Q&A´s with Johan Torgeby

Johan Torgeby discusses his one-year mark as CEO of SEB with SACCNY. He brings up his prospects on the future of banking and evaluates the current economic situation.

As a new member of SACCNY’s Board of Directors, Torgeby speaks about SEB’s commitment to building better services for its customers, especially in the area of technological innovation. SEB, a leading Nordic financial services group, offers financial advice and a wide range of financial services in eleven nations, including Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Germany, the Baltics countries, and the United Kingdom. SEB has a strong focus on corporate and investment banking based on a full-service offering to corporate and institutional clients.

You were appointed President and CEO of SEB in March 2017. How has your first year on the job been. What has been challenging?
Different and very intense! This said, even though I had the great privilege of stepping in as CEO with a clear strategy, a growing and healthy business and with a great team of very committed employees. As a new CEO you have to do things you have never done before like doing media interviews and presenting quarterly results, externally. On a more general note, the banking system is in a major transformative phase owing to digitization and changing customer behaviors. On top of this, a new regulatory landscape is driving a number of changes. The speed of change has probably never been higher.

What future trends do you see with regards to innovation and technology?
Both business-wise and within our IT-function, we have teams specializing in emerging technologies. We have several different strategies—investments in fintech, Innovation lab for new ideas, and investments in new solutions for our clients. Digitization is both about using new technologies like AI, blockchain, robotics in the customer interface, as well as when atomizing our internal processes. One must also remember, that foremost, it is a cultural journey with new ways of working. A culture of innovation is as much about people as it is about software and hardware, if not more.

What are your thoughts on the e-krona?
I believe the discussion around e-currencies and crypto-currencies is still at an early stage, but the trend towards a cashless society is clear. The e-krona is currently being investigated by the Riksbank. Digital payments, for example ”Swish” and payment cards, are in the process of eliminating payments using banknotes and coins. If this trend continues, Sweden may in the not-too-distant future, become a society where it is no longer possible to pay using cash. This development is unique from an international perspective and of high interest to us.

A report from EY states that banks are seeking to become digitally mature, and that more than half aspire to be digital leaders by 2020. What is your goal for SEB and how will you reach it?
Our vision is to deliver world class service to our customers. We as a bank are a service company, and, of course, we are striving to deliver the best digital solutions. But, on the other hand, I must say that the digital development must go hand in hand with personal service and a strong culture of business acumen. People and relationships create business. If you are focusing on execution and value creation for your customers, you will go in the right direction.

What is your take on the business climate in general in Sweden right now?
The general macro-economic climate is good with a broad uptick in growth. However, the prerequisites for entrepreneurs and overall long-term framework for businesses need to remain competitive. Sweden is a small open economy.
For us, as a corporate bank, doing a majority of our business in direct competition with our non-Swedish peers, it is of course, key to operate within a level playing field. We do not have that. I do, however, want to be clear on that SEB is a Nordic bank and will remain domiciled in Sweden

What do you think private banking will look like in five years?
Today we are the leading private bank in the Nordic region. One of the strengths that we will continue to build on is our ability to deliver high quality and personalized private banking services. We have a global reach and are represented in 11 countries. Of course, digitization will increase, but we believe that great personal service can and will go hand-in-hand with digital solutions. Another key success factor for us is SEB’s focus on sustainability and the integration of sustainability into all our offerings.

What, in your opinion, is the biggest threat to global economic stability today?
Of course, there is heightened geopolitical uncertainty when it comes to North Korea, the Middle East, Brexit, and the European Union and so on. However, global growth is pretty strong even though major economies are still supported by extreme monetary stimulus. The $15,000B in global central bank liquidity is expected to increase further to reach $16,000B next year. There are large long-term imbalances such as the record high indebtedness that need to be addressed.

How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe it is important to foster an open and discussion-friendly climate. A well-functioning team is always stronger than a single individual. I think working should be fun. To feel something positive is at the core of all human relationships, and in the business world this also has an intrinsic value since it gets people to develop. I am also strongly driven by a will to contribute—to always strive to be better, to do better.

You are on SACCNY’s board of directors, what does the Chamber mean to you?
I’m all new on the board of directors, so time will tell. But I have a very positive perception of the Chamber’s work and outreach. Bringing the Swedish business community together, providing a forum for exchange of ideas, and good opportunities are important missions moving forward.

What role do you see SEB playing in the Swedish-American business community?
We are very active and support our customers here in New York. We have had a branch office in New York since 1981 and have since then focused on Nordic related business. The U.S. is Sweden’s third largest business partner and a great number of our Nordic customers are present here, and we want them to be as successful as possible.

Johan Torgeby
SACCNY Board Member
President and CEO of SEB


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