In this edition of Members' Spotlight the torch is passed from Henrik Lie-Nielsen to Øyvind Thomassen, CEO of Sbanken. He shares his thoughts on the next banking revolution, his time in Sweden, startups to look out for and much more.
Members' Spotlight with Øyvind Thomassen, CEO of Sbanken
What’s your superpower?
Having high levels of energy at all times, creating direction,momentum and progress on every turf.
Henrik Lie-Nielsen nominated you and wants to know what motivated you to return to Sbanken?
I had originally accepted the position as CEO of a smaller bank operating in the southern part of Sweden and was supposed to move to Copenhagen with my wife and cat, but declined when the request to make a comeback as CEO in Sbanken was placed in front of me. When I received the offer, it became clear to me where my heart really was. I was in charge of building Sbanken from scratch and know half the people working here. The fact that Sbanken is located in Bergen, made the choice even easier. It’s a city I’ve fallen in love with, where I studied, met my wife, where two of our children and many friends live in with their families. It was time to return home!
What is the most exciting thing happening in Sbanken right now that you can share with us?
There is a lot happening in Sbanken these days, and it is hard to point out only one thing. Still, I will have to say that the journey we are now planning, scheduled to be revealed on our 20th anniversary party in November, will hopefully be surprising and motivating both to colleagues, customers, and friends of Sbanken. We will celebrate what has been but also kick-start the journey in front of us. People who know me will expect that we pick battles we can win and areas we can challenge – always on behalf of customers and society.
Future of the industry, any thought?
There are many drivers. Some global, others local; some known, some unknown. That is why we need innovation!
Customer behaviors are changing fast, but we are all individuals and live in different contexts. We as a bank need to solve problems for customers and the society based on that. Banking is in fact a heavily regulated industry, for better or worse. I have always said that you need to choose precisely which area of the contest you want to win. Is it to have the direct relation to customers or is it to produce an excellent service or product?
I hear a lot of talk about i.e. “banking as a platform”, and I do believe that it has the potential to be the glue that in the end connects the two. But, on the other hand, I said as early as year 2000 that the term “bank” would be dead in 2010, so do not believe all of my predictions.
Øyvind Thomassen, CEO in Sbanken
Any thoughts on what could be the next banking revolution?
The whole narrative around the next generation of banking has in many ways centered on serving underserved customers better. However, when it comes to the Nordic market, we as consumers are in many ways overserved. The largest potential lies within savings in Norway and SME’s in the Nordics.
We need to increase our responsibility within savings in all aspects of the journey, from personal standpoints in relation to i.e. CSR- and UN SDGs perspectives to making savings and pension solutions less complex as well as easy for the consumer to handle. Helping customers with their needs is our mission. To do so, we have to make our solutions accessible and intuitive.
Looking at the market for SME, it is still an underserved and overcharged market. Moving forward, bank/ERP will increasingly merge and be able to deliver a dashboard in which everything is offered with the right service and price. This is the exact issue we wish to solve with our new bank for SMEs, and we are already well on our way in serving their needs.
What do you believe is the most important factor(s) to succeed with new banking services/solutions today?
Understanding what your target customers (real people you “want to win”) actually want and need; developing your solutions based on the issues that affect your customer’s lives rather than what you have “in stock”. In order to do so, you need to build a team consisting of people who want to go all-in on fulfilling your vision and purpose.
Are there any startups that have impressed you recently or tips on “ones to look out for”? If yes, why are they interesting?
Many, but I believe that renteradar.no is an interesting example, helping Norwegians reduce the interest rate (cost) on their mortgage loan. Getting the mortgage you need is critical, and many people would like some advice in order to make sure that they can afford to buy their next “dream home”. Customer’s first concern should be to get an optimized solution within their financial capability, and secondly to pay as small an interest rate/fee as possible. A floating mortgage is a pure commodity, similar to electricity.
Can you name an important lesson learned whilst working in Sweden?
My first hard lesson as CEO in Stockholm was that Swedes acted literally on everything I said, just as if it was an order. I learned that having a popcorn brain, full of ideas, is good, but also that some of the corn is burnt (in other words, they are not always as good as i first thought).
Within banking and finance is there something that really bugs you?
What really upset me is all the non-transparency in our industry and how this results in customers being “robbed”, for instance through fees and bad terms. Luckily it seems like the younger generation is more challenging and disruptive in their behavior, forcing banks to improve.
Do you see any areas within banking where it makes sense to develop solutions on an inter-bank level?
We as an industry need to continue to invest and develop a state of the art payment- and identity infrastructure. This is an area where we have been ahead of the curve for a long period time but are now starting to fall behind in. With the ever-changing landscape of payments, it is no longer sufficient to look at this from a national perspective. The next step in this development should be on a Nordic level.
In addition, as mentioned in the question, the burden of AML/KYC is something everyone must bear. By pooling our resources in the industry and working together with regulators and authorities we will be better equipped to combatt financial crime. In short, we should continue to collaborate where we can and compete where we must.
5 on the go
Name a book that has made a lasting impression
The two books about Steve Jobs. He was my hero in the start-up period of Skandiabanken, but my view changed reading about his leadership style.
Business motto / personal motto
Think and act different / I can do
Anything you wish you knew 10 years ago?
I enjoy constant learning, also by failing. Of course, it would have been great to have all the insight I have today already ten years ago. However, by doing so, I would have missed the process of learning, which I in fact do not want to be without.
Most used/favorite app?
Sbanken.no, of course.
When I’m not working you’ll find me (ex: at the mountain, gym, traveling.)
Out somewhere in nature along with family and friends, hiking, playing, skiing, or just making and sharing good food together with excellent wine produced by a small family winery in the Southern part of Europe.
Who should we challenge next in the cluster?
Tor W. Andreassen, professor of innovation at NHH. An interesting man with bold and crystal-clear statements and opinions. I would like to hear his view on how the corona crisis influences companies’ reputation and organizational culture, and what he thinks will differentiate the best from the worst. Is this for example a time to focus more inward than outward, and will the way weview ourselves, our customers, and employees change?