From Birgitte Bonnesen’s Point of View
Birgitte Bonnesen, President and CEO of Swedbank and President of the Swedish Banker’s Association shares her view on banking in the future, for gender equality, and how to become successful in the banking industry.
Danish-born Birgitte Bonnesen is one of the most influential persons in the banking industry today. Beyond her role as President and CEO at Swedbank, one of the leading banks in Sweden, she is also President of the Swedish Banker’s Association—a position she took over from SEB’s former CEO Annika Falkengren in 2017.
After 30 years of working at Swedbank, she has found her company’s core values, and its culture have largely merged with her own. Swedbank is an inclusive bank with 7,4 million private customers and 622 000 corporate and institutional customers, it makes Swedbank the bank for the many and Sweden’s largest bank seen to the number of customers. Swedbank has a long history of strategic work devoted to gender equality, and the results of the effort are clear. Since 2013, Swedbank has gone from having 29% women in top executive positions to achieving an equal distribution of men and women in 2017.
SACCNY got the chance to interview the changemaker Bonnesen, and discuss the top priorities for Swedbank and for the Swedish Bankers’ Association; how technology will influence the future of banking, how to achieve gender equality; and many more.
State of Banking
As compared to your 30-plus years’ experience in the banking industry, what do you think of the state of the industry today?
Honestly, I must say that there has never been a more exciting time to be in the banking industry than today. Granted, my journey in the banking industry has been amazing so far. Before I was appointed President and CEO of Swedbank in 2016, I took on several key positions within the institution such as Head of Swedish Banking; Head of Baltic Banking; Chief Audit Executive; Head of Internal Audit; and Head of Global Financial Institutions and Trade Finance. However, technology is revolutionizing the world. With greater efficiency and more new possibilities, customers’ needs and behavior are rapidly changing as well. As a result, this makes for some interesting days for me like never before.
How did you lead Swedbank to winning the prize for gender equality last year by Finansförbundet and BAO?
I believe long-term vision and persistence are keys to our success. Our results come from long-term strategic work that started long before I was appointed President and CEO, but it is true that we continued with the questions and never let go. To me, the concept of equality matters. Therefore, one of the things our bank does consistently is to educate managers on all levels. Also, we always keep an eye out for unfair pay differentials in Sweden, and conduct strategic reviews accordingly. “We are the bank for the many and that must obviously be reflected in a clear way.”
Since your appointment as President of the Swedish Banker’s Association in 2017, what is the priority agenda for you and the rest of the board?
There is a lot on the plate for the Swedish Bankers’ Association but trust is always a top priority. Given the entire society needs to trust those who deal with savings, loans and payments, we at the Swedish Banker’s Association understand that our work within the profitable, sound and sustainable banking sector comes with many responsibilities. To build that trust, we need to be transparent in the way we act and communicate, plus acting in consent with everybody—the sector, the authorities, politicians—who could shape opinion to safeguard the trust and financial stability of our system.
How do you think technology will impact the future workforce and what will Swedbank do to keep up?
Since we are right in the middle of this major shift, where digitization is quickly influencing customer behavior and needs within our industry and society at large, there are already some notable impacts on the workplace. For instance, with the help of AI, we can help our customers with simpler cases more efficiently, which we currently do through our chat bot ”Nina”. This effectively frees up more time for customer meetings. Although no one knows how AI and other technologies will fully develop in the long run, we know it will play a big part. Needless to say, technology is and always will be a great tool.
Succeed in Banking
For someone looking to start a career in banking, can you share what makes him or her successful according to Swedbank’s values?
Speaking on behalf of Swedbank, we welcome young people with different backgrounds and nationalities. In terms of skills, it is great if you specialize in service design, robotics, behavioral science and computer science. But at the heart of Swedbank, we want people who are open, simple and caring. Last but definitely not least—at the end of the day, a successful employee at Swedbank always makes the customer feel special, and meet every customer at their specific needs. We must always keep in mind that our core business is to satisfy and take care of our customers through different needs during a life cycle.
President and CEO of Swedbank, President for the Swedish Banker’s Association,
Question Closest to Heart
Equal opportunities regardless of sex, origin, age, religion etc. I am proud to represent the bank for the many households and the many companies!
Recipe for Success
Passion and hard work
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