Latvia as a FinTech hub, in light of regulatory changes: An Interview with Marine Krasovska

By Evita Lune, PhD, Partner, Global Head of the FinTech Practice at Pedersen & Partners:

I have been impressed by dynamic and proactive work that Marine Krasovska, Head of the Financial Technology Supervision Department at Latvijas Banka, has been doing with the FinTech community in recent years. Therefore, I am very thrilled to have the opportunity to interview her about recent developments in the regulatory landscape in the European Union (EU) and Latvia in particular. 

Evita Lune and Marine Krasovska

 

Evita: How attractive is the Latvian regulatory environment for FinTech firms? What type of companies would you recommend choosing Latvia as a licencing hub? 

Marine: Latvia can be proud of its strong compliance culture and predictable legal framework, which foster innovations and customer protection. A licence issued by Latvijas Banka authorises a financial market participant to work and provide services in every EU Member State. 🏦Supportive regulatory regime provides guidance, helping firms navigate regulatory requirements efficiently. To enhance FinTech development, FinTech supervision departments were established in 2020, staffed with dedicated experts specialising in financial innovation. 📈 

🛠️ In order to facilitate the development of the FinTech market, the Ministry of Finance implements a FinTech strategy, aimed at encouraging the development and adoption of new financial technologies and services to enhance the competitiveness of the financial sector. Latvijas Banka introduced special tools: the Innovation Hub and Regulatory Sandbox, and later added pre-licensing assessment. It is an opportunity for potential market participants to receive valuable guidance and recommendations already during the document preparation stage, thereby strengthening their quality and reducing the time for subsequent licencing. 

💰Latvia offers competitive corporate tax rates and other tax incentives for start-ups and tech companies, making the country financially attractive for FinTech companies. Latvia also has one of the best regulation for start-ups: start-ups in Latvia may receive state aid. The aid programmes and their granting criteria are defined by the Law on Aid for the Activities of Start-up Companies. One of the types of support allows start-ups to reduce their labour costs. There are two support mechanisms available: the option to pay a fixed social tax per employee and exemption from personal income tax, or obtaining 45% co-financing for the remuneration of highly qualified workers. 📈 In addition to this, there are company capital share purchase rights available for employees. Granting the right to purchase capital shares is a bonus system designed by companies to attract and motivate employees. This is a valuable tool for young and ambitious FinTechs. The right to purchase capital shares, or share options, enables employees to acquire shares of the company at nominal price or free of charge after a specified period of time, irrespective of the current fair market value of the shares. The employee has the opportunity to realise shares and capitalise on any increase in the company's value. Another tool is the start-up visa, which enables non-EU founders of start-ups to travel visa-free throughout the Schengen area and obtain a certified e-signature.

💼Latvia boasts a highly educated workforce renowned for its strong skills in IT, compliance, and finance. The availability of skilled professionals is a significant advantage for FinTech firms seeking to develop and expand their operations. 

Evita: As a member of Holland FinTech I have heard a lot about current and upcoming regulatory changes in the EU. How do you see the FinTech ecosystem to evolve in light of the new European regulatory environment: Instant Payments Directive, MICA, AI Act, PSD3, DORA, etc. Please share the impact on business from each of them. 

Marine: Certainly, MiCA, DORA, PSD3, and FiDA, alongside emerging technologies like blockchain, AI, are creating new opportunities. 

🔒Until now, the EU lacked a unified legal framework for the crypto-assets industry. The new regulation establishes common conditions for companies across the EU, addressing gaps in national regulations that cause market fragmentation. This will create an environment conducive to developing a larger EU crypto-assets market and fully utilising the EU's internal advantages. MiCA aims to foster the growth of the crypto-asset sector in Latvia. It applies to those involved in issuing, offering, trading, or providing services related to crypto-assets. Financial market participants will need a licence from Latvijas Banka, valid throughout the EU. 

🛡️ In addition to opportunities, MiCA also presents significant challenges for companies to comply with regulation and navigate the comprehensive and complex requirements. This may led to industry consolidation at EU level, providing better quality of business models and corporate governance. The market has to ensure robust cybersecurity measures, data protection practices, customer protection, and financial stability to meet standards. Starting from January 2025, Latvijas Banka will be able to issue licences for operations under MiCA. Now is the right time for companies to adapt their business models and operations to align with the new regulatory framework, which may involve substantial changes in organisational structures, management, business processes, and investments, especially in compliance related to the field of ML/TF. Companies have to demonstrate strong organisational capabilities, adequate knowledge, skills and expertise to perform functions to ensure sustainability. 

