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According to a PwC digital banking consumer survey conducted in 2021, 61% of consumers interact weekly on digital channels. As the purchasing power of digital users continues to grow, Millennials and Generation Z are embracing consumer-focused digital pathways for their financial decisions. This heavily favors financial institutions with forward looking perspectives, which include newer players or traditional banks making the necessary moves to stay competitive.
Having spent most of his career at SEB, a leading bank in Europe headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden, Stefan Stignäs has seen the changes in the industry firsthand and has led digitization efforts to drive corporate strategy in his role as Head of Exploratory Banking & Strategic Partnerships.
Stignäs has over 20 years of experience in the field of banking. When looking back on his career, the common “thread” has been driving change. He’s a firm believer in that things can always be better than the current state they’re in.
After the bankruptcy of the Lehman Brothers, Stignäs notes, the three Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia were in a state of financial collapse. He was Head of Corporate Banking in the Baltic region for SEB at the time. This challenging role presented key learnings in crisis, as he helped rebuild business in a time of financial crisis. Through this restructuring, SEB changed the direction of their strategy to rebuild trust with consumers.
A main takeaway was the importance of digital transformation as he saw the Digital Age beginning to change the world immensely. As he continued to work in the financial ecosystem, Stignäs pushed for speeding up the development phase in connecting the corporate field to digital information flows.
When pressed with the need for digital transformation, a new SEB unit in exploratory banking and strategic partnerships was formed. Once created, Stignäs led the new, forward-thinking bank unit. He has been the Head of Exploratory Banking and Strategic Partnerships for nearly a year.
“We reviewed our strategy for the bank a few years ago and said we need to future-proof the bank in a different way,” Stignäs says.
This resulted in Vision 2030, which considered where the bank will most likely earn its revenue and what products they believe their clients will need within a decade.
“One of the findings [from the review] I’ve been working with for the past five to six years is the ecosystem within the corporate banking space: business systems, different portals the corporate clients are using, how to connect them to the bank, and how to capitalize on the data that is collected through different channels,” he says.
“Exploratory banking is ‘What will we look like? What do we need to develop?’…not just fine-tuning, but taking frog leaps when it comes to products and services,” he says.
As for partnerships, Stignäs has been focused on forming alliances with certain strategics for the benefit of mutual clients. “It’s digital, it’s about the client’s data, and it’s about forming new services,” he states on the partnership direction.
The Exploratory Banking & Strategic Partnerships SEB unit believes that in 10 years, a large percentage of revenue will result from products and services that have not yet been developed. With this in mind, the roadmap Stignäs is building is driving the digital transformation of SEB.
One of the many different initiatives SEB is exploring is SEB NEO, a neobank value proposition. For some generations, a common experience in youth was saving up coins in a piggy bank and going to a local bank branch.
However, now with many children receiving their first cell phone before they reach the age of 10, Stignäs notes that more people than ever are turning to digital wallets to access money. Thus, SEB is exploring an app for parents and their kids to onboard early and learn about digitally managing finances.
SEB has partnered with fintech firm Thought Machine, adding a virtual card to the platform so kids can get an account and begin paying with Swish, which he refers to as a Swedish Venmo. The parents can conduct financial services digitally.
Stignäs shares that today in Sweden, there is no bank that can offer a full digital service for the kids, so the parents need to go into a banking office. With many working professionals attempting to balance busy schedules, services that are only offered in person don’t lend themselves to the best customer experience.
With this next initiative, SEB plans to grow with the customer. The neobank will have new features to align with the needs of consumers as the bank looks to target young entrepreneurs and college students as well.
While people are moving to novel digital solutions, it doesn’t mean that people want to only use new companies or startups. In fact, a previous initiative fell short in part because it wasn’t leveraging the SEB brand, and people indicated a lack of trust without the SEB brand.
“We think the brand is important because even if people don’t like banks, they trust banks with their data,” Stignäs says.
Fintech and other smaller innovative players often come up with a better solution than incumbent banks, but are in a niche industry position. It’s difficult to begin with little to no brand recognition, and other barriers such as compliance and AML/KYC regulations present challenges to break through in the space.
SEB approaches this through acquisitions and partnerships to leverage the better customer experience these solutions provide and win the battle of consumer trust with their established name. Many people trust banks, but want better channels to meet their needs, and SEB plays a key role in supporting companies that create innovative solutions.
In SEB’s commitment to digital transformation, key partnerships in exploratory banking create a more sustainable infrastructure for the business, and in turn, help deliver increased value to its clients and consumers.
ABOUT IDENTITY REVIEW
Identity Review is a digital think tank dedicated to working with governments, financial institutions and technology leaders on advancing digital transformation, with a focus on privacy, identity, and security. Want to learn more about Identity Review’s work in digital transformation? Please message us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find us on Twitter.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Katherine Zhang is a contributor to Identity Review from the University of California, Berkeley.
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