There is something exceptional about Nordic Fintech. We set out on a quest to find out what it is about Nordic fintech that has mustered such a stronghold on the global future of financial services.
Over the past year we have met with over 70 fintech’s to uncover what’s behind the regional phenomenon bringing about revolutionary new ways of doing payments, smooth and simple solutions for investing, robust and secure tools for fighting financial crime and outstanding new ways to make financial services available and accessible to more and more people.
It’s 5:40 in the morning, and part of the Nordic Fintech Magazine team is struggling with a problem; how to fit 32.6 kg. of video equipment including, lights, tripods, and cameras, into 3 carry-on bags. Given the recent chaos with luggage handling at airports across Europe we cannot risk having our bags lost or delayed. Our team is on an early flight to Helsinki, where a very much anticipated conversation with Monika Liikamaa, co-CEO and co-Founder of Enfuce, is scheduled to take place. Enfuce is one of the hundreds of Nordic fintechs that in recent years has made waves in the news with their distinctly superior cloud-based payment solutions and attracted over €60 Million in funding in the process.
A few minutes into our conversation with Monika and we are already shaken by the boldness and conviction of her vision. Monika holds an unfettered belief that the future of payments can be significantly better, faster, and more transparent. Grounded in profound expertise, understanding of technology and commitment to sustainability, she is truly a force to be reckoned with and we pity anyone who dares stand on her way.
Our trip continues onto what we like to call a “unicorn safari”. This time we are traversing the Gulf of Finland on a ferry that will bring us across to Tallinn the beautiful Estonian capital where we are scheduled to meet a lineup of entrepreneurs building a new financial system, with global reach, out of this small but remarkable nation.
We are struck by the refreshing ideas oozing from these young and courageous visionaries, many of whom are second and third generation investors of successful companies who exited their “corporate nests” after reaching unicorn status. We learn that after the fall of the Soviet Union, Estonia had the opportunity to rebuild their state from scratch, and with strategic acuteness and pragmatism, chose to do so, on the digital platform of the future.
This cultural embracement of technology has produced a pool of talent that is not only technically savvy, but extremely committed to develop their nation’s industry across all sectors. An approach that has worked fabulously, as seen in the almost inconceivable ratio of 1 unicorn for every 130,000 inhabitants for a total of 10. Amongst which can be counted Skype, Wise, Veriff, and Bolt; companies that have taken the task of building amazing new services while reinvesting and transferring know-how to a new generation of Estonian entrepreneurs.
We meet, amongst many remarkable companies, fintechs like Vespia, whose CEO & founder Julia Ront aims to become the first female founder of an Estonian unicorn, Fairown whose gentle mannered founder Hendrik Roosna is reimagining the way we consume by enabling a circular economy, or Single.Earth an outstandingly innovative company tokenizing nature to pay land owners for preserving their land. We left Estonia with the sense that we’d just witnessed something special as we headed to Iceland, the smallest nation amongst the Nordic Countries.
Bang in the middle of the Atlantic, this sparsely populated nation is the midpoint between Europe and the US, and it doesn’t take long for us to realize the astounding level of self-sufficiency required to thrive in this conditions. No neighboring countries, no next-door trading partners, cold winters and miles and miles of inclement water in every direction. And yet, this tiny country with its equally sized market has it all, industry, innovative services, a delicious thriving food scene and nature of unspeakable beauty.
Through an intense couple of days of back-to-back interviews with some of the most interesting Icelandic fintechs, we learn that the country’s fascination with heroism, combined with its strong Nordic values and a go-getter attitude has deeply shaped its startup scene. We meet Haukur Skúlason and Tryggvi Davidsson the funding team of indó, a challenger bank with a radical proposition, “we don’t want our customers just to trust us, we also want them to like us!” or Georg Ludviksson, founder of Meniga, a company powering banks serving over 100 million banking customers with cutting edge digital banking tech and Guðmundur Kristjánsson, the CEO & Founder of Lucinty, aiming to equip financial crime fighting professionals with state-of-the-art AI tools. We cannot help thinking that because of their geographical position, no-one bothered to tell these Icelandic heroes: “that cannot be done” and so they are doing it.
With pieces of a puzzle that start to come together in our heads, we head to our last stop, at least for now, the Norwegian capital of Oslo. We arrive on a beautiful sunny day, which sets out the tone for our short but impacting visit. We learn that unlike other smaller markets where entrepreneurs are forced to start with global ambitions, Norwegian startups are cautious; meticulous in ensuring their solutions have the right market fit, and resolute in testing their innovation locally before exporting it to other markets. We are quickly able to identify a devotion for solving hard problems which is a consistent theme in our conversations with the various fintech proponents in Norway. We meet Thuc Hoang, founder, and CEO of Firi, the largest crypotexchange in the Nordics. Thuc is a young family man whose passion for coding and solving hard problems mirrors his thinking that you only have one life, so you might as well invest it into doing something difficult.
We are blown away by the decisiveness as well as by the ingenuity of companies like Tillit, whose founder Erik Skaar, dissatisfied with the inefficiency and poor customer service in insurance, set out to build an insurance challenger that uses amazing imaging technology to reduce insurance fraud and enable self-service. Or by FundingPartner an investment company that uses technology for the prime purpose of automating areas that customers don’t see, freeing up more time for their employees to build relationships with customers. Absolutely revolutionary in an age obsessed with digital-human disintermediation.
As the summer months draw near to an end and we head back to our base in Copenhagen, we try to make sense of everything that we’ve witnessed first-hand in our eye-opening crusade across the Nordics. 78 conversations with Nordic visionaries and entrepreneurs confirm a strong hunch we’ve held on to for a while. With their cultural and historic differences, multiple languages, and individual traits; the Nordics, eight distinct and unique markets, share a common set of modern values and deep held convictions reflected in their booming startup scene. It is with humility, a profound sense of duty and responsibility, resourcefulness, inventiveness, unmeasurable courage, and disregard for the barriers along the way, that entrepreneurs in this outstanding region are tackling the most pressing problems in financial services. It’s these Nordic modern-day heroes who are reimagining a future of finance that sidesteps the failures of the past, setting in motion something better, something new.
Our initial Nordic quest has given us but a tiny glimpse of what this region has to offer and has left us with a deep sense of wonder and desire to find out more. We are hooked.