Papers presented by Per H. Hansen since 2019

2020 Charlotte, North Carolina

"'Vestigia Terrent'? Making Sense of Danske Bank through Its CEOs, 1871-2020"

Per H. Hansen, Copenhagen Business School


In 2008 and 2009 Danske Bank, the largest bank in Denmark, had to be supported by the Danish state due to financial distress. 10 years later, in 2018 and still with a tarnished reputation, it was revealed that Danske Bank seemed to be involved in probably the largest money laundering scandal in history. These revelations created severe legitimacy troubles for Danske Bank, and Danske Bank CEO Thomas Borgen and Chairman Ole Andersen had to leave the bank. On top of that, in June 2019 Danske Bank announced to a deeply surprised public that interim CEO, Jesper Nielsen, had been fired due to misselling of financial products. On June 26, Berlingske, a business friendly newspaper, announced in an editorial, ”Danske Bank’s rotten culture needs to go. Completely.” This was not Danske Bank’s first “Stunde Null”. In the 1920s it had been close to extinction and was taken over by the state. For the next 80 years it seemed that the bank had learned its lesson. In the postwar period it gradually climbed back to its pre-eminent position and came to be considered a conservative and well-led bank with high ethical and business standards. During the banking crisis of the early 1990s, an editorial in Børsen, a Danish business newspaper, announced “Danske Bank or Chaos”. Today, it seems, it’s Danske Bank and chaos again and there’s an urgent need to make sense of this. In this paper, I try to understand Danske Bank’s past and current troubles from a historical point of view. With inspiration from recent behavioral finance, sensemaking and uses of history scholarship, I focus on the bank’s CEOs, their image, worldviews and practices, and how these have shifted over time since 1871. I use the bank’s CEOs as a prism to understand the bank, its successes and scandals, and how society has made sense of the bank’s role through shifting institutional contexts.


business and culture