EXCLUSIVE: The Nordics shine bright for FinTECH Talents 2020

by Hannah Duncan

“Steeped in myth and mystery, the Northern Lights are a wonder that wows children and grownups alike. Those famous green hues of the Aurora Borealis signal the uniqueness of a region where people are renowned for doing things differently”. – Victor Cruz, CEO at VC Innovations, speaking on LinkedIn 

Consider the Nordics. A legendary landscape filled with the smells of towering forests, freshly cut pine wood and crisp snow. Beloved for its minimalistic designs, world-famous fishing and all things Christmas, the region somehow makes for an unlikely fintech festival setting. Yet, this year, the terrific team behind FinTECH Talents made it happen. With inspiring fireside chats, panels and debates, on Wednesday 14th October, the Nordics truly shone out to the world, virtually. 

Moderating and the F word 

For me, it was an especially exciting festival and landmark moment, as I became one of the moderators! I was delighted to talk to Investment Manager at DNB Ventures, Anders Østensvig, and Head of Startup & Growth Business at Nordea Finland, Vesa Riihimäki. Our talk was Show me the money: Where can Nordic fintech find its capital?”

Early birds (if you count 08.05am as early … which I do!) could have seen the three of us up on the main stage, unashamedly dropping the F word like there’s no tomorrow. Funding. Funding. Funding.  

Helping fintechs get some much-needed cash is a SUPER important role, and we took it seriously. Here’s a helpful recap of what we discussed: 

To get funding, fintechs should: 

  • Solve a problem and make it clear to the banks what problem is being solved. Banks are looking to make life easier for their customers. 
  • Remember to include information on the distribution plan at every stage. Banks need to see a well-thought through distribution strategy from the very start. The ease of implementation is a key concern… so savvy fintechs should jump on that!
  • Consider how scalable the product is. Banks are looking to see how much extra resources they’ll need to allocate to bring products to the masses.
  • Be clear about how the fintech will bring in revenue, even though innovation is more important than profitability, it’s still important!
  • The team is important! A team which is easy to get along with is a big part of the funding decision 

It was interesting, insightful, engaging … and with just a couple of Wi-Fi-related glitches here and there, I think we basically smashed it. I hope that somewhere in the world, an ambitious viewer had a lightbulb moment. Come on founders!! We gotcha!! 

After my talk I stuck around to see what else was going on. The FinTECH Talents Festivals are usually filled with gems. So suitably armed with a note pad and pen, I dived back in. 

Face-to-face contact 7,500+ miles apart

2020 has been one hell of a year. So much bad. But a surprising amount of good as well. If nothing else, the year rocketed our way of living and working years ahead into the future. I tuned into the fireside chat, Working from … Home, Remote, Distributed wherever”, to find out more. 

“2020 is a year which is about being present at a distance”, explained Danske Bank’s Tribe Lead for the Core Payments Platform, Christa Nielsen. She spoke about the importance of staying human, as we embrace more technology. “Our strategy is all about making an effort. Looking at facial expressions, caring to ask. And asking in a real way… We’re so used to our screens being one-way …and this strategy makes a difference”. 

Nielsen spoke about how her bank is embracing digital technology as a way to improve work. By “following the sun”, teams from across the world can pick up pieces of work and refine them, before passing on to the next time zone. For Nielsen, this new way of collaborating brings its own benefits, which have helped to improve the quality of work. 

The Tribe Lead also spoke about how new methods of staff training have also become possible since embracing this brave new technology. She’s now seen that hundreds of people can be trained up almost overnight and reallocated to where their skills are most needed.   

This region has always loved it’s tech. Stockholm has produced more unicorns for capita than any other city in the world. As the home of Nokia, Skype and Spotify, it’s no surprise that digital working has been something of a hit. But the next talk did unveil some interesting things about Nordic trust in banking that I wasn’t expecting. 

The Nordics trust their banks. No, Really.  

A region that still trusts bankers is hard to find. There are heaps of studies showing how faith in traditional banks has become severed since the financial crisis, with Millennials leading the way. Back in 2016, a Facebook study found that a terrifying 92% of this generation do not trust banks. Ouch. And surely the tumultuous past months and recent flood to fintech and neo-banks shows that nothing has really changed. 

Yet, the Nordics are quietly unique. People do trust their banks. For real. Not only that, but the banks also trust each other. I listened in on one of the main stage Global Discussions, “Identity Rules in the Nordics and beyond”, to find out more about this distinctly Nordic characteristic. 

We have a saying here in the Nordics”, explained Christoffer O. Hernaes, former CDO of Sbanken. “We collaborate when we can and compete when we must”. 

The fellow panelists agreed wholeheartedly, with Principal Consultant of Mk2 Consulting Ltd, Jonathan Williams feeling that the rest of us should take a (pine) leaf out of this Nordic book. “In some banking industries it’s, ‘We collaborate where we must, rather than where we can’”, he revealed. But as the world turns on its head, we’re seeing more and more how governments, banks and society need to work together. 

In the Nordics, the trust is so strong that a bank I.D. is a valid form of identification. Not only that, but banks trust and share data in an open-banking style to help customers. “Pulling data from different databases, using APIs for tax”, commented Krista Korelin, Director, Head of Digital and Mobile Banking, OP Financial Group. “It’s only possible when there’s a high level of trust between authorities”

27.36 million ideal fintech customers 

So, what major lessons did I learn? Well, too many to list here. But probably my biggest take-home message for me was that the Nordics might have been a bit overlooked. Not because the banks are lacking, far from it. But because the environment is built on trust and tech, which is ideal for fintech innovation. 

There’s a healthy amount of love, goodwill and respect between Nordic customers and their banks. And given how tech-orientated these nations are – a recent study showed that Nordic households spend an average of 149 euros a month on their much-loved broadband) – there are a bunch of opportunities for fintechs. 

I mean, trust plus digital prowess? That magic customer is one in a million. Except in the Nordics, where it seems, that there are 27.36 million. 

This article began with a magical quote from one of the pioneering organizers behind the event. So it seems right, to end it with another, from the legend that is Liz Lumley. 

“FTT Virtual Nordics was always meant to be an event for those who do in the region and those who interested in that ‘do’. What we discovered is that Nordic innovation is founded on a cross cultural feeling of trust, collaboration and a belief in building progressive services on a solid foundation of infrastructure and platforms. The Nordics is a major region for innovation and significant hub for FinTech.”

Liz Lumley, Director at VC Innovations, leading the FinTECH Talents Festival of experiences. 

Catch up with all the chats, discussions and debates

Author: Lauren Towner