I will now sell you a fun Digital Product Owner job in traditional banking. Watch me.
A couple of months ago — after a decade of working with small, nimble startups and strategic design agencies, I swam across the pond and joined the biggest financial institution I could find.
I had previously thought about joining a large corporation to experience something completely new. Over the last couple of years I interviewed with a number of large corporations — Tax services, Government services, NGO’s, cool things like that. Wanted to talk to someone in Pharma as well, Denmark seems to have a knack for that too. But I was always.. (and sorry to step on the toes of someone who took the time to consider me for a position) .. I was always put down by the lack of ambition I experienced. To me, becoming part of some massive monster of an organisation, should mean an equally massive reach and potential, not a massively slow organisation. The latter was my prejudice, which too often was confirmed.
Then I stumbled on something awesome, and I’d like to share that story here. And maybe reach some people that aren’t hanging around on Nordeas Linkedin page.
The last 5 months has genuinely surprised me — and people around me whom I tell this to. I’d like to share some insights into what it’s like working with creating digital experiences in Nordea.
I need a new cool colleague to help us build something great. The job ad is here if you’re curious, but I’d rather you read through this story first.
Why the move?
I’m incredibly proud of the products I had a hand in creating. Hundreds of millions of people are using stuff I made, and while I’m sure the numbers don’t go hand in hand with the revenue they’re creating, I’m daunted and humbled by looking back at my career so far. Working in tech startups (or startups turned real companies) has offered tremendous freedom, responsibility and a learning curve like nowhere else.
I’ve too often scoffed at large corporations because of the lack of speed and decision power that I experienced myself as the key to success — and ultimately their lack of contemporary digital offerings. Usually I wondered why they just couldn’t “do it right”.
The solution seemed to be hiring smart agencies to deliver that missing speed and freshness to their processes. Being at one of those smart agencies for a while myself, I experienced the speed, but missed sitting at those high tables I’d gotten so accustomed to in the startups, being present at the times where the important decisions are taken. Which is not at the meetings or workshops, but all the time.
Lately (actually, for quite a while, but it seems to’ve been reaching an interesting level of maturity lately), having in-house “agencies”, incubators, intrapreneur programmes, etc., has been the strategy for a range of the biggest companies in Denmark. And that speaks directly to what I believe in; Business, Design and Tech in one big beautiful mess. I’ve also practiced year after year using Design Thinking and prototyping at the very birth of strategic undertakings. Sooner or later, you’ll need to figure out how to carry out that mastermind strategy of yours — some digital experience a user wants to use and pay for, might as well start shaping that from the very first second.
Of all the things I’m proud of, I want this to be another one. Having helped a dinosaur pick up speed and steered it in the right direction. Imagine a big, fat, dinosaur running. That’s going to rattle some bushes.
“It’s a real challenge to scale something. Moving something already at scale is a whole different game.”
— Smart old boss of mine.
I wasn’t scared. But I was cautiously nervous about what I was venturing into.
Will I be happy? Will I fit in? Will I get to create amazing digital experiences? Will my creativity be squandered by omg-that’s-so-last-year-thinking and weird bureaucracy? Should designers code? Do I have to wear a tie? (I tried tucking in my shirt once, I looked like a bus driver, not a cool bank executive, haven’t tried since).
I wouldn’t be advertising for a job here if I wasn’t serious about it so you can guess the answer to the aforementioned concerns. Either way, I’d like to address my two main concerns in any position I’ve held, not excluding this one:
#1 Will I be set up to succeed?
The short and sweet truth is that the environment here is all too familiar. It’s the same people I’m used to working with — sitting next to smart business developers, savvy finance experts, tattooed engineers in Nirvana t-shirts, designers with the usual neatly ironed 100% black wardrobe, and creative product owners. My boss sits right across from me, I’m in just as many decision talks as I want to be and need to be.
Since joining, I’ve learned that Nordea Markets is the cool kid in the Nordea class regarding our product development process, rapid prototyping, continuous release cycle and time-to-market. While it seems common sense in tech companies, it’s just not like that in an organisation like Nordea. We’re getting there, though. Fortunately, I’m in the spot where it’s already considered business as usual.
So shortly, I could pretty quickly tick that box. Only thing stopping me from putting my work in the hands of real users real quick, would be myself.
#2 Will I get to create amazing digital experiences?
The platform I work on, is in very interesting place. There’s definitely things to improve on, I’ll be brutally honest about that — but the shared desire from everyone to create experiences that reduce user friction and drives the business forward, combined with the willingness to cut corners, try new processes, prototype, hack and experiment makes this a pretty fun place to spend my days. Due to open minds, a heap of learnings from countless research projects and usertests, and an honest, critical look at what we have, I have from day one been able to put my mark on the product.
The investments in initiatives around Data Science are at early enough stages that I can take part in the process, and mature enough for me to start building intelligent digital experiences, making my three favourite things in product design come together; user insights, quantitive data, and gut feeling.
What I put on paper, in Sketch or in Hype every day makes me proud and puts a smile on my face. And sometimes I have to make a crappy compromise. In other words, everything is like it’s always been.
I have to handle more simultaneous projects than I’m used to, coordinate with a larger group of external partners than I’m used to; agencies we work with, and other parts of the bank when it makes sense. However, it doesn’t impair my ability to deliver value, fast. Which is my job.
“So, what’s it like being on board the Titanic?”
Traditional banks have challenges. Cool fintech startups are all having a bite of us, new regulations are opening up competition (which is fantastic), but also putting a massive load on what information banks need to publish to the authorities (which is also fantastic, considering money laundering, Panama Papers and all, but sucky because I’d rather want the developers to build cool experiences than meet EU requirements).
As always, threats are opportunities. The bad news is, if traditional banks do nothing, they’ll die. The good news is, if traditional banks do nothing, they’ll die. This means I have my work cut out for me, and a massive responsibility.
Recent initiatives like Nordea Open Banking (that I’m lucky to work closely with) meet this challenge head-on like I would’ve wanted Nordea to do it, but something I honestly hadn’t dreamt of. I had imagined it as a pipedream, not as an open and working sandbox. Well-structured hack-weeks and internal startup incubators should be part of any modern company’s DNA by now, but again — I hadn’t seen it coming here.
Maybe I was too sceptical thinking Nordea was still zombieing around in some Y2K-haze.
Maybe I’m delusional thinking they have most of the pieces in place.
So, I’m fine being on board the Titanic, I have a pretty solid idea of the icebergs ahead. And we’re not sailing as fast as the Titanic did. Yet.
“Shaping the future of banking? Isn’t that a bit of a stretch?”
I honestly don’t think so. Give me a ping, I’m happy to elaborate.
Now that you got to the bottom, it’d be super-weird if you don’t at least read it. Just saying. If not, then be a friend and share it with smart people that would like to work with me in Copenhagen.