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Could fresh Finnish recruitment freeze create yet more problems?

Finland’s banking sector was cut back to the bone following its near collapse in the early-1990s, but with recruitment largely frozen this year and further redundancies likely, concerns have been raised about the sector’s aging workforce.

The 1991 crisis was caused by the combination of the liberalisation of the sector leading to a surge in cheap debt, the disintegration of the Soviet Union spurring a collapse in lucrative trade agreements and a sudden decline in exports to Western Europe.

The result was a bail-out by the Bank of Finland that cost the Finnish taxpayer some 8% of GDP and led to swathes of redundancies.

Before the collapse Finnish banks employed some 50,000 people. This number had halved afterwards.

Years of sluggish recruitment have left the legacy of a workforce predominantly aged in its 40s and 50s and, now the breaks have been slammed on again, there’s real prospect of a retirement crisis.

Just last month, for example, Swedish bank Nordea said it planned to shed 150 Finnish jobs, from a workforce of about 5,700 in the country, by the end of this year.

The Finnish banking system is dominated by foreign, particularly Nordic, banking groups such as Nordea and Danske Bank-owned Sampo Bank, with foreign banks controlling some 50% of both lending and deposits.

According to the latest market snapshot by Finland’s Financial Supervision Authority profitability across the sector as a whole has been weakened and there has been a two- to three-fold increase in credit losses.

Moody’s has also changed its rating for the Finnish banking system from stable to negative, suggesting the severe contraction in the economy – estimated to be around 5% this year – would further weaken the sector’s credit fundamentals and that corporate loan defaults would continue to be an issue.

Nevertheless both Moody’s and the FFSA argue that the banking sector’s capital adequacy remains moderate, with Finland overall better positioned to weather the crisis than many other European countries.

What this means for recruitment long term is, as yet, hard to gauge, argues Tarja Kallonen, head of financial research at the Federation of Finnish Financial Services.

“There has been less hiring this year, of course. Last year there was a net increase in the sector of some 500 people,” she says.

“It is not yet as bad as the 1990s but banks are being much more careful. The stock market has been much quieter than before,” she adds.

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