Bank hooked to international network

  • 1998-12-03
  • Anastasia Styopina
RIGA - Many Scandinavian banking tycoons see Baltic banks as important additions to their financial empires.

As Swedish banks take over large Baltic ones, the Swedish-Finnish banking concern MeritaNordbanken Group does not want to lag behind its competitors.

"Our strategic goal is to be a leading bank in the Nordic area. That also includes the Baltics," said Pertti Voutilainen, president of MeritaNordbanken Group.

In December 1997, MeritaNordbanken Group made its first purchase in Latvia, acquiring 69.9 percent of Latvijas Investiciju Banka's shares, a relatively small bank that provides corporate banking services.

Last week, LIB was connected to MeritaNordbanken Group's international payment network and its shareholders hope the move will make it a leading Latvian corporate bank.

LIB President Aivars Jurcans said the bank used to be known only by a narrow circle of corporate clients, but now it is making an effort to become a full-service institution.

"Our clients will be able to make quick and safe payments all over the world because MeritaNordbanken Group has a world-wide correspondence network," said Jurcans.

The Swedish-Finnish concern wants to cement its position in the Baltics through LIB.

"We have come to Latvia to stay and are ready to make further investments in this country," said Voutilainen.

He said the group wants to increase ownership in LIB to 100 percent by buying the remaining shares from two other shareholders, Nordic Investment Bank and the Finnish Fund For Industrial Cooperation.

But Latvia is not the main target for the group. Since 1995, the group has maintained a branch office in Estonia, where, Voutilainen claimed, it has acquired a significant market share in Estonian corporate banking and is gradually expanding to private baking. The group also owns a leasing company there.

The company is not present in Lithuania yet. Its representatives said they are investigating possibilities there but denied any purchases in the near future.

"We have been looking at various options in Lithuania," said Hannu Halttunen, first vice president of Merita Bank. "After the Russian crisis, acquisition as a way to enter the market does not look as attractive as it did before the collapse."