🌐 DORA is another regulation that will apply to financial institutions starting from 17 January 2025. It aims to harmonise and consolidate regulatory ICT requirements across the EU, enhancing financial institutions' ability to manage ICT risks, mitigate cyber threats, and improve their cybersecurity capabilities. The main focus of the DORA regulation is centred on four areas: ICT risk management framework, ICT incident reporting, digital resilience testing, and ICT third-party service provider risk management. Key challenges in implementing DORA include ensuring compliance with rigorous cybersecurity and operational resilience requirements. Market participants have to allocate adequate resources, investments in technology and skilled personnel to address cyber threats. Readiness for DORA is affected by the lack of IT industry professionals on the market and variations in the maturity of management process capabilities among market participants. 

⚠️ In the financial industry, cybersecurity is crucial, as it safeguards business data and assets. Currently, financial institutions in Latvia are prime targets for cyberattacks, which can result in significant financial losses, reputational damage, and legal liabilities. AI-powered cyberattacks are an emerging threat in the global cybersecurity landscape. Weak cybersecurity can result not only in data breaches, business disruption, and loss of authorisation, but also affect the stability of the entire financial system. 

📊 The cloud infrastructure and outsourcing services are widely used in the financial sector. As the banking sector is being digitised, its reliance on third party providers still grows. Within the existing regulatory framework, certain IT outsourcing risks are not managed effectively enough. The DORA introduces stricter standards, and the European Supervisory Authorities will supervise the external critical service providers for the EU under the DORA. 

🤖 The European Commission has approved the AI act to address the risks and opportunities that AI can bring. The aim of the regulation is to improve the application of AI in the internal EU market and to ensure legal clarity and a solid foundation for the use of human-centered and trustworthy AI. The regulation should also ensure that the fundamental rights are protected and technology is used in a highly secure manner. It not only harmonises the rules for the deployment and use of AI systems in the EU but also defines prohibited applications of AI and lays down specific requirements for high-risk AI systems as well as obligations for the operators of such systems. 

💳 The PSD3 sets out more extensive SCA regulations and stricter rules on access to payment systems and account information. The aim of the regulation is to protect the consumer rights and personal information while improving competition in the payments industry. To enhance the regulatory framework for payment services, the provisions of the PSD2 and the E-Money Directive will be merged into the PSD3. Under these provisions, e-money institutions will formally cease to exist and will be referred to as payment institutions. Among a range of other services, they will still be able to issue e-money. 

🔓 To support innovation in the financial services sector and to improve the control of the EU customer data, the FiDa/OpenFinance proposal was drafted. It aims to develop open finance by stipulating requirements and creating incentives for data holders to share data in an efficient and standardised way. At the same time, customers would retain control over their data, and their data privacy and safety would be preserved. This should simplify the process of opening financial accounts and promote more personalised financial services, based on the shared data, and so access to and availability of the financial services would improve overall. 

Evita: As we are working with global executive search projects on a daily basis, I could characterize our Fintech talent pool as exceptionally strong – we have young C level executives, who have achieved a lot in their late 20ies/ early 30ies already and a dynamic career in a global scale up with a global hub out of Riga is a more desired growth path for most talented candidates as opposed to a classic corporate career. Would you agree with the argument that the small size of our country has pushed us to be very entrepreneurial and ambitious, develop global business models and advanced technology? 

Marine: The entrepreneurial spirit and ambition of our financial industry professionals has been affected by the small size of Latvia. So far, fintech entrepreneurs have mostly focused on innovations and looked beyond national borders to achieve growth. 🌍 Such practices can be observed on investment services platforms as well as in lending and consumer financing. These segments are characterised by large international market participants and fierce competition both on the European and global scales. 

💼 Historically, financial and IT experts emerged in the early phases of the financial industry's growth cycle. As a result, young experts had the opportunity to take on greater responsibilities and were exposed to more challenges to overcome and learn from. Every such challenge served as an accelerator and prepared talents for leadership roles faster than it would have been possible in larger countries where experts have followed the same path for many years and even decades. These experts were born into C-level executive roles. Any Latvian FinTech company should have a global mindset and outlook taking into account the dynamics of emerging technologies, development of innovations, changes in the generational and customer preferences. 

