FinTech in the Nordics is alive and well

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This is a guest blog post by Lawrence Wintermeyer, CEO of Innovate Finance.

I have spent a number of years doing business in the Nordic VC/PE space and I am happy to report that “FinTech in the Nordics” is alive and well. The Nordic region (Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland) is the second largest FinTech community in Europe next to the UK and has raised an estimated 150 million dollars in 2015 venture funding.

This has been led by iZettle, the Swedish payment play that offers devices for businesses to accept credit card payments through Apple devices who raised a 50 million dollar “D Round” led by Intel Capital and Zouk Capital in August.

Klarna, another payment play out of Sweden offers payments services for online shops with over 55,000 merchants in 15 European countries. This unicorn, valued at more than 2 BUSD, is preparing to enter the US market with its unique solution of paying merchants itself, and collecting the money from client users.

Northzone, a leading Nordic venture capital firm boasts both of these unicorns in its funds and has a track record of picking winners. Whilst its total funds size is modest by US comparisons at 500 million, it has the vaunted position of having a “Tiger” in each of its five funds — a Tiger is a single investment that pays for the whole fund.

Bjorn Stray from Northzone joined Innovate Finance and Swedbank for “Fintech in the Nordics” in Oslo in November, along with keynote speakers John Saetre from Nordea. They spoke on the bank’s focus on agile development and the use of accelerators to identify FinTech partners. Jan Digranes from Finance Norway, the financial services industry association, spoke on developments in the payment infrastructure.

The event showcased Nordic start-ups and included pitches from Lendino,Zwipe,mCash and Sparebank1, Fundedbyme, Safello, Bancore, Kameo,Fronteer Solutions, and Encap Security. mCash and Sparebank1 is further evidence of banks partnering with FinTechs, where the bank has bought the rights to the mCash technology for use in Norway as a mobile payments solution.

While the new breed of FinTech unicorns such as iZettle and Klarna are leading the global charge, the big challenge for Nordic FinTech innovators is to think bigger than their home countries and to develop solutions for global markets so as not to be constrained by sub-scale investment and partnering opportunities available in the Nordics and Europe.

I recall speaking to a Nordic innovator a couple of years ago when I was looking into setting up a new digital bank. He thought it was a stupid thing to do — banks in the Nordics are already on-line with mobile services, why would consumers switch? I responded that I was focusing on the three billion people on the planet who don’t have bank accounts — he was dumbstruck.

Innovate Finance members Bancore and Safello are are two examples of plays that are positioned for global markets. Bancore offers payments solutions to people in underdeveloped markets through the issue of a virtual visa. Safello, where founder Frank Schuil is an Innovate Finance Nordic Ambassador, will be launching a Bitcoin wallet in January 2016 that offers a direct payment solution that reduces transaction volatility for the user. Innovate Finance is planning to accept member fees in bitcoin through the Safello wallet.

Though there are clear FinTech successes, it is early days in the development of the Nordic FinTech ecosystem, and there are many efforts at the moment to promote greater collaboration between banks, FinTechs, regulators, venture capitalists, and industry bodies. This was discussed in a keynote address from Charlotte Aleblad, General Manager, Swedbank and a moderated session with Liv Freihow, IKT Norge; Robin Teigland, author of Stockholm FinTech; Anette Brolos, Copenhagen FinTech and Innovation Research; and, Jeanette Carlsson,Tech Nordic Advocates (TNA).

This collaboration must be fostered not just across the Nordics but promoted and connected to the global FinTech ecosystem in London, New York, the Valley, Asia, etc. This is a role I will personally support with Jeanette Carlsson at TNA through chairing the its FinTech Working Group. TNA is a model based on Russ Shaw’s highly successful Tech London Advocates, a network of tech professionals that promote the London tech ecosystem globally.

In a final word, Innovate Finance is planning the next FinTech in the Nordics in Q1 2016 in Stockholm with our partners Swedbank, at which time TNA will convene an inaugural FinTech Working Group. If you are interested in either of these events, please contact hayley@innovatefinance.com.

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