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Nordea plans online boost

Nordea, the leading Nordic bank which claims to have the world's largest number of internet customers, said it was looking to increase the number of internet banking customers by a further 30 per cent this year. Thorleif Krarup, chief executive, said savings and revenue gains from internet banking would help the group drive down its cost-income ratio to below 50 per cent by the end of 2003, from 55 per cent today. The bank already has 2.1m internet banking customers, out of a total customer base of nearly 10m, and wants to increase the figure to 2.7m by the end of the year. The bank - whose name combines "Nordic" with "idea" - has been formed from the merger of leading banks in the four Nordic countries: Merita of Finland, Nordbanken of Sweden, Unidanmark of Denmark and - most recently - Christiania of Norway. Mr Krarup declined to specify how much the bank was saving through internet banking or gaining through additional revenues. This was despite having said a year ago that it expected internet banking to add between E250m and E300m ($227m-$273m) to its annual earnings within three years. Nordea achieved a 17 per cent increase in operating profit last year to E2.43bn. However, fourth-quarter profits fell 29 per cent from E665m to E473m, largely because of the impact of falling stock markets on its investment operations. The figures exclude Christiania. Mr Krarup said the bank would achieve synergies of more than E300m from merging with Unidanmark and Christiania. Shares in the bank fell SKr1.5 to SKr69.5.