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Lisbet Naero svarthvitt

Members' Spotlight with Lisbet Nærø, CEO of Fana Sparebank

In this edition of Members' Spotlight the torch is passed to Lisbet K.Nærø, CEO of Fana Sparebank.

Nærø has been CEO of the regional savings bank, Fana Sparebank, since 2014. She was also one of the founding members of NCE Finance Innovation and is a board member of the fintech-cluster.

We had a chat with Nærø where she shares her thoughts on customer centric banking, startups that she has been following, crowdfunding collaboration, Himla Bank and much more.

What’s your superpower?

I’m not sure I have a superpower, but I am someone who believes everything is possible and who doesn’t give up easily. I enjoy the challenge that comes with trying to solve complex problems, especially since I have the privilege of collaborating with the best teams and working toward a common goal.

What do you believe is the most important to succeed with new banking services/solutions today?

The success of solutions is dependent on continuous improvement and adaptation. When launching a new service, it is rarely fully developed. Dare to launch it even though it is not perfect yet. Launching it will make it possible for customers to give feedback. The feedback is extremely valuable when developing the service further.

A couple of years ago we put together a customer panel, using Teston Usertesting, to gain more customers insight. That gave us direct feedback on our solutions and developments. Their feedback is important when we develop new banking services.

“To change can be hard and painful, but the ability to change can be trained.”

Our employees are of course also an important factor when launching new services. In Fana Sparebank we hold a high tempo, and our employees have developed great skills in learning new thing and solutions. To change can be hard and painful, but the ability to change can be trained.

Lisbet Nærø, CEO at Fana Sparebank

The launch of Himla Bank has been a huge success, can you tell us about Himla Bank (aims and ambitions)?

We are very happy with how customers have responded to the launch of Himla Bank. The huge success is a sign that the Norwegian population was open to the concept. We have gotten a lot of positive feedback from customers, both old and new. This makes us confident and optimistic about future growth of Himla Bank. Before launching the concept, we did not know what to expect. Setting the target goal for this year, we felt a little optimistic. The response proved to be above all expectations, and we reached the annual target within three months of operation.

Himla Bank is made to be simple, predictalble and fast. The customers can expect simplicity and customer friendly solutions. The main product is the mortgage, where we will strive to offer one of the best interest rates in the market. Customers should trust their bank, and at all times know how good their conditions are in comparison with other banks. Himla Bank lets their customers know this at all times by showing the interest rate at the top of both the internet- and mobile-bank. All customers in Himla Bank have the same interest rates on their mortgage. This makes it simple for us, and fair for the customers.

You recently invested 5mNOK in Norwegian crowdfunding startup Dealflow, what were your consideration and thoughts about this partnership?

Crowdfunding is an area of interest for Fana Sparebank. We wish to stimulate innovation and growth within the business society. Dealflow represents an attractive model for bringing ideas and investors together with a far greater impact than we could hope to achieve with our own means. Furthermore, Dealflow has a proven track record and a very strong management. When society thrives so does Fana Sparebank. We see investing in our society, with a focus on sustainability, as a way to influence and contribute to the creating of start-ups which will take on the challenges of financing the necessary changes towards a low-carbon economy.
Read the story here.

Stine Grindheim (Dealflow) og Lisbet Nærø (Fana Sparebank) Foto: Tine Harrison

Are there any startups that have impressed you recently or tips on “ones to look out for”?

Two fintechs; Transferwise and Robin Hood. The former simplifies international money transfers to be as simple as Vipps, the latter makes investing the stock market almost as easy as setting up a Netflix account. Both apps offer a better customer experience at a lower cost than US banking has achieved.

The bank has taken a strong position towards sustainability and the UN SDGs. Can you tell us what actions the bank has taken in this work and why this is important?