🏫 In this sense, Latvia is a fantastic place where a FinTech company can grow, test business models, hire top-tier talents and scale the business across the EU and beyond. Over last three years, the educational system has provided a solid foundation for the development of advanced technologies, launching new practical programs oriented on entrepreneurial FinTech business (RTU and RBS). Due to the rapid digitalisation of public and private sectors, FinTech companies encounters challenges with covering the gap in the talent pool as well as attracting young professionals and retaining them within the organisation. In contrast to the classical education that provides solid foundation for employees, the companies are increasingly seeking specific skills and value them higher than the formal education. Latvia offers excellent environment for acquiring these skills with strong emphasis on practical and hands-on learning to support continuous professional development. Even with limited talent resources, young entrepreneurs are compelled to think creatively and develop internationally competitive cutting-edge financial solutions. In this way, the challenge of limited resources becomes a catalyst for achievements and entrepreneurial success in the FinTech industry. Companies are focused not only on attracting young talents and surviving but also on retaining, mentoring and developing their leaders which allows them to build competitive and sustainable business models. 

🚀 Concluding remark from Evita: 

We all know Latvia is a small market, but our FinTech entrepreneurs have managed to turn this objective drawback into an advantage and have developed some of the most impressive and fast growing Fintech companies in the world. 🌍 Mintos, 4finance, Sun finance, Eleving, AvaFin are just a few examples. Latvian Regulator, as demonstrated by an example of Marine has been very open, accessible, proactive and welcoming for new business models and creation of a Fintech startup friendly ecosystem. In light of new and changing regulatory landscape and yet tightening cooperation among EU states in light of global geopolitical developments, choosing a strong and supporting EU hub in Latvia is advantageous and often an overlooked opportunity.

 🌟 Concluding remark from Marine

📈 Latvia has taken significant steps towards establishing a supportive regulatory environment for the FinTech industry. Our strong compliance culture, competitive tax incentives, and highly educated workforce make Latvia a compelling choice for FinTech companies looking to operate within the EU. The recent regulatory changes in the EU, including the MiCA, DORA, PSD3, and the AI Act, are set to transform the FinTech landscape, creating new opportunities while also posing compliance challenges. 

🛡️ The introduction of a proactive approach, such as pre-licensing assessments and support mechanisms for start-ups, has fostered a thriving entrepreneurial spirit. This environment is still new but ambitious, with professionals who are prepared to take on leadership roles in a dynamic and innovative market. Latvia continues to invest energy and resources in digitalisation and technology to preserve an attractive hub for the FinTech companies aiming to scale their operations across Europe and beyond. The combination of regulatory foresight, talent development, and a robust support system positions Latvia as a leading player in the global FinTech ecosystem. 🌍

Insights from Nordic FinTech Summit – 2024

By Evita Lune, PhD, Partner, Global Head of the FinTech Practice Pedersen & Partners

May 20, 2024 - Helsinki

Evita Lune, PhD - Nordic FinTech Summit, 2024

Nordic FinTech Summit is on my agenda every year due to an opportunity to see my Nordic clients and candidates all in one place and learn what’s cooking. Thank you, Ola Sundell and Janne Salminen for making this happen!

The most successful Finnish Fintech Multitude was announcing superb quarterly results today, so it was very challenging to juggle between the two events. My humble suggestion would be to bring someone from Multitude or CapitalBox to the stage to hear real achievements from the best. Jokela Jorma, Mantvydas Štareika, Antti Kumpulainen, and Kristjan Kajakas actually developed a profitable, well-funded, well-governed group of challenger companies.

Some promising ventures to watch in Finland: Coinmotion led by Antti-Jussi Suominen educates crypto enthusiasts to work with crypto for long-term wealth creation. Luckily, with MICA regulation in the upcoming years, the platform will be available for European investors from outside Finland. While one may think that more is better, Coinmotion scrapped the cards and payments business to focus on the core.

It was good to see Latvian FinTech entrepreneurs like Armands Liseks taking the stage and kicking off new ventures. The success of Latvian online lenders and associated businesses is underrated, probably due to their focus on other markets than Nordics. There is a lot inGain can offer to non-finance industries looking to innovate their offering with financial products.

Georg Hauer reconfirmed the future of banking being customer-centric, with consumer retail brands in front and BaaS solutions in the back and that emerging markets have jumped over the branch banking stage: from unbanked directly to mobile banking. The banks, which choose to ignore the trend will most likely end up like Nokia phones versus Apple. Juha Keski-Nisula from XMLdation discussed how to view CBDCs from a Fintech Perspective and finally taught us all what FinTech really means: Finnish Technology 😊.

