Nordic Banks with Surprising Origins

Nordic Banks

Banking has a long history. Many banks started out as parts of companies doing something else entirely. Here are four Nordic banks with surprising origins.

The history of banking goes back to ancient times. Money lending has been a concept since the very first societies. In Renaissance Italy, banking families grew wealthy and expanded their services across Europe.

Today, it’s difficult to envision a time where the banks were parts of companies that did something else than banking. For instance, it is difficult to imagine banking behemoth JPMorgan Chase & Co. as anything else than the banking conglomerate which it is today. This conglomerate is a result of multiple mergers and acquisitions, but did you know that one of its oldest predecessors was part of a chemical manufacturing company? 

Many banks have similarly surprising and interesting origins. Here are four examples from the Nordic countries. 

Ikano Bank

Ikano Bank started as IKEA’s own bank, but has since separated from the Swedish furniture retailer. However, the two companies still have close ties. Ingka Investments B.V., a part of INGKA Group, is the majority shareholder in Ikano Bank. INGKA Group is the largest owner and operator of IKEA Retail. 

You can see the close ties to IKEA in Ikano Bank’s services. One of their main services includes financing for IKEA. A key product is IKEA Kort (“IKEA Card”), a credit card designed for purchases done at IKEA. There is also an option for people who prefer to shop online. 

Ikano Bank also provides consumer loans, refinancing and credit cards to consumers. It also offers leasing and loans to companies. Visit website.

Coop MedMera

Coop MedMera is another Swedish bank with an unusual history. Coop MedMera is a part of Coop, a Swedish food cooperative with grocery stores all over Sweden. 

The bank’s mission is to create profitability and value through services like consumer loans and savings accounts. An especially important target group is the members of Coop (3,5 million people). The bank strives to make sure the members get special offers tied to other Coop services. 


OBOS-banken (“The OBOS Bank”) is fully owned by OBOS, which is Norway’s biggest housing developer. OBOS is a cooperative owned by its more than 500 000 members. It was established in 1929 with the goal of solving Oslo’s housing problems. OBOS built reasonably priced housing for its members. 

OBOS operates in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, and it is one of the largest housing developers in Scandinavia. It has around 2 500 employees and its headquarters are located in Oslo.

OBOS has offered loans since 1929, and in 2013, all their services within loans and savings were moved to OBOS-banken. It offers housing loans and savings accounts. 

Nordic Banks


FOREX, which is especially known for its currency exchange services, took a non-traditional route into banking – and has since sold most of its banking services.

The history of the company starts in 1927. According to the legend, the barber at Stockholm Central Station noticed that most of his customers were in need of foreign currency, so he started keeping major currencies at hand.

Statens Järnvägar, the former government agency which operated the state-owned railways in Sweden, bought and ran the currency exchange office at the Stockholm Central Station until Rolf Friberg bought it in 1965. The company grew into FOREX. 

FOREX got its bank license in 2003, and it started with banking services like loans, savings and credit cards. In 2021, after 17 years in banking, FOREX transferred most of the services to ICA Banken. Now FOREX’s primary focus is to become the market leader in travel currencies in the Nordics. Visit website.

Banking Has Evolved Significantly Across the Years

One interesting aspect of the histories of many banks is that they started out with few services for specific target groups. Through mergers and acquisitions they get more offerings to serve more people. However, as seen in the example of FOREX, some end up scaling back to refocus on their core services again. We have also seen that banks like Ikano Bank and Coop MedMera have their origins within other companies, but they are still able to move on and stand on their own feet. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The World Financial Review.