A great Finnish success story
OP Financial Group’s history dates back to 1902, when Osuuskassojen Keskuslainarahasto (Central Lending Fund of the Cooperative Credit Societies Limited Company) was founded. Pohjola, which the Group acquired in 2005, began operating under the corporate name of Palovakuutus-Osakeyhtiö Pohjola (the fire insurance company) in 1891.
Osuuskassojen Keskuslainarahasto Osakeyhtiö (Central Lending Fund of the Cooperative Societies Limited Company) is founded on 14 May 1902.
The first local cooperative credit societies were founded in autumn 1902, but lending did not actually begin until 1903, when the Central Lending Fund received a large loan promised by the State.
Palovakuutus-Osakeyhtiö Pohjola joins the Helsinki Stock Exchange, which is being established at the time.
OKO Bank receives the right to grant loans to cooperative credit societies, other cooperative enterprises, and later on to municipalities and parishes. The first domestic bond is issued in 1916.
The operations of cooperative credit societies became firmly established in the 1920s. In 1920, the credit societies were licensed to accept deposits from the general public as well as members, giving them a much closer resemblance to banks.
The Central Association of Cooperative Funds is founded to act in rural areas as the central organisation for, and link between, cooperative funds and local associations of cooperative funds, providing them with their core principles and promoting cooperative credit societies.
In the 1930s, the cooperative credit society organisation increased its market share of public deposits to around ten per cent and credit societies became the key credit institutions in rural areas.
OKO Bank floats its first international bond issue in the French capital market.
The cooperative credit society organisation’s mutual liability becomes reality in 1933 when the Guarantee Fund for Cooperative Funds begins its operations.
War years and post-war years 1939–55
OKO Bank starts mortgage bank operations. The post-war period is a real success story for the cooperative credit society organisation. During post-war reconstruction, it increases its market share in lending and then, in just a few years, in deposits by up to ten percentage points. As a result of this, the most abrupt change in market share in Finnish banking history, cooperative banks achieve parity with the old-established bank groups.
Rural-urban migration intensifies in the early 1950s. For the cooperative credit societies, this leads to a shift in focus towards urban areas: they begin to offer home loans and get involved in building homes for new urbanites.
During 1955–69, the market share of cooperative credit societies develops favourably, demonstrating their flexible adjustment to their new circumstances.
As deposits with the cooperative credit societies grow, funds deposited with OKO Bank (the central bank) increase. This places OKO Bank in a much better position to provide finance for businesses as well as households. OKO Bank acquires funding (mainly from West Germany) by issuing bonds that help it to increase its lending to small and mid-size companies.
In honour of the 50th anniversary, the cooperative credit societies adopt the Sower logo symbolising growth, saving and sense of security.
In the 1960s, OKO Bank takes its first step in the field of automated data processing. It signs the first purchase agreement for computers in 1966.
The granite bear statute becomes established as Pohjola’s symbol and appears in Pohjola's letterheads in 1968.
In 1970, new banking laws come into force, which means that local banks are almost in an equal position with commercial banks. The cooperative credit societies become cooperative banks. In 1974, cooperative banks accepted the approach adopted in practice, according to which they act as general banks serving all population groups equally.
The market share of cooperative banks develops favourably from the early 1970s. In the mid-1980s, the market share of FIM deposits reaches some 25 per cent.
Good reputation of cooperative banks among their customers is of great help in their success. Customers regard cooperative banks as reliable banks focusing on personal banking.
A stylised percent sign becomes the new logo. It also depicts a combination of the acronyms op and ab.
OKO Bank branches out into finance company business. OKO Bank joins the SWIFT payment transfer system established by the banks' international cooperation network.
OKO Bank and five Western European cooperative banks establish Unico Banking Group for cooperative central banks in London.
A bear paw becomes Pohjola companies’ new logo in 1979.
The banking system in place since World War II is deregulated in the 1980s. Bank funding is decontrolled and the nature of the banking business changes. Former “regulators” became “money sellers” within a short period of time. However, the cooperative banks and their central bank, OKO Bank, continue to make steady progress.
There is a clear rise in their market share as difficulties affecting a rival group of local banks, savings banks, come to a head.
OP Fund Management Company Ltd is established and introduces its first mutual funds, OP-Tuotto and OP-Kasvu.
OKO Bank goes public. OKO gains around 60,000 new shareholders when it organises an initial public offering and lists its shares on the Helsinki Stock Exchange.
In the early 1990s, banking businesses in Finland enter a period of unprecedented crisis. Despite difficulties, OP Bank Group survives the crisis years without assistance.
In 1991, OP Bank Group becomes the largest bank group. OP Bank Group’s position is further strengthened by the sale of the going concern, Suomen Säästöpankki SSP Oy, to rival bank groups in 1993. The market share of deposits rises to a new peak of almost 34 per cent.
