Danish bank Coop refuses to open accounts for non-Danish speakers

Coop Bank has refused customers purely on the basis that they cannot speak Danish, according to a media report in Denmark.

Danish bank Coop refuses to open accounts for non-Danish speakers
A file photo of a Coop supermarket in Denmark. Coop Bank reportedly turned away customers who do not speak Danish. Photo: Ida Marie Odgaard/Ritzau Scanpix

Coop Bank has been turning away customers who don’t speak Danish, the Politiken newspaper has reported, citing the case of a Malaysian man who was told that he could not have an account because he didn’t speak Danish. 

Mohamad Haizam, from Malaysia, was told by a customer services agent that he could not have an account because he didn’t speak Danish.

“It shocked me and I thought, what kind of racist bank is this? I din’t understand it because a had a CPR [personal registration, ed.] number address, everything,” he told Politiken.

But when Politiken itself rang customer services, they were told the same thing. 

“Because we are a Danish bank, we have all our documents in Danish, we only speak Danish (…) I have not been trained to be able to advise others in English,” the agent said. “And that is why we have decided that we will not change that now. And that it is best to go that way and say, we only take in Danish customers,” the advisor is quoted.

Haizam’s situation in not the only example found by Politiken of Coop refusing customers who do not speak Danish.

Claus Haagensen, a representative for distribution firm Post & Medier, told Politiken that 80 percent the company’s employees had a foreign background, and he had been told by Coop that non-Danish speakers cannot have a bank account.

Anyone with legal residence in Denmark or another EU country has the right to a bank account and banks are obliged to offer basic accounts within 10 days of application.

Those rules are, however, not always complied with according to Politiken.

The Danish Financial Supervisory Authority (Finanstilsynet) told the newspaper that banks cannot refuse to open a basic current account for customers if they do not speak Danish.

But neither are banks obliged to communicate with customers in a language they understand, it said.

As such, a customer who does not speak Danish may risk being unable to understand communications from a bank which chooses only to use Danish.

Coop Bank CEO Allan Nørholm admitted that the bank may have been hasty in rejecting customers, in comments to Politken.

“We should naturally not generally turn away a customer who cannot speak Danish if we can confirm that the customer has access to someone who can help with translation. We will correct this,” he told Politiken.

“But we are a little bank and do not have correspondence in English or German and we have found it most responsible to offer advice in the language which we know customers can understand,” he said.

The CEO also said that Coop would change its practice if it found it to be against the law.

Coop Bank has around 100,000 customers.

Business Minister Morten Bødskov called the policy of refusing accounts to non-Danish speakers “completely crazy”.

“It is very surprising and completely crazy that a bank says a member of the public does not have the right to a basic account because they don’t speak Danish,” Bødskov told Ritzau.

“There is no way of enforcing this demand under the law. What kind of a signal does a bank send to large parts of Danish society where we have lots of foreigners who are doing a great job? This won’t do,” the minister said.

Have you experienced a situation similar to the one described in this article? Or did you have the opposite experience with a bank that helped you when you couldn’t speak Danish? Let us know.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


IN NUMBERS: How close is Denmark to becoming cash free?

Although app payments are commonplace in Denmark and almost all businesses accept debit cards, one in five people in the country still say they would find it difficult to be without cash.

IN NUMBERS: How close is Denmark to becoming cash free?

Some 20 percent of the Danish public say they would find it difficult to may everyday payments if cash was no longer in use, national agency Statistics Denmark found in a recent survey.

It should be noted that there are no immediate political plans to make Denmark cashless. But given the country’s position as one of the most digitalised societies in the EU, it is notable that such a high number still uses cash on such a regular basis.

Some 20 percent of people between the ages of 15 and 89 said they agreed with the statement “I would find it difficult to make payments if cash was abolished as a payment method”.

The figure comes from the agency’s annual publication on IT habits in the general Danish population.

“One in five say they would find it hard to get by without cash, our study shows. It might not be surprising that this is particularly among elderly people,” Statistics Denmark senior consultant Agnes Tassy said.

“Many people in the older age group also belong to the category we have chosen to call ‘digitally challenged’. In that group, 40 percent would find it hard to be without cash,” she said.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Is it better for tourists to use cash or card in Denmark?

The agency defines “digitally challenged” as people who say they cannot navigate the internet or install an app.

Among the remainder of the population, most people say they could manage without cash although 17 percent still said they would find it to be a problem.

As part of the study, the data agency also asked members of the public which payment methods they had used at least once during the last three months.

Here, 53 percent said they had used all three primary types: cash, payment app and payment card.

30 percent said they used the latter two types but not cash, while only 7 percent said they did not use a mobile app but did use cash and card. A similarly low number, 7 percent, said they only used a card and neither an app nor cash. Just 2 percent only use cash.

In the study, six out of ten said they had used cash at some point around the beginning of 2022, the period the questions in the survey relate to.

But even though one in five say they’d find it hard not to use cash at all, only 2 percent – equivalent to 90,000 people – use cash as their sole method of payment.

A very high proportion – 97 percent – said they used payment cards at the beginning of 2022. Around 84 percent used a mobile app to pay for an item or service.

READ ALSO: Dankort: What is Denmark’s payment card and how is it different from other card types?

Graphic: Statistics Denmark

Breaking those numbers down by age, as in the graphic above, the percent of card users remains high across age groups (grey line), as does the middling amount of people who use cash (blue line).

Mobile apps (green line) have a very high usage in younger age groups, before a drop of for people in their fifties and sixties and a nosedive in usage for the over-80s.

“Across all age groups, the little plastic card is payment form most people rely on. Between 73 percent and 85 percent used a card the most often in 2022. For the entire population, the case is that 8 out of 10 most often pay by card, while 14 percent most often use an app,” Tassy said.

The use of cash rises with age, with one in five over 80 using it most often but only 3 percent of people aged between 15 and 34.