CEO Lars Blomfeldt talks about Northmill's vision and ambition
Northmill is changing, and with that comes new leadership. We caught up with our new CEO to dig deep on what advantages a challenger fintech bank can have, and how important the user experience is for consumers in 2018.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’ve had around 25 years of work experience, primarily in the financial sector but also pure management roles in different sectors. There has been a great variety, a few examples: public relations consultant at a private agency, political risk insurance at the World Bank, sovereign debt negotiations with i.a. North Korea and Cuba, corporate banking and structured finance at Mizuho and HSH Nordbank, and corporate finance at EY.
How did you first get in contact with Northmill?
I did a fund raising project for Northmill and worked intensively with the company and its founders. We spent a lot of time with each other during the process, which eventually led them to offer me this position.
What made you want to take the job?
In the fund raising project for Northmill I really got to know the founders and many co-workers in the organization, and it was quite clear from the beginning that we shared values and ambitions. One of the aspects that struck me first was Northmill’s strong company culture. I was of course also impressed by Northmill’s products, its numbers, the growth and profits that the company generated. It was quite apparent to me that Northmill was exceptional in many aspects, and a place where I clearly wanted to be.
"In Northmill I saw a winner - a Fintech company that built not only cool solutions, but with an underlying sound business model"
You have worked with finance for a long time - how do you think Northmill distinguishes itself in terms of strategy and vision?
From an industry point of view, I was responsible for Fintech at EY and saw numerous different Fintech companies with great variation in scope and success. In Northmill I saw a winner - a Fintech company that built not only cool solutions, but with an underlying sound business model. The company has managed to find the cross-section of these two elements incredibly well, and that is somewhat unique in the Fintech space.
Assisting Northmill's customers
It’s interesting to talk about the term “Fintech”, as it is very broad. We see everything from insurances and payments to core banking being lumped into one. Do you think the industry will consolidate, or keep diversifying into new sub-industries?
I believe there will be both a consolidation and a specialization, in parallel. But no matter which type of service you offer, the important aspect is to have a solid business model and a strong product offering. If you have those elements in place, you will get loyal customers, something which Northmill has. And if you have a strong customer base you can offer a variety of products, including credit insurances as in our case. The only limitation is of course that you should never diffuse your different brands. In Rebilla, our new platform that is being launched later this year, we will provide credits, payments, savings and insurances.
You’ve mentioned in-house, and Northmill has had technological know-how as a foundation of what we offer. Do you believe an internal team will be prioritized over external partnerships going forward?
It’s a combination; you always have to create and nurture partnerships, but the core systems that are Northmill specific and strategic will continue to be developed in-house. It’s a model that has worked in our advantage so far. That said, it doesn’t mean that we should ignore solutions and systems that are already packaged; we don’t need to do everything ourselves. The important thing is that we always scan the market for the best solutions and make sure that we are at the forefront.
How do you feel that we stand next to competitors in the area of mobile banking?
We do have a few European competitors specializing on consumers, like N26 and Revolut - the very best on the market. Competition is good and leads to further development. My bet is of course that Northmill is one of the winners in this quickly changing, disruptive financial environment. Because our operative goals and corporate strengths, with the necessary in-house competences in place, are closely aligned - giving us the ability to move quickly and always be one step ahead. That said, we have probably so far benefited a bit from being “under the radar”, but we will obviously get more attention as we continue to roll-out of excellent products and deliver nice results.
“A majority of the new generation of young people may never visit a bank office, as we think about it”
Traditional banks have been around for a long time, and that’s a big part of why people trust them with their capital. Even though Northmill has been around for a decade, it’s still young in comparison. How can we prove ourselves as trustworthy to our customers?
I think that the user journey and experience will be more important in the future than brand legacy. A majority of the new generation of young people may never visit a bank office, as we think about it. This is a generation which is also fully digital and expects simple, fast, intuitive bank solutions, which so far niche banks including Northmill have been much better to provide. That said, security and trust can never been compromised with - and that has always been at the core for Northmill. We have a large portion of returning customers and we receive very high customer reviews, which are strong indications that we do a good job. That’s how you build long-term relationships.
An early build of Rebilla running on iPhone X
If you look at something like our mobile banking product Rebilla, which is launching soon, how big part is that for the future of Northmill?
It will act as our new platform on which we will build our entire banking experience on, and on which we will add additional financial services. So it has huge significance.
Northmill currently have offices in three countries: Sweden, Finland and Poland. How should the company think about expanding to new regions?
Foreign expansion is a way for us to grow and to deliver on our vision to simplify everyone’s financial life. However, we will always base our expansion into a new market based on a thorough analysis. There are a number of things we need to consider and assess, and we of course need the right people in place locally. We have learnt a lot from our establishment into the Finnish market three years ago, and based on that experience we have a pretty solid model on how to enter a new market.
If we look at Northmill right now, we’re a relatively small organization that has large ambitions. How can we keep the same strong culture while becoming a much larger entity?
This is probably one of our greatest challenges, because the Northmill culture is really unique and it is easy to lose some of it when you go from 80 people to perhaps a few hundred in just a few years time. This is something we think about a lot, and of course on top of my agenda. But it is a shared responsibility of all great people in this organization to continue to live in accordance to our core values, and to foster our new colleagues in this spirit. That said, given our unique corporate culture, the fact that this is a great workplace for people to grow in - in combination with the extremely exciting journey we’ve set out - we are likely to attract the most talented people with the right mindset.