Insights from Money 20/20 Summit – 2024

By Evita Lune, PhD, Partner, Global Head of the FinTech Practice Pedersen & Partners

June 6, 2024 - Amsterdam

Evita Lune, PhD - Money 20/20 Summit, 2024

AI and Generative AI are high on the agenda both with incumbent banks and FinTechs. AI is used for daily functions in client onboarding, CRM, collections, and customer proposition development, while generative AI makes the internal processes easier and more tools become available, as highlighted by Marnix van Stiphout, ING and Joanne Hannaford, Deutsche Bank.

In the era of personalization when all different service providers know so much about everyone, there is a risk of overpersonalisation, or the phenomenon that we never like about our mothers – they tend to wand to know too much. Mastercard hosted a stage about that.

Baltic regulators are particularly favorable for FinTech ecosystem development including crypto exchanges, EMI-licenced companies and neobanks. Jēkabs Groskaufmanis (Invest in Latvia) as well as neighbors from Finance Estonia and Invest in Lithuania were there to convey the message.

Bunq announced on the stage a partnership with Mastercard open banking. Now all Bunq customers will be able to add all their banking Apps on Bunq and manage their expenses and budgets with the support of AI assistant Fin.

Incumbent banks are pretty happy about their achievement in digital transformation and do not seem to be disrupted by FinTechs. From several stages I heard the same message: FinTechs never really disrupted us and never will. They are nice support to the system, ecosystem players, suppliers, and nothing more.

Evita with Emin Can YILMAZ, Founder and CEO, Param; and Amit Malik, Associate Director at EBRD, Member of the Supervisory Boards at Aion and Vodeno.

*On the photo: Evita with Emin Can YILMAZ, Founder and CEO, Param; and Amit Malik, Associate Director at EBRD, Member of the Supervisory Boards at Aion and Vodeno.

Evita Lune will be speaking at the FinTech Board Members Academy

Evita Lune, Partner and Global Head of the FinTech Practice Group at Pedersen & Partners, will be speaking at the FinTech Board Members Academy workshop: Empowering Excellence, on January 25-26, organized by the Baltic Institute of Corporate Governance and Fintech Latvia Association.

Evita Lune speaking at the FinTech Board Members Academy

 

The inaugural edition of the "Fintech Board Members Academy: Empowering Excellence" will be held on January 25-26. This meticulously crafted, two-day, in-person event is tailored for industry leaders, bringing together over 10 local and international speakers to provide comprehensive insights into critical topics shaping the future of the fintech industry in Latvia.

The Academy is organised by the Fintech Latvia Association in cooperation with the Baltic Institute of Corporate Governance and will help you understand the expectations of the Regulator and get insights from industry professionals as well as established market participants on how to fulfill those expectations in a compliant manner, including topics like establishing a compliance and internal control system, creating an effective governance structure, risk management, etc.

For more information about the Academy and to register: fintechacademy.lv. Admissions open until 22 January.

Vietnam FinTech Market - Growth and Challenges

By Evita Lune, PhD, Partner, Global Head of the FinTech Practice Pedersen & Partners

Insights from Evita Lune, PhD

The past couple of weeks in Vietnam have been incredibly intense, marked by a rich cultural experience and eye-opening business encounters. I've been collaborating with my FinTech client here while also connecting with our team.

On one hand, Vietnam stands out as a rapidly expanding economy with a youthful population of 97 million, drawing significant interest from American, Japanese, and Chinese investors. Moreover, there's a substantial number of underbanked customers, widespread smartphone usage, high internet and social media penetration, all against a backdrop of a notably low GDP per capita at $3,757.

On the other hand, it's important to acknowledge that recognizing an opportunity doesn't necessarily guarantee success, as seen in the case of a few neobanks; in fact, quite the opposite.

The National Bank of Vietnam refrains from issuing licenses to neobanks. Consequently, most FinTech scale-ups must function under the license of a universal bank. This intricate regulatory framework hinders the establishment of true neobanks, mainly due to the sluggish processes involved and reliance on third-party procedures and approvals. There's an oversaturation of wallet and app-based offerings, primarily focused on brokering discounts. Therefore, the development of neobank wallets seldom presents a promising business case.

The lending sector, on the other hand, holds substantial potential. However, obtaining the necessary license comes at a steep cost, approximately $40 million, rendering it unaffordable for many. Those who venture into lending without the proper license have faced severe consequences, including imprisonment.

Both wallets and traditional banks have delivered suboptimal user experiences, marred by bugs in service delivery, limited operating hours (lacking 24/7 availability), and a significant bank run incident in 2022 due to severe liquidity issues. These events have eroded the trust of potential clients.

