to the world
“The building blocks are there, but we have not yet worked out how to put them together in the right way to bring financial technology to the world,” says investor and entrepreneur Henrik Lie-Nielsen.
He is one of the principal organisers behind Finance Innovation, an association that has gathered 50 large and small companies with an ambitious goal of selling Norwegian financial technology to an international market.
Lie-Nielsen has been an entrepreneur since he left upper secondary school. He established Reaktor, which was sold many years later to the Swedish-owned company Knowit. He expeditiously got involved in a large number of technology companies. He has helped establish some of the companies, and invested in others. In addition, he sits on the board of a number of technology companies. He obtained professional insight from courses at Harvard Business School and Stanford Graduate School.
In his home town of Bergen and in Oslo, he has created 500 to 600 jobs. He is still involved in the region, but his involvement stretches further to Oslo-based collaborations and initiatives, not to mention his hunger for international success.
“There are far too few examples of Norway bringing technology to the world. With the exception of the oil sector and to some extent the media industry, we have not managed to scale internationally,” says Lie-Nielsen.
Building an international highway
He describes the rate of innovation in the financial services industry as “okay”. In Norway, customers have a high level of digital expertise with respect to consumer services, infrastructure, security and authentication. However, Lie-Nielsen finds that financial players are more concerned about regional and national competition, and initiatives are therefore adapted to and scaled for a Norwegian market, where everyone wants to be a little better than the bank next door.
We must pursue a national initiative with international ambitions.
“There are many building blocks that we need to get into place, and the very first one we need to tackle is a change in mentality. We must be brave and believe that we can succeed in a world championship. Therefore, we need to collaborate better nationally to build a highway that can bring us out into the world,” says Lie-Nielsen.
Even though he describes the rate of innovation as acceptable, it should be substantially increased.
“The probability of succeeding is greater the more initiatives we take. We need to create mechanisms that enable the industry to show their challenges to those who have the appetite to solve the problems. Through the accelerator programme and by connecting the right people, we will generate more ideas,” says Lie-Nielsen.
Clever minds in the sandbox
Having the support of educational institutions on our side is important, both to increase our expertise and to attract capable employees.
“We need more clever minds who dream of solving fundamental problems, as opposed to just wanting to join one of the major consulting firms or finance companies,” he says.
National expertise must also be developed through collaboration with people, teams and companies from other places in the world. The transfer of expertise and the learning effect that international cooperation can provide is huge and can enable Norway to be both an importer and exporter of expertise and knowledge in a global network.
Establishing a regulatory sandbox is important in order to increase the rate of innovation. It will mean that startups can gain access to actual customer data for the development of products and services, without needing an ordinary licence from the Financial Supervisory Authority of Norway.
“Companies must have the opportunity to test new solutions and to experiment. If this was to take place within an onerous and difficult regulatory framework, the rate of innovation and access to capital would be impaired. The barrier would be too high to test out whether good ideas were feasible or not,” says Lie-Nielsen.
“Private investors with long-term goals are necessary, but not enough.
However, even if the framework conditions are good and the rate of innovation increases, the road to access to the international market can nevertheless be long. The Norwegian financial services industry has no history of selling technology.
“We must have a highway to the world, and it must be established and developed. If we can create a single success, we will manage to establish a network, credibility and channels so that we can repeat our success. We must start building international relations now, but the doors will only fully open up to us when we have something to offer,” says Lie-Nielsen.
Our international ambitions must navigate an interim and confusing landscape, without any paths or tracks, and this makes it extremely important to collaborate closely at the national level.
“We have joined the strongest forces in the Bergen community together through Finance Innovation, but we must collaborate and share expertise with all existing national initiatives. It is important to understand that this is ultimately about how the Norwegian financial services industry can survive in a future where we could be crushed by large global corporates or international niche players who may consume our own financial services industry,” says Lie-Nielsen.
“If the financial services industry in Norway continues to be represented by banks that stay put in separate cities and believe that the bank next door is their future competitor, then they will all expire. We must pursue a national initiative with international ambitions.
A circle of value creation and capital
Creating a financial technology circle of expertise and capital is important in order to establish a viable industry. It will entail retaining ownership and developing expertise, and readily investing in new initiatives as startup companies gradually establish themselves.
“Private investors with long-term goals are necessary, but not enough. The major financial institutions must allocate money to investments in technology that goes beyond improving their local interfaces. Startups must have access to national capital, so that we can have a moving circle of value creation and capital,” says Lie-Nielsen.
The building blocks are there. The willingness and energy are there. Now we just have to put it all together correctly.
“It will not be easy, but we must succeed so that the Norwegian financial services industry can compete globally in the future. And we need to get started immediately,” says Lie-Nielsen.
Henrik Lie-Nielsen established the IT company Reaktor in Bergen in 1995.
The company provided a broad range of services and had 110 employees when it was acquired by the Swedish-owned company Knowit AB in 2010. Lie-Nielsen continued to work for the company as the head of the Norwegian business and was a member of group management. Knowit had 500 employees in Norway when Lie-Nielsen left the company in 2016.
Lie-Nielsen is currently an investor through the company Tanstaafl, and he is a member of the investor collective, Tripod Capital Collective, in Bergen.
In addition, Lie-Nielsen has participated in starting up a number of companies.
Today, his roles include:
Delfi Data (July 2017 – )
Stacc (June 2016 – )
Restdb (April 2016 – )
Bookkeeper (January 2012 – )
Kravia (July 2017 – )
Finance Innovation (August 2017 – )
Shortcut (June 2017 – )
ECIT (September 2017 – )
Tribe (September 2016 – )
Marton Eiendomsmegling (August 2016 – )
Holbergfondene (April 2016 – )
Sportsklubben Brann (March 2012 – )