Sustainability and a whole hearted support to the UN SDGs are of great importance to Fana Sparebank. The very backbone of the savings bank fundamentals are very much aligned the basic principles of sustainability. For the last couple of years, we have been climate neutral according to the UN Climate Neutral Now program, and we joined UNEP FI (United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initative) as founding signatory in September 2019. Through both UNEP FI and the additional Collective Commitment to Climate Action, we have joined banks globally in expressing goals and ambitions that will influence our way of thinking, as well as putting into action policies which will lead to a greener lending portfolio over the coming years.

Do you see any areas within banking where it makes sense to develop solutions on an inter-bank level / collaborate?

There is a saying in Norwegian banking that we compete where possible and collaborate where it’s a must. I think it is likely that Compliance with regulatory requirements is a great area where banks should collaborate, such as AML/KYC.

Tor W. Andreassen (NHH) nominated you and wants to know:

What is a customer centric bank and how does one implement this in the organizational culture?

A customer centric bank is organized to meet and exceed the expectations of customers. For us, the customer is our first priority as we establish our strategic ambitions. Every new service we offer and technology that we deploy is designed to better enhance customer experience. Being customer centric also requires an organization to be agile and adaptable. Technology changes often and we embrace those changes if they help us to work more efficient and serve our customers better. Still, we need to consider how each change will impact our customers’ experience because we refuse to have any customer feel left behind.

"The customer is the single most important player on our team"

To implement this attitude in the organizational culture we not only make decisions with the customers in mind, but also by communicating with our employees. To truly be a successful customer centric organization, people at all levels within the organization need to be involved. We have visualized this mindset in the banks formal organizational chart; a schematic in which the customer is in the middle of a cog, and that the gears that function around this cog are the divisions within our bank. If the “customer cog” in the middle does not spin, then the driving gears of the divisions in the bank cannot spin either. This symbolizes that the customer is the single most important player on our team.

Can a bank (small or large) be customer centric and simultaneously be an active player in a digital ecosystem?

We think it is possible to be customer centric while having good digital solutions. Often, companies fall into the trap of seeing new digital solutions as an avenue to slash costs. We see the adoption of a digital ecosystem as a way of increasing efficiency and this is a win both for the bank and our customers. We also recognise that this digital approach is not ideal for all customers, so we strive to meet our customers where they want to be met. For more and more customers this means through an app or online, but when an in-person bank meeting is preferred, we are always happy to accommodate. In some cases, where our digital services or meetings at the bank are not possible, we drive to the customer and meet them in their home. This is a service that is especially geared toward our elderly customers who have difficulties getting to the bank. I believe we are the only bank in Norway that can boast that there will always be a channel suited to our customers.I think the launch of Himla Bank proves that it is possible to both be a customer centric bank and at the same time have competitive digital solutions.

5 on the go

Name a book that has made a lasting impression:

Many books have made a lasting impression on me, but one of the latest I read was “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot” . A fascinating story about a woman and her cells who has become one of the most important tools in medicine, with important bioethical issues. No dead woman has done more for the livings. Her cells live on today in all four corners of the world.

Business motto / personal motto

Mottos rarely translate well, here is mine:

Mulighetsorientering er kuren, problemer oppstår, løsninger skapes.

[Seeking opportunity is the key; when problems arise, solutions are found]

Anything you wish you knew 10 years ago?

With age comes wisdom. It is not my own achievement, but the professional accomplishments of those that work in the bank that will be my lasting benchmark of success.

Most used/favorite app?

YouTube and Amazon Alexa. When it comes to news; CNN and NRK.

When I am not working, you’ll find me (ex: at the mountain, gym, traveling.)

Busy with small and large projects to improve the everyday lives of the people I care about. Refurbishing, planning a party or organizing events. You also find me on the threadmill ( at least sometimes), at my cabin in the mountains hiiking or skiing, reading an interesting book or watching a good movie at home. Normally travelling would be a correct answer too, but not in these covid-19 times .

Who should we challenge next in the cluster?