For foreign investors, the recommendation here aligns with that for other emerging markets: it's essential not to be reliant on the legal system. In the event of a dispute with a local company, winning a court case is highly unlikely. For most of local businesses, the shareholding structure might be: someone from the tax office, someone from the police, someone with the money and someone who knows how to run this business.

Despite these challenges, I am undeniably planning to return, not only for the market opportunities but primarily for the people. Despite a relatively recent tumultuous history, the majority of the Vietnamese people are exceptionally kind, optimistic, and forward-thinking. The expat community, too, has been welcoming and eager to collaborate, fostering a special bond that can be truly appreciated when you're so far from home.

FinTech Industry Pulse – Instant Payments, Open Finance, BNPL

Evita Lune

Evita Lune, our Global Head of the FinTech Practice Group, attended the FinTech Forum in Amsterdam and gained valuable insights into Europe’s payments ecosystem. Key topics included the upcoming regulation for instant payments, the open finance framework, and the SEPA Payment Account Access scheme. The event also covered the state of FinTech funding in Europe, the impact of the ECB interest rate hike on banking and neobanking business models, and the consolidation in the BNPL sector.

Amsterdam is always a good idea! Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the FinTech Forum in Amsterdam. It was a great opportunity to network with FinTech professionals and experts who are passionate about expanding their business out of the heart of Europe. Here are some of the key takeaways:

🌍 Instant Payments Regulation: The EU Commission is working on a regulation that will ensure that instant payments are available across the EU by 2024. This will create a level playing field for payment service providers and enhance consumer protection and convenience.

🚀 Open Finance Framework: The EU Commission is also working on a framework that will go beyond open banking for payments and enable data sharing for other financial services, such as WealthTech, InsurTech, credit scoring, etc. This will create new opportunities for innovation and competition in the financial sector and empower consumers to access better and cheaper services.

💡 SEPA Payment Account Access Scheme: The European Payments Council is implementing the first rulebook for the SEPA Payment Account Access scheme, which will enable payment service providers to access payment accounts held by other providers. This will facilitate crossborder payments, increase interoperability and efficiency in the payments market.

💼 Dutch Payment Association: I was impressed by the role of the Dutch Payment Association, which represents the interests of payment service providers in the Netherlands and works for an optimally effective, safe, reliable, accessible and socially efficient payment system. The association also plays an active role in shaping the European payments landscape and promoting innovation and collaboration.

💰 FinTech Funding: One of the topics discussed at the event was the state of FinTech funding in Europe. It has reached an all-time low since the pre-Covid period. Luckily for me, I have been working mainly with profitable FinTechs who have been able to grow organically and sustainably.

🌐 ECB Interest Rate Hike: Another topic that sparked a lot of debate was the impact of the ECB interest rate hike on banking and neobanking business models. Some argued that higher interest rates will benefit traditional banks that rely on net interest income, while others claimed that neobanks will be able to adapt and offer more value-added services to their customers.

📈 BNPL Consolidation: The event also covered the consolidation trend in the BNPL (buy now pay later) segment, with Klarna being one of the leading players. A study showed that Sweden, Romania, Poland, and Italy are leading the way in terms of number of customers who have been using BNPL services. However, some challenges remain, such as regulatory uncertainty and consumer debt issues.

Partner Evita Lune interviewed at the Nordic FinTech Summit

Evita Lune, Partner and Global Head of our FinTech Practice Group, shared her insights with the Nordic Fintech Magazine during the Nordic FinTech Summit in Helsinki. Watch the video to learn more about the challenges of attracting and retaining top FinTech talent, discover what brought Pedersen & Partners to this prestigious event and find out how Evita describes the Nordic Fintech ecosystem in just three words.

FinTech Innovator Chats - Kimmo Rytkönen

In this edition of the FinTech Innovator Chats, Partner Evita Lune is joined by Kimmo Rytkönen, serial entrepreneur, co-founder and CEO of Income marketplace. Evita and Kimmo discuss the potential of peer-to-peer lending, what "skin in the game" means for marketplaces, how Decentralised Finance (DeFi) will affect the industry, and why Kimmo’s expansion strategy has been global from Day 1.

