Friday, October 10, 2014

Swedish Bankers’ Hours

During college and immediately after, I worked at a bank in the marketing department. It was a good job with good people and gave me good experience with a good paycheck. It was good. It was a normal job with normal hours. Eight in the morning until five in the evening. Sometimes later. Especially because in marketing, there’s plenty going on during the weekend or evenings. So I put in my 40-ish hours of work a week and thought nothing of it.

But then people would ask me about bankers’ hours with a glint in their glinty eyes and a smirk on their smirky face. And the only thing I could think of was, you mean eight to five? Normal workday hours? I didn’t understand. I was, obviously, unfamiliar with the term. It was explained to me. I laughed because that seemed to be what was expected of me and I kept working bankers’ hours. The ones that had me working from eight to five.

Then I moved to Sweden. And realized what bankers’ hours really are. Bankers’ hours are from ten to three. Ten to fifteen. Monday through Friday. That’s five hours per day. Five hours in the middle of the day. During the week. There are no available times on the weekend.

I know, I know. Some banks are giving the people what they want and staying open later in the evening. One day a week at some banks (some, not all), you’ll be able to take care of your banking needs from ten to six. Woo.

During those hours, you might get everything done. Or you might not. It seems that everyone has a horror story about banking in Sweden. Especially immigrants. You might need to go to several banks before being allowed to open an account. You might be refused. You might need to bring people with you to vouch for your identity. You might be getting a paycheck and still not be allowed to open an account. It’s a long list.

I’m telling you all of this, obviously, because I had to deal with a bank the other day. SEB. I got to the bank early. And by early I mean 9:45. So I had to wait for 15 minutes. Another man came in and tried to get into the bank. He looked at me with a look of confusion when he found the door was closed. I said, simply, ten. It opens at ten. Of course. He left, but returned a few minutes later with an umbrella. We still had five minutes. And so I struck up a conversation. And by conversation I mean we exchanged a few sentences. I said that I should work at a bank with these hours. He chuckled. Politely. He responded with a reference to “Va i helvete har dom för sig inne i banken efter tre?” It was a familiar reference, mostly because my dad had tried to cheer me up with this very same reference the night before:

I chuckled. Politely. Then I told him what I just told you: my dad said the same thing last night. Which probably weirded him out and reminded him of his age and forced him to confront his own mortality because I look like I’m 40 (and have since I was about 18) and he didn’t know how to handle the fact that he had similar taste in satirical bank songs as the father of a 40 year old. Despite his confusion, we are now friends according to long-standing Swedish tradition that if you exchange more than two sentences and one chuckle, you are blood brothers. Or something like that.

When the bank finally opened I headed straight to the first teller. In-person banking doesn’t happen all that often and I was excited. I needed some paperwork. An end-of-year financial statement to be exact. I messed up and lost the original. I’ll fess up to that. It happens. I ordered the paperwork. It took two weeks before the bank actually ordered the paperwork for me. And here I am, nearly three weeks later still waiting for my paperwork. So I went to the bank in hopes that they could just print out what I needed.

You might ask, but why does the bank need to ORDER the paperwork? And by you, I mean I. I asked that. And was informed that SEB, my esteemed bank of choice, has all their back office located in Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania. They are unable to produce or provide any back-office report or request at offices in Sweden. The requests must be sent to Vilnius. The report can’t be generated online through my own personal internetbank. The bank offices in Sweden can’t generate the reports. Only Vilnius. All-powerful Vilnius.

So the bankers work from ten to three. They don’t do any back-office work. And keep in mind that plenty of banks no longer carry any cash. I don’t actually know if any banks carry cash anymore. I do know that every bank I have been to in Stockholm for quite some time now, no longer carries cash.1 So I can’t go into a bank and request a withdrawal. I can do that at the ATM. Which is fine. It’s convenient and easy and open.

But it leads me to wonder, in the vein of Hasse and Tage from 1968: what the hell does a banker in Sweden actually do between ten and three? I don’t even care what happens after three. What do those five hours actually look like between ten and three?

Welcome to Sweden. And bankers’ hours.

1 October 24, 2014 - I was in a bank a few days ago and... they had cash! They were fulfilling withdrawl requests. Apparently some banks still carry cash and I had just been going to the ones that didn't. Now you know.


  1. Bankers hours are great for employees, even if they're inconvenient for customers. Relaxed work hours/work weeks are probably why Sweden consistently rates higher on happiness indices than the U.S. and Asia. Long live bankers hours!! :)

    1. I'm always torn by this, because I imagine working just five hours every day would be amazing. But at the same time, it's nice being able to get something done. And I'm also curious as to what they actually work. Surely they an't get there at ten and leave at three?

  2. I have never really thought about swedish banks not keeping money, I did think it odd when I went in that there was no security glass etc.

    You missed out that its 10-3 monday to friday except wednesday. Lots of the banks here seem to close early on wednesday. you know cause 10-1 is enough time.

    1. I've actually seen some banks stay open late on Wednesdays!

  3. @Samantha Chang: It would be great if the rest of the Swedish population could have the same work hours, but sadly, we don't. Long live bankers' hours for EVERYONE! :)

    @Hairy: Are American banks open longer? This is an extremely annoying facet of life in Sweden. It's probably great for the bank employees, but I think people employed in every other occupation should end their work days earlier then, so as to have time to go the bank. It just seems fair, and lagom :)

    1. yeah, actually a lot of banks are open from 8-5!

  4. In Brazil banks are open from ten to four, Monday to Friday, but some banks may open one hour later. And I mean different outlets of THE SAME BANK. But the banks here do all their back-office work. And bank employees are always going on strike (like last week. Thank God - or whoever - fir internet banking), for higher pay (not fir shorter working hours, thankfully). I remember being very amazed in Sweden though (or was it in the UK?) at the lack of what were for me simple banking services, like cashing a check at the cashier, for example. And was also very amazed at the amount of banking that the Mail did. But it turns out they are doing almost the same here. I guess emailing had an even bigger impact on regular mail than I foresaw.