This is an industry of many parts. Working groups and agile teams gather together every day to discuss the details over a messaging protocol, or the policy ramifications of a new regulation or adjust a minor bug in a consumer application. Millions of decisions and projects, in banks, tech companies and financial institutions all around the world are always moving and changing and shaping this industry that we, broadly, describe as FinTech.
It is very easy to spend an entire career focused on one aspect, one silo’d department, in financial services. Good and smart people push forward, trying their best to inject some innovation and a sense of progression in a systemically important industry.
However, to gage that progression sometimes we need to ask broader questions. How can we build smarter more efficient API connectivity to access personal data from bank accounts if the very idea of what a ‘bank’ is, is changing in the hearts and minds of the consumer? How can the financial institution truly serve a digital customer base if digital is a silo’d underfunded department, far removed from the ‘business’ of the bank? Can lean and agile product development methods designed to create tech products that grab market share because they are ‘loved’ ever work inside a multi-levelled, legacy, incumbent organisation whose business is to provide customers with products that they trust?
That was the core idea behind our ‘Big Question Debates’. Launched at the FinTECHTalents Festival in 2019 we asked our industry leaders and polled our community ‘Where we are gong do we need banks?’ and ‘Why do banks need a head of digital, when everything is digital?’. In our virtual, lockdown, pandemic world, we continued the question with ‘Is it impossible for an incumbent bank to innovate?’ in our inaugural Virtual/Spring event. We continued with North America asking ‘Where is the heartland of banking?’
As we, virtually, travel to the Nordics on October 14th, we are once again asking ‘The Big Question’.
Is Nordic innovation a myth?
Let us explain roots of this.
When we started looking at creating an event that would showcase the Nordics for a FinTECHTalents Virtual Festival we started asking some of the great and the good of FinTech to offer their perception of the startup ecosystem, the rates of innovation and state of financial services in the Northern European region.
“Progressive” was the first word used. The Scandinavian countries are known for robust social policies and are populated by people with high levels of education and digital savvy. Many countries, specifically Sweden, have set in motion achievable goals around removing cash from every day transaction. Others mentioned an openness to collaboration and partnership. The Nordic region is home to the P27 project which aims to establish a single pan-Nordic payment infrastructure to support 27 million people.
The Nordics is the home of FinTech heavy weights like Klarna, Holvi, iZettle, Nets and Tink. Sweden and Denmark, respectively, brought the world Spotify and Lego. If just looking at the cultural influence and commercial dominance of one of the world’s most iconic ‘children’s’ toy – Lego alone would mark Scandinavia as one of the most innovative and progressive places in the world.
However, when that same research and survey is addressed to those who work and build in the Nordics a very different picture emerges. Twitter chats, blog posts and Zoom conversations talk of one of incumbent bank complacency, an aversion to partnerships and lack of capital and support for startups. ‘Swedish banks are very conservative’; ‘Collaboration is hard to achieve’; ‘Startup funding is close to impossible to find’ are some of the examples of how those from Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland view themselves.
What is the reality?
Is the Nordic region truly open to innovation? Is it a myth told through sycophantic press articles and a few well-known global companies? Or is the Northern European financial services industry no more immune to the swings and roundabouts of any traditional industry dealing with disruptive technology and upstart new entrants?
That is the question we decided to ask on 14th October at FTT Virtual Nordics.
Is Nordic Innovation a Myth?
Kathy Chang, Head of Fintech Partnerships, Payments & Innovation, DNB, Søren Rode Jain Andreasen, Chief Digital Officer at Danske Bank, and Johan Liedgren, Digitalization and Innovation, Handelsbanken will all have seven minutes to ‘state their case’ and answer the Big Question.