 

 

Don’t be modest in your professional life – Evita Lune’s 10 pointers for professional growth

by Ieva Jātniece

There are women in this world who are very inspiring, and who lead by example. One of these women is Evita Lune – PhD in Economics, Partner and Global Head of FinTech Practice Group at Pedersen & Partners, and Speaker at the Līdere Forum. Evita Lune has been working internationally for years, recruiting high-level executives for various companies. However, her professional success has not diminished her feminine charm. “Don't let stereotypes influence you!” says Evita.

Evita Lune’s 10 pointers for professional growth

  • Follow the path your character has given you

By nature, I am an energetic and impatient person, so naturally I have tried many different things in my life. However, it has always seemed important to me to achieve outstanding results in whatever I do. I have worked for Shell, been the director of the EMBA program at the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga, and co-owned a fashion store. For the past fifteen years, I have been a Global Partner in the high-level executive search company Pedersen & Partners. If you do the best you can, life will constantly offer you new career opportunities. 

  • Be aware of your internal obstacles

I used to lack an objective self-assessment of my abilities. I was too modest in my demands, and my tolerance was too high – I tried to work with colleagues who do not keep their promises, or clients who were not always professional. It is common for many women to underestimate themselves, and fail to speak up in situations where something is not going well. For this reason, it is important to be aware of such obstacles, and to build your career and circle of clients more purposefully in the future.

  • Do not stay in the shadows

Not all people can be leaders, and not everyone has to take a position that causes them great discomfort. However, I often see fear and internal insecurity holding women back from taking the lead in the first place. I would like to encourage women to rise through the ranks, because leaders have more influence and power: if you have talent, if you are a smart, diligent, responsible person with high ethical standards, then do not stay in the shadows, but take responsibility and move yourself forward! By doing this, you will not only have more power over your own life, but you will also positively influence others.

  • Everything is dependent on your inner drive!

I work in the executive search industry, where I see that we are most inspired by people who are full of enthusiasm and passion. In their presence, others also want to do more and achieve more. A good leader is one who is able to inspire, to present the vision and direction in which the company should go.
At the same time, a good leader should not be neurotic or chaotic, one day in a good mood and the next in a bad mood. Instead, a good leader has stable energy and a clear direction, and understands that expressing emotions is inappropriate in a professional environment – just like discussing personal problems or talking about people behind their backs. This applies to both sexes, of course!

  • Families help you to achieve more

It is a myth that female executives are unable to have both a career and a family life. I have a lot of colleagues who are divorced or childless, and sometimes it seems that more can be done at work if you do not have family commitments. But this is not the case: I see that people who have failed in their personal lives are often less professionally motivated, less organised and less achievement-oriented than those whose lives encompass more than work. I myself have participated in the upbringing of my husband’s two children, as well as the two children we have together. In total, my husband and I devote a lot of time and energy to these four children, but it has not hindered our careers. People with children are very organized and motivated – we are able to evaluate priorities, and we do not waste time. Moreover, we cannot afford to poison ourselves with bad choices or self-destructive actions – we have to live long and support the next generation. I am convinced that having children only benefits our careers and achievements.

  • Do not let anyone lie to you

I have heard it said that strong women make men weak, but I cannot imagine why a self-respecting woman should ever choose a weak man. The men in my life have certainly not become weaker by associating with me – quite the opposite! I’m not just talking about my husband, who has always known what he wants to achieve and lived his life with purpose, but also my business colleagues – I have raised the quality bar for quite a few. A woman who creates constructive competition also helps to raises the standards for the men around her as well.

  • Know your contribution

Our country is too small to expect only the men to provide economic prosperity. If we use the opportunities given to us by our country to study, receive medical services, ride public transport and the like, but we choose to sit on the couch and not work, we are endangering the freedom of Latvia. It is an irresponsible attitude towards our country: we cannot export oil and gas, so we must export our intelligence. And women must contribute!

  • Attitude is everything

Different companies have different internal work cultures. However, it must be kept in mind that in workplaces where employees are humiliated and insulted, quality decreases over time – the best employees will leave. In the long run, companies with ethical values will win out.
I have also noticed that employees work more enthusiastically in companies where the work aims to bring greater benefits to society as a whole. This encourages employees more than standard business practices. 

  • Never stop learning

If you do not want to fall out of the professional environment, you need to learn technology. The use of digital tools has dramatically changed the world, and the way we work. Currently, the basics of economics are being thoroughly disrupted – with the use of cryptocurrency, every company can build its own economy.
You don’t have to be an IT specialist, but you must understand what technologies can achieve in a company and in a country, and how they affect all economic processes. Those who know how to use IT will definitely succeed, and surge ahead of those who do not, both in terms of personal career and the wider economy.

