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BANKING

The Nordics: A market apart

Financing for SMEs in the Nordic region is readily available and growing, driven by well-capitalized and domestic-focused banks. Capital-market funding solutions are growing as well.

Lucky Swedish SMEs. Talk to any of the leading Swedish banks and they will insist that access to funding is not something that keeps the region’s smaller and medium-sized companies awake at night. That, they say, is in part a legacy of the Swedish banking crisis of the early 1990s, which meant that the country’s banks were much better equipped to manage the recent downturn than many of their competitors elsewhere in Europe.

"We learned our lessons in the 1990s," says Elisabeth Olin, Nordea’s head of retail banking in Sweden. "Of course the cost of capital has increased in recent years, but there is plenty of lending capacity for short, as well as longer, tenors for Swedish SME borrowers. The SME sector accounts for 99% of companies in Sweden, for 60% of added value and 60% of the private-sector workforce, so it is extremely important for the Swedish banks."

Other Nordic lenders echo her view. "Because we went through our crisis so early, we strengthened our balance sheets and became capital-efficient long before many other European banks," says Cecilia Qvist, head of retail, large corporates and institutions at Swedbank in Stockholm. "Basle III has not been a restraint for us, so I think it is fair to say this has given Nordic SMEs a competitive advantage."

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