What made me go into banking?

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If anyone had told me fifteen years ago I would end up working in the banking sector, I would probably have thought of it as a highly unlikely outcome, but here I am. The other day, a former colleague and friend asked me what made me see the light and enter the banking sector, and it got me thinking.

Back then, I really did not have any master plan for my career, and to be honest I definitely did not have any plan of becoming a C-level anything. Then again, I have always been skeptical of those who dream about becoming a leader no matter what. For me, leadership is a responsibility you accept to be able to realize a vision.

I guess as was your typical brogrammer (for those unfamiliar with tech jargon, that is not an honorary term), preoccupied with writing awful code, hitting the gym, playing guitar and partying. However, I have always enjoyed creating stuff, and an inherent wish of making a difference.

Even though I have always had a passion for technology, I realized that I would not make a particular good developer, and ventured towards the business side of things. Graduating with an M.Sc. In Innovation and Entrepreneurship, this path led me to a career in management consulting.

After paying my dues on the journey from associate to partner, I worked with various challenges and industries, but whether I assisted Telco’s in turnaround and restructuring projects, developing new business models and revenue streams for the media sector or valuating and acquiring companies for investment funds, the common denominator in my engagements were when technology had a profound impact on the core business.

At some point, I started working with both banking clients as well as assisting a couple of Norwegian and Swedish fintech companies to raise capital. However, it was first when the former CEO of SpareBank 1 Group challenged me to investigate how Google could impact the insurance industry my interest for the digital revolution on the financial sector was planted. She showed me a vision of the future of banking and acted as a great inspiration and role model for me. I realized that I wanted to become best at this, and the only way was to get on the inside in the banking sector. When I was offered a job in SpareBank 1, it was an easy choice to accept. I considered the opportunity to be part of the transformation of an industry as the defining moment of my career.

Even though I knew little about banking back then, and was dead wrong about so many things, I was convinced that I was right about one thing. The industry was standing on the brink of a perfect storm that would alter the landscape of financial services as we know it. Coming from the outside with limited knowledge of banking it was to say the least an uphill battle to attempt to establish a sense of urgency.

If I learned anything as a management consultant, it was to base any argument on facts and insight, and I was absolutely convinced that I was right at least in a couple of areas. By having a dedicated focus on the task at hand, I was able to distinguish between where I was dead wrong and where I actually was onto something. Like utilizing P2P-payments as the stepping-stone towards mobile payments. Crowdfunding and marketplace lending as alternative sources of capital for businesses and an alternative asset class for investors. The potential impact of the technology behind bitcoin on clearing and settlement (I didn’t know it was called blockchain back then). As well as the promise of robo-advisory and AI in asset management.

However, it is a long way from being convinced that you are right to actually setting gears in motion to achieve real change. In order to achieve this I had to prepare to resist the urge to be over-confident in my own ideas and beliefs and only pursue those initiatives that made sense from a strategic perspective, and the results of some of the initiatives where I participated in can be seen in the market. SpareBank 1 has taken a significant position the development in mobile payments in Norway, betting on bank-led crowdfunding as well as investing in marketplace lending for SMEs. So far in my new job in Skandiabanken, I am working on many things I cannot say yet, but what is official is that I have had the pleasure participating in establishing Skandiabanken Beta to allow our customers to interact with our product development process at an early stage as well as announcing our future robo-advisory service through the investment in Quantfolio. I assure you, there will be more.

My blog has been an integral part of this journey so far, and has acted as an invaluable tool for learning as well as a channel to influence the industry. I am grateful for those who actually took the time to listen, even when I obviously had a limited understanding of the banking sector but still stood my ground when it came to fintech.

However, the truth is always somewhere in the middle of the most visionary futurist and the most conservative incumbent banker. To truly understand something I believe in the ability to analyze and question both the promise of a radical changed future as well as established truths from incumbents.

At this point it is safe to say  that no one questions the fact that the future of financial services will in many ways look different than today. The time has come to put words into actions, and concepts like open banking will accelerate the digital revolution of financial services.  My passion for innovation and change to the positive has led me this far, and as CDO in Skandiabanken, Norway’s first digital only bank and leading challenger bank, I aim to lead the way in that transformation.

To be continued…

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