  • You need to relax in order to be efficient

My hobby list is longer than my work list! My hobbies have given me the energy to go on frequent business trips, meet people all the time and sell services on a global scale. I have been water skiing for fifteen years – as often as five times a week on summer evenings – and I practice yoga every day without exception. As a family, we ride bicycles, SUP boards, and go on boat trips in the summer, and in winter, we all go downhill skiing. I have also been a winter swimmer for years. All of these activities help to clear my head and absorb energy for new jobs.

  • Suggestions

For your first job, I definitely recommend choosing a large organisation that can serve as a good learning opportunity. My first job was at Shell – this experience was like a professional guide to business. Once you have learned everything you can from your first placement, you can experiment further.
Finally, it is important for new employees to understand that material evaluation comes as a reward for working with an open heart. In the beginning, the work must be of excellent quality and the client must have a great experience – only then they will want to cooperate again and pay higher fees. It never happens the other way around – I cannot ask for a lot of money and only then try to do something great!

 

Anniina Brusi – a sharp leader of hot FinTechs

Riga, Latvia – Evita Lune, Partner at Pedersen & Partners, talks to Anniina Brusi, Country Manager at Ferratum Group, for Riga TechGirls.

Anniina Brusi is known as a high-energy Agile leader, who pushes things in the right direction, and finds opportunities instead of waiting around. She has over eleven years of leadership and management experience in the Finnish banking sector – primarily in sales, marketing, e-commerce, and product development. In recent years, Anniina has been working in FinTech companies such as Nets, Ferratum Group, and Zmarta Group, creating and providing better digital financial solutions for the consumer market.

Anniina Brusi – a sharp leader of hot FinTechs

Why did you choose a career in technology?

My move into FinTech was a natural career switch after ten amazing years in the banking sector. I’ve been privileged to work in different parts of the consumer banking sector, and have seen the industry from different perspectives. I have observed various twists and turns in the industry: the 2008 financial crisis, some major bank M&As, digital transformation, and now the coronavirus pandemic. These changes have broadened my knowledge and understanding, and have also provided wonderful experiences. 

The FinTech field is a lot bigger than I thought. Essentially, FinTech is all about service and product design; I would say that it breaks old and rigid processes in the financial industry, and combines the latest technological developments to build more customer-friendly solutions across all areas of finance – investment, banking, insurance, lending. 

Nowadays, technology is probably the biggest disrupter when it comes to banking – especially now that the banking industry has undergone digital transformation. In this sector, technology has become a vital element of renewal. 

Working in this field means constantly learning. We work in a very fast-paced environment using the latest technologies, such as PSD2, AI, robotic process automation, marketing automation, UX, IoT and many more, which makes it a very exciting place to work. My tasks vary from process development to product development, from marketing automation to brand management, and from vendor contract negotiations to compliance tasks.

Working as a leader in this industry demands a hands-on attitude, as well as strong analytical skills to execute your business strategy.

Your last two companies – Ferratum and Zmarta – are true challengers, fully digital firms. What have been the main differences between working for those businesses and for large incumbent firms?

To keep it short, customer-centricity and speed. These companies are doing everything to make their customers happy, and are constantly changing their organisations to support different circumstances. No one knows what the market will look like a year from now, so you must constantly renew your organisation. While this requires a lot from your employees, it is nevertheless rewarding. Players in this industry are usually agile, and do not have complex organizational structures. In addition, since FinTech interfaces with computer and mobile, the front-end development is crucial. Roles such as UX designer, digital product managers, full stack developers, and data analytics are very important in these companies. 

Which are the hottest FinTechs in Finland?

There are plenty of them! During these past years, many Finnish FinTech companies have managed to grow their businesses significantly – did you know that Finland has the most digital startups per capita in the world? The steady business environment together with the thriving startup scene makes Finland an excellent place to develop new innovative solutions. We have been able to build a strong ecosystem for FinTech companies: receiving financing, finding the right expertise, and building close cooperation between banks and other FinTech companies. 

Finland might be the best-kept secret in ICT and digitalization. And when it comes to banking in Finland, we have a high rate of digital adoption and a well-developed infrastructure for online banking and online credit. However, the Finnish banking market is dominated by four major banks, which together hold 81% of the market share. There is great potential for new challengers with innovative solutions – and of course, opportunities for cooperating with incumbent banks. 

Here are some Finnish FinTech companies to keep an eye on:

Why did you become a leader rather than a specialist? What motivated you to take leadership positions, and the associated challenges and responsibilities?

