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Handelsbanken through history

Handelsbanken was founded in 1871 and is the oldest share on the Stockholm Stock Exchange
Ballonger och serpentiner

Follow Handelsbanken through our first 150 years

Handelsbanken firar 150 års jubileum

The year was 1871 – the same year that the first trains ran into Stockholm’s central station, the German Empire was founded, and the Royal Albert Hall opened its doors in England. Not exactly yesterday. There were neither light bulbs nor telephones, and many Swedes at the time chose to emigrate to North America in the hope of finding prosperity and happiness. The world has changed, and we with it. In 2021, Handelsbanken will be 150 years old.

Here you can read more about our history, divided into five eras. 

1871 – 1914 Stockholms Handelsbank

Stockholms Handelsbanks first branch office
Stockholms Handelsbanks first branch office.

The bank began operations on 1 July 1871 at Kornhalmstorg in the Old Town district of Stockholm, which was then the commercial and financial centre of the city. 

At that time, most commercial banks in Sweden were “private” (Swedish: enskilda) banks, where the owners were jointly and severally liable for the bank’s commitments. Handelsbanken, on the other hand, was founded as a limited company from the beginning, with the owners having limited liability. 

Handelsbanken’s shares were first listed on the Stockholm Stock Exchange in August 1871. A couple of years later, the first branches were opened in Stockholm: in 1876 in the Södermalm district (Götgatan 16), 1878 in Norrmalm (Fredsgatan 32), and in 1882 in Östermalm (Humlegårdsgatan 24). The Bank opened a branch in Jönköping in 1874, but it was closed in 1895.

1914 - 1969 Stockholms Handelsbank expands to become Svenska Handelsbanken

Bankkontoret i Härnösand
Stockholms Handelsbanks kontor i hörnet av Nybrogatan och Köpmangatan i Härnösand. 

At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Stockholms Handelsbanken still had seven branches – all located in central Stockholm. However, the new bank management who took up their positions in 1912 saw many advantages in expanding the branch operations to other parts of the country. 

In the 1914 - 1919 period, several major acquisitions of provincial banks in northern and southern Sweden were made. In this way, Stockholms Handelsbank built up a nationwide network of branches, and in 1919, the Bank’s name was changed to Svenska Handelsbanken.

Two serious crises occurred in the inter-war years: the deflation crisis in the early 1920s and the Kreuger crash in 1932.

1970 - 1985 a new business model, but on a regulated market

Jan Wallander
Jan Wallander, VD 1970.

In the late 1960s, Handelsbanken ran into a crisis. The management resigned, and in early 1970, Jan Wallander was recruited from the Norrland provincial bank Sundsvallsbanken to be the new CEO of Handelsbanken. Mr Wallander introduced new ideas which Sundsvallsbanken had started to practice. A decision was made to extensively decentralise Handelsbanken’s organisation. But in order to meet the requirements from larger customers, the branches needed specialist support, The Bank’s branch operations were therefore divided into eight regional banks, each consisting of about 70 branches. The new regional banks had their own boards and a high degree of independence.

1986 - 1999 Deregulation and expansion in the Nordic region

Handlarbord från 1980-talet

Since the Second World War, the Swedish banking market had been tightly regulated. In the mid-1980s, it became increasingly clear that government regulations for banks’ lending were an ineffective approach, as greater proportions of credit started to be granted outside the banking system. The Swedish banking market was therefore deregulated during the latter half of the 1980s. 

As a result of this deregulation, Swedish banks’ lending increased very sharply, and much of this lending went into speculative investments; in the early 1990s, this resulted in a very serious financial crisis. The Swedish government’s costs for supporting the bank sector were extremely high. 

2000 - Satisfied customers in six home markets

Tower bridgen i London

In the early 1980s, Handelsbanken started banking operations in the UK. Initially, operations focused on Nordic-related corporate business, but in autumn 1999, the Bank decided to expand its operations and offer individual and corporate customers in the UK a broad range of banking services. Several branches were opened in England, Scotland and Wales. In mid-2002, the British operations gained the status of a regional bank, and thus the UK became Handelsbanken’s fifth home market, with operations based on the same principles as the branch operations in the Nordic countries. In autumn 2015, the opening of the 200th UK branch was announced.