The role of OP Bank Group as a bank for the whole nation is illustrated by its lending structure. By 1996, personal customers account for almost 52 per cent of loans raised. Corporate customers account for 36 per cent and agricultural and forestry customers for 11 per cent.
During this decade, OP Bank Group even becomes a global forerunner in electronic services.
A non-life insurance company is established in Estonia, which later becomes a Pohjola subsidiary, Seesam International.
OP eServices is launched. This is the first online bank in Europe and the second in the world.
The logo is modernised, its new round design conveying the ideas of service and a people-first approach.
The Group’s cooperation model is radically reformed, with OP Bank Group being converted into an amalgamation with joint and several liability. A decision is taken to transform the Central Association of Cooperative Banks into a cooperative acting as the central institution of the amalgamation of cooperative banks.
The 2000s is a period of strong growth and greater prosperity for Finland. During the decade, OP Financial Group further strengthens its role as a wealth creator in Finland.
The banking group has become a financial services group. It is now the market leader in almost all of its business areas. Combining banking and insurance services proves to be a concept appreciated by customers. At the end of the decade, OP Financial Group has more than 1.1 million customers of both banking and insurance services. The Group also receives international recognition when The Banker magazine repeatedly awards OP the title of Bank of the Year in Finland.
The introduction of a modernised sharp-edged and vibrantly coloured logo that conveys a message of expertise and a high level of activity.
OP Bank Group becomes Pohjola Group plc’s largest shareholder. The transaction, which is of historical significance for OP Bank Group, is its largest ever and extends to non-life insurance. As a result, OP Bank Group becomes the leading financial services group in Finland.
September sees the introduction of the financial services group’s new name:
In March, OKO Bank plc was renamed Pohjola Bank plc.
The OP-Pohjola Group logo is one of the best-known in Finland: according to a survey, 95% of people recognise it spontaneously.
In the 2010s, digitalisation and globalisation fundamentally change customer behaviour, the business environment and OP Financial Group’s strategy. The Group undergoes a transformation led by and for its customers. It returns to its roots as a financial services group owned by customers when Pohjola Bank plc’s shares are purchased from the Helsinki Stock Exchange. OP-Pohjola becomes OP. The number of owner-customers grows to 2 million.
OP-Pohjola Group enters 2011 with a new central organisation. Accordingly, OP-Pohjola Group Central Cooperative is split into two entities: OP-Pohjola Group Central Cooperative, as the central institution, is in charge of controlling and supervising the Group’s business while OP-Services Ltd, a service company separate from the central cooperative, is tasked with the development and production of centralised services for OP-Pohjola Group and its member cooperative banks.
The United Nations General Assembly declares 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives, which also marks OP-Pohjola Group’s 110th anniversary in the cooperative banking business.
The Pohjola Hospital for outpatient surgery, specialising in the examination and treatment of orthopaedic illnesses and injuries, is founded.
Representative Assemblies are elected simultaneously in all member cooperative banks for the first time. Over 900,000 owner-members – around two-thirds of all owner-members of OP-Pohjola Group cooperative banks – act as electors in 62 member cooperative banks.
OP returns to its roots by becoming a financial services group wholly owned by its customers. Early in the year, OP-Pohjola makes a tender offer for all Pohjola Bank plc shares. Pohjola shares are delisted from the Helsinki Stock Exchange in September.
OP cooperative banks launch Profit Shares that enable owner-customers to make equity investments in their own OP cooperative bank.
By 2014, OP Financial Group is by far and away the largest corporate taxpayer in Finland.
OP-Pohjola Group is renamed OP Financial Group on 1 January 2015. OP Financial Group records earnings of over one billion euros for the first time.
OP Financial Group confirms a new strategy according to which the Group would gradually change from a financial services group into a diversified services company.
Mobile banking becomes the most popular banking channel as the number of transactions on OP-mobile beats those in OP eServices for the first time in March.
A new cooperative bank is founded within the Group when Helsinki OP Bank Ltd is converted into Helsinki Area Cooperative Bank.
During the jubilee year of Finland’s independence, OP Financial Group donates over 100 person-years of volunteering to the 100-year-old Finland together with employees, management, partners and people in Finland.
OP Financial Group updates its responsibility programme and sets itself the target of carbon neutrality by 2025.
Being the leading and most appealing financial services group in Finland is confirmed as OP Financial Group’s vision.
The number of owner-customers in OP cooperative banks increases to 2 million. OP’s non-life insurance business is transferred under the Pohjola brand. OP Financial Group updates its strategy, decides to focus on core business and switches to a continuous strategy process.
Together through the ages: OP Financial Group has always played a pivotal role in supporting its customers and society during crises. When the global pandemic struck, OP Financial Group lived up to its mission, supporting its customers and personnel amid the Covid-19 crisis.