I have over eleven years of leadership experience now. Growing as a leader has been a painful but fruitful journey of development. I have always been motivated by a strong desire to encourage others to perform better, enable growth opportunities and make changes. When I succeed, I want others to succeed with me. And when people around me succeed, I will succeed too.

Leadership is generally a challenging task, especially with coronavirus, and in the current market situation. It is no longer enough to “just get stuff done” and achieve your KPIs and budget; as a leader I need to ensure the well-being of my employees, to respect them and involve them in all situations. 

During my career, I have seen a tremendous need for better leadership. This inspired me to do things differently, and motivated me to grow as one of the new generation of leaders. There are very few certainties about the future, but one of them is that the world will be very different from how it is right now. New technology, new regulations, new innovations, new products, new organisational models, new attitudes, tighter competition, and especially a new generation that requires a new kind of leadership, with new skills. In the year 2020, for the first time in human history, the global workforce comprises five different generations. Globalisation, cross-border organisations and remote work have made leadership especially challenging, as it is not always possible to be physically present. However, I feel that physical proximity between leaders and employees is not always necessary – but mental and emotional proximity are essential.

These complications make leadership more challenging, but also more interesting. How does one then become a successful new-generation leader? I have been thinking about this question a lot. 

First of all, I believe that the most difficult job for a leader is probably persuading others to follow. This is only possible if you motivate your employees by inspiring them and setting a great example. Make sure that every one of your employees is accountable for what they are doing; this is easily done with clear and realistic roles and targets. 

In addition, I believe that self-learning is key element for successful leaders. Self-learning is one of the most interesting part in leadership, because it keeps your mind fresh and challenges you to constantly think of new ways to lead people and business. In addition, as a leader I must keep up with trends in my industry, and thus I have to love learning and sharing new information.

For my own development journey, I have built my own leadership philosophy, which includes my values as a leader. I did this mainly for self-learning, but my written leadership philosophy lets my team members and others know what I expect, what I value and how I will act in any given situation. Our values are our most natural motivators, so it is natural to refer to our own values when creating a vision or making a decision. Confidence is another key element of a strong leadership mindset. It comes from knowing yourself, and understanding (and appreciating) your own strengths and weaknesses. Confidence also comes from observing and analysing how you make decisions, both good and bad. I believe that each leader faces unique circumstances, brings unique backgrounds to their leadership position, and leads unique teams of individuals. 

So, to answer to your question, “Why did you become a leader rather than a specialist?”

The future needs a new kind of leadership and I want to be part of influencing that change. 

What has been the biggest lesson or challenge for you in your career in such a tech-intensive business?

Working in FinTech demands a strong understanding of the banking sector; you can’t be a challenger if you don’t know what to challenge. From a technology perspective, FinTech is a rewarding industry if you want to reskill yourself and pick up on trending technologies. I did not have a technical background, and to be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of technology. So I really ended up escaping my comfort zone to take new responsibilities in a tech-intensive business – which was perhaps a combination of courage and ignorance.
 
I had to learn everything from scratch, starting from the very basics: the meaning of terms such as API, PSD2, NFC, PCI, SaaS and many more. Quite soon, I realised that it is not only technical skills which are needed in this industry; there is also a need for professionals who understand the technology, the ecosystem it operates in, and how to commercialise new technical innovations. And so, over time, I got excited about technology. Working in FinTech definitely requires a passion for technology. A tip for those who are considering working in FinTech: you don’t have to be a strong technical expert as long as you have the right attitude and you are eager to learn. 

I know you have written a book – please tell us about it!

This book was written in collaboration with some very talented people – several young leaders, and the Finnish author and journalist Helinä Hirvikorpi. It was published in 2014. 

The book is called “From Manager to Leader” (Esimiehestä Johtajaksi) and we worked on it during our year-long leadership training. In this training, we were honoured to have coaching and mentoring lectures from many top Finnish leaders including former prime minister Mr. Jyrki Katainen, technology entrepreneur Mr. Pekka A. Viljakainen, Brigadier General Janne Jaakkola of the Finnish Defence Forces, and Ms. Maija-Liisa Friman, who was named Finland’s Most Influential Businesswoman in 2012 – and their thoughts about leadership are included in the book. 

From Manager to Leader is a unique combination of fresh thinking, advice for day-to-day work, and the wisdom of experience. It is a collection of thoughts about leadership from leaders across many industries and ages – not just from a dusty leadership guru in a corner office, or from the all-experienced leaders talking to the younger ones. 

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