could translate, they directly decided not to open the account,” they said in an email.

A second person said they had opened an account at Coop before it was later closed.

The reader told us in an email that the bank had begun to monitor their account “the moment they noticed I am from Africa”.

The person said that Coop Bank repeatedly asked them to provide explanations for withdrawals and deposits.

“When I told them this was becoming too much, they blocked my account,” they said, adding that they had since opened an account with a different bank.

The CEO of Coop Bank, Allan Nørholm, told Politiken that Coop would change its practice if it found it to be against the law. He also said that the bank should not refuse accounts to customers on the basis of their lack of Danish.

“We should naturally not generally turn away a customer who cannot speak Danish if we can confirm that the customer has access to someone who can help with translation. We will correct this,” he told Politiken.

Responding to a comment request from The Local, Nørholm did not confirm the report that Coop had turned down customers in the past for being unable to speak Danish.

“Everyone is welcome as a customer with us,” the Coop Bank CEO said in a written response.

“We have many customers who don’t speak or understand Danish. But we cannot guarantee being able to give precise advice in languages other than Danish,” he said.

“We no longer contact non-Danish speaking customers to ensure that they understand or can get help with understanding our agreements, available services and so on,” he added.

The Local contacted seven of Denmark’s largest banks to ask about their policies on customers who don’t speak Danish.

Of the seven, one bank, Spar Nord, didn’t get back to us. A second, Sydbank, has promised to get back to us with an answer. We’ll update this article to include it once we hear from them.

We asked each of the banks whether they accepted customers who don’t speak Danish, provided they have legal residence in Denmark, an address in the country and a personal registration (CPR) number.

All five banks to have provided answers – Arbejdernes Landsbank, Danske Bank, Jyske Bank, Nordea and Nykredit– said yes, they do offer accounts to such customers.

We also asked the banks whether they have information on their products and services in languages other than Danish, whether their website has an English version, and whether non-Danish speaking customers should be aware of anything in particular when opening accounts with them.

“Nordea communicates in Danish and English. If there’s anything you need further to this, you should get help from a friend or family member or an interpreter,” Nordea’s head of communication Javier Lopez Garrido said via email.

Nordea offers guidelines for new customers in English and an English version of both its app and online banking. Its main landing page is not available in English but does include English-language information pages.

It also has English translations of several elements of its terms and conditions, including general T&Cs for private customers, data policies, loan and credit terms and conditions and rules relating to Denmark’s direct debit system, betalingsservice.

“We have an English-language version of our daily banking products and we also have an English-language application flow,” Danske Bank chief communications consultant Mads Sixhøj wrote.

Danske Bank, which has an English version of its website, accepts all customers with a Danish address and legal residence provided they meet with general legal requirements, he said.

“We generally have good options for giving service and advising our customers in English. We can also mention that you can select English as the language on our mobile and online banking,” he added.

Jyske Bank’s director of communications and marketing Erik Qvirin Hansen said “you can open an account at Jyske Bank if you reside in Denmark and have a MitID [digital ID, ed.], regardless of whether or not you speak Danish.”

“We will typically be able to offer to speak Danish and English with our customers,” he said.

Although Jyske Bank does not have an English website, its contact form for opening an account has an English version. Once this is submitted, an advisor who can speak English will contact the potential customer, he said.

Jyske Bank has an English version of its online banking and has English versions of selected documents.

To open an account at Nykredit, a customer must bring proof of address in Denmark but there is no language requirement, press consultant Peter Klaaborg said.

“Non-Danish speaking customers can get information about our products by contacting our advisors,” he said.

People who don’t speak Danish are “naturally” accepted to open accounts at Arbejdernes Landsbank, director of branding and communications Peter Froulund told The Local.

“You are welcome like everyone else,” he wrote.

The bank has an English version of its website, he noted.

According to information provided by the Danish Financial Supervisory Authority (Finanstilsynet) to Politiken, banks cannot refuse to open a basic current account for customers if they do not speak Danish.

However, banks are not obliged to communicate with customers in a language they understand.

As such, a customer who does not speak Danish may risk being unable to understand communications from a bank which chooses only to use Danish.

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Danish banks ’well equipped’ for financial instability

Denmark’s banking sector is well equipped to deal with potential instability should uncertainty seen at some international banks reach Denmark, according to a national risk assessment council.

Danish banks ’well equipped’ for financial instability

In a statement, the Systemic Risk Council (Det Systemiske Risikoråd), which monitors potential dangers in the financial sector, said it assessed Danish banks to be equipped to ward off major crises.

“The Council finds that the Danish banking sector in general is in a good position to withstand the deterioration of the financial market conditions,” it said in the statement.

“This reflects, among other things, that the measures taken since the financial crisis have increased the robustness of the financial sector in Denmark,” it stated.

The assessment by the risk council comes after two notable incidents involving international banks in recent weeks increased global uncertainty.

US bank Silicon Valley Bank was earlier this month ordered to close after a collapse, while major Swiss bank Credit Suisse was eventually taken over by rival UBS after a dramatic fall in its share price and a withdrawal rush by customers.

“The international financial markets are currently affected by turmoil triggered by problems in specific banks in the US and Europe,” the Danish Risk Council wrote.

“The development emphasizes that changes in risk perception in financial markets can occur suddenly and lead to large fluctuations in a short time. At the same time, this is an important reminder that sound risk management and robust liquidity and capital buffers are important tools to maintain the trust in individual banks and in the financial system,” it said.

In its assessment, the Council maintained its view that the countercyclical capital buffer be increased to 2.5 per cent from March 2023, in line with a 2022 finance ministry decision.

The buffer is a requirement for banks to put money aside to ensure they have funds to draw on if their economic situation becomes strained.

It exists to ensure that banking institutions have a cushion that makes them more resilient if risks materialise, the Risk Council explained in the statement.

“The current earnings also create an opportunity to build up capital to absorb losses and maintain credit granting,” it said.

It can be reduced if banks need to draw from it in difficult times.

“The Council is ready to recommend a reduction of the buffer rate with immediate effect if stress occurs in the financial system and there is a risk of severe tightening of credit granting to households and companies,” the Council said.

READ ALSO: REVEALED: Danish banks’ policies on non-Danish speaking customers