Time for another one of these. Same format as last time:
- First impressions
- Opening An Account
- Internet Banking
- Card Products
- Customer Service
- Account Management
- Other Services
- Final Notes
A reminder, since some of you missed it before: Take particular note to that I will not be discussing the financial health of the bank. This is not a bank recommendation post. It’s a retelling of my experiences with a bank.
SEB is one of the Swedish banking giants. The bank traces its earliest roots back to the mid-1800s and is owned by the wealthy Wallenberg family. SEB as it is today was founded in the 1970s.
It is one of the primary retail banks in Sweden and has established itself across Scandinavia and the Baltic. All in all, the bank operates in Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and offers private banking from the UK, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and Singapore.
SEB Sweden’s website is lacking when it comes to English content for personal banking. SEB Estonia provides all of its content in Estonian, Russian, and English.
The bank enjoys a good reputation across Europe.
That is the word that best describes it.
Outgoing SEPA transactions from SEB Estonia cost 0.38 EUR for normal and 38.35 EUR for express. International transactions cost 5.75 EUR for shared (SHA) or 24.92 EUR for our (OUR). They do charge for incoming non-SEPA transactions, which is a bit of a let-down. However, it’s only 5.75 EUR.
Trading (investment) fees and surcharges are low.
SEB Sweden charges non-resident natural persons all in all around 1,000 SEK per year the account and debit card. SEPA transactions cost a whopping 0.00 SEK. No, you didn’t read that wrong. SEPA transactions are free. Non-SEPA costs 50 SEK a pop. Domestic transactions are free.
Corporate customers do not enjoy the free SEPA transactions. However, I find that 2 SEK is perfectly acceptable. Non-SEPA costs 35 SEK, plus another 50 SEK if transaction is not in SEK or EUR.
Opening An Account
Can be done remotely in many cases, especially for personal non-resident accounts with SEB Sweden. SEB Estonia is a bit more picky and likely will require that you show up in person.
Opening an account in person with SEB Estonia took me 30 minutes the first time and every time since then less than 10 – 15 minutes. The friendly staff behind the counter will set everything up for you on the spot. You will leave the bank with a binder full of information – some useful, some less so. Cards are usually ready within two or three days (sometimes next day), but if you’ve left the country by then, they are happy to post it to you.
A passport is all you need for a personal account. If opening an account remotely, the passport needs to be certified either by a notary or someone the bank trusts.
Corporate accounts are also straight forward. It is possible to open accounts for offshore companies but the bank will consider your application carefully. For reputable jurisdictions, it’s rarely a problem. I’ve opened accounts with SEB Estonia and Sweden for companies registered in Malta, Hong Kong, Gibraltar, UK, Panama, et cetera.
The only time I faced some resistance was when opening an account for an IBC for the first time. It took a bit of convincing. SEB Estonia has lately started enforcing a policy that clients need a local presence or trade in the region to be considered, unless introduced by a trusted intermediary.
SEB Sweden issues everything from Maestro to Eurocard MasterCard Platinum. Eurocard was a card scheme in Scandinavia, now owned by MasterCard. The gold card costs 395 SEK per year, which is quite low. The platinum card is priced at 1,500 SEK per year but it’s negotiable. Being credit cards, they are of course not suitable for ATM withdrawals.
Getting a credit card as a non-resident customer is possible but it’s wise to open the account, build up good history with normal transactions and investments, and only after a few months apply for a credit card. The bank will trust you a lot more now and you might even avoid locking a security if you have a healthy enough balance.
SEB Estonia is a little bit different. They will practically throw a debit card at you when you open an account and you can generate virtual cards from the internet banking facility. However, getting a credit card is not as easy. You can get one but it will take some convincing. The bank lists Estonian residence as a requirement to get a credit card, but this can usually be waived in favour of an account balance exceeding 10,000 EUR. There doesn’t seem to be a standard practice for credit card issuance to non-residents. It’s been a new experience every time.
The gold card costs 3.2 EUR per month and the platinum card 8.95 EUR. From what I’ve seen, these fees are not negotiable.
The cards are 3D Secure (Verified by Visa/MasterCard SecureCode) enrolled and are all equipped with EMV (chip and PIN).
Very close to being one of the best internet banking facilities in the world today. UBS holds and keeps that title for the time being, but if I actually sat down and tried to figure out a silver medallist, it might very well be SEB.
Except for that SEB Sweden’s personal internet banking is only available in Swedish. Google Translate does a good enough job… But do you really want to send your banking information to Google? The overly cautious might not feel comfortable with it.
If you can live with that or happen to speak or at least understand Swedish, what we are talking about here is internet banking that is at least a decade ahead of anything the Caribbean has to offer (save for a very short list of banks).
Security is at the top of the line in terms of what is available on the mainstream market today. SEB Estonia uses username, password, and digipass. SEB Sweden varies somewhat but uses digipass which generates a number based two numbers displayed on the log in page. New ones are generated for each login or action that requires signature.
Usability is among the best. The design is modern and easy to use. It’s easy to find what you’re looking for and there is a good balance of immediately-available on-screen information and links to more information. You can do almost everything you could ever need online, with almost no need to contact the bank.
SEB Sweden does not have an impressive range of investment opportunities. Their focus is more about investment funds and, for those with a few million SEK or equivalent, private banking.
SEB Estonia can be a very interested entry point into Baltic and Russian investments.
Domestic intrabank transactions are performed immediately, even to other beneficiaries. If you need to pay someone else who has an SEB account in that country, they will have the money the second you sign the transaction.
For personal banking, customer service is generally very good.
In Estonia, there is always someone who speaks fluent English and someone who speaks fluent Russian. It’s not uncommon for Estonians to have a very good understanding of Finnish and sometimes even Swedish. Without turning this political,parts of Estonia considers itself a Scandinavian nation due to close ties with Sweden and shared linguistic roots with Finland. SEB Estonia offers customer service via Skype calls even.
SEB Sweden boasts customer service in over 20 language. This is a bit of a stretch since there isn’t always coverage of those languages. However, in addition to Swedish and English, you can almost always get a hold of someone who speaks Arabic, Turkish, Spanish, or some of the many Balkan languages, owing to prominent immigration.
Did I mention SEB Sweden has 24/7 customer service? You can actually call SEB Sweden at 4:30 AM Swedish time and someone, who speaks English, is there to help you. Granted, not every department is staffed so they are not able to solve everything at once.
Aside from language coverage, you can expect reasonably fast responses. I find that normal messages sent via internet banking are responded to by the following banking day, which is fine since it shouldn’t be used for anything urgent. Phone support is available even outside of business hours. The queue for the SEB Sweden phone service can be quite long during peak hours for personal banking.
SEB corporate banking has some of the industry’s finest account managers. Whether they are Swedish or Estonian, they will speak fluent English. They will walk through fire for your business. Having worked with most of the major banks in the Scandinavian and Baltic regions, there are some good ones (Handelsbanken, Nordea), but SEB is miles ahead when it comes to taking care of valuable clients.
Note that this experience is based on trading with SEB with fairly large companies. Your mileage may vary, if you are a smaller business.
The bank’s private banking is relatively new, both to SEB and to the countries. This shows in that the private bankers sometimes appear a bit inexperienced. I know some people who have moved away from SEB’s private banking for this. Hopefully it will get better over time.
This bank made it to my Best Offshore Banks 2013 list and I can’t see a reason why they won’t be on the 2014 edition.
SEB is a pleasure to work with.