CEO of Wallenbergs’ Bank to Step Down After 11 Years at Helm

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  • Annika Falkengren has worked at Sweden’s SEB for 30 years
  • Falkengren was one of the few women CEOs at Sweden’s top firms

Annika Falkengren, the chief executive officer of SEB AB, will leave the Swedish bank after running it for 11 years.

SEB, which was founded by Sweden’s Wallenberg family in 1856 to become Stockholm’s first private bank, will now start looking for a replacement for Falkengren, the board said in a statement on Monday. The 54-year-old, who will step down as CEO by July, will join Swiss wealth and asset manager Lombard Odier Group as managing partner, according to the statement.

Andreas Hakansson, an analyst at Exane BNP Paribas, said the bank is likely to go for an internal candidate to replace Falkengren, given its strong management team. “SEB has one of the best benches,” he said by phone. “There are a lot of good people around here, which will make the transition easier.”

Shares in the bank fell as much as 2.1 percent after the market opened in Stockholm on Monday, slightly more than the Bloomberg Index of European financial firms, which declined 1.6 percent.

Life Career

“I have spent my entire professional life in SEB,” Falkengren said in a statement on Monday. “It was not easy to take a decision to pursue a new career and role. However, I have come to the conclusion that now is the right moment.”

Falkengren has worked at SEB, Sweden’s biggest currency trading bank, for three decades and was one of the few women to reach the absolute top of Sweden’s corporate elite. She successfully steered SEB through the 2008-2009 crisis in the Baltic region, booking smaller losses than rival Swedbank AB. In 2012, she was voted European banker of the year by the Frankfurt-based Group of 20 + 1, an association of financial journalists.

The outgoing CEO has experienced the bank from inside a branch office to its trading floor before scaling the ladder of upper management. She became global head of fixed income in 1995, global head of trading in 1997 and head of the merchant banking unit in 2000.

As CEO, Falkengren has had to navigate an economic climate which for the past few years has been dominated by negative rates. That’s increasingly driven Scandinavian banks to expand into areas like wealth management and advisory services, after traditional lending income came under pressure.

Falkengren “successfully navigated SEB through the global financial crisis and set a clear strategy forward on which she and the whole SEB team relentlessly has delivered,” board Chairman Marcus Wallenberg said in the statement. “She leaves a strong and stable bank with a robust financial position and a growing customer base.”

Read more: SEB reports a 22% profit jump in the third quarter

“We remain committed to the current business plan and our financial targets," Wallenberg said. SEB is due to release its annual report on Feb. 1.

Political Banks

Falkengren’s successor will also need to operate in an environment overseen by one of Europe’s most activist regulators. Swedish banks are subject to some of the world’s toughest capital requirements, and the government is now planning to impose a financial tax on the industry.

Odd Weidel, an analyst at Sparebank 1 Markets, says the new CEO would do well to pay particular attention to both the political and technology environment.

“Given the greater interconnection since the financial crisis between financial institutions and politicians, I think it’s wise to have a CEO who knows his or her way in politics,” Weidel said.

Sweden’s four biggest banks have all changed CEOs in the past year and a half. Casper von Koskull replaced Christian Clausen as the head of Nordea Bank AB in the autumn of 2015. Michael Wolf was ousted as CEO of Swedbank in early 2016, with Birgitte Bonnesen taking over in the spring. Svenska Handelsbanken AB fired Frank Vang-Jensen in August, replacing him with Anders Bouvin.

Before Monday’s open, SEB shares gained 24 percent since November 2005, when Falkengren became CEO. Over the same period, Swedbank rose 34 percent while Nordea gained 62 percent. Handelsbanken has delivered the biggest return, with its shares more than doubling in value in the period.

— With assistance by Veronica Ek

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