SUSTAINABILITY IS A DRIVER FOR MANY NORDIC FINTECH COMPANIES
The 20th century was the most dramatic in human history. Two world wars, more than 2,000 nuclear tests and a global population growing from 1.6 billion in 1900 to 6.1 billion in 2000. It was the century of growth, marked by colossal technological and scientific advances from electricity and penicillin to microchips and moon landings. The revolution in agriculture in the 60s also made it possible to feed the rapidly growing population and help countries in need. When India’s monsoon failed in 1965, the U.S. government was able to send one-fifth of the U.S. wheat harvest to India. An enormous undertaking, set in motion by Lester Brown, the later founder of Worldwatch Institute, who convinced president Lyndon B. Johnson about the importance of the task. Much is different today. We are about 8 billion people, heading for 10 billion within the next 30 years. The Earth has become cramped, resources are scarce, pollution is enormous, inequality is high. We simply have to do things differently. The whole mindset around sustainability, resource savings, environmental considerations and human rights has really taken hold in recent years. The 17 SDGs and the Paris Agreement on climate are not just for decoration but are actually used as benchmarks in politics and corporate business concepts.
However, switching to sustainability from an unsustainable way of doing things is cumbersome, time consuming and costly. But an important part of the process is to get the financial sector involved. It will be able to accelerate things by channelling a lot of money from pension funds and investment funds into companies that work with sustainable solutions and initiatives and put pressure on the less green companies through active ownership. Such considerations were a significant reason why Implement Consulting Group in collaboration with Copenhagen Fintech in 2020 made a comprehensive survey of Nordic fintech companies’ work with sustainability.
“Our purpose of making the report was to create an overview of the fintech environment in the Nordic region working with sustainability issues. We did not evaluate the individual companies. Instead, it was an attempt to make the first Nordic mapping of the area with fintechs that indicate one or more SDGs as important focal points in the company,” says Sebastian André Olguin Sørensen, Senior Management Consultant in Implement Consulting Group.
Almost 200 Nordic fintechs work with sustainability
The survey showed that in 2020, a total of 186 fintech companies in the Nordic region were working with SDGs in one way or another.
“Some companies are working with e.g. climate solutions, while others work with anti-money laundering solutions and in that sense the Governance aspect. Overall, we were positively surprised that there were so many start-ups and scale-up companies that had tuned in to the mindset of the SDGs – and it is certainly not my impression that number is smaller today.”
On the contrary. Persistent documentation from the scientific world makes quite an impression. It’s become clear that nature crises, climate change, inequality, poverty, hunger and water scarcity are threats that we need to address. The Covid-19 pandemic also showed us how the world is interconnected – significant imbalances often result in violent swells across borders. Like for instance a shortage of computer chips. Just as wars can lead to food crises or at least sharp price increases like the ones we are experiencing now in the wake of the war in Ukraine.
Furthermore, regulatory changes are underway in the EU, which means that companies can no longer fail to address sustainability in the future. Since March 2021, investment funds and pension funds in the EU have had to comply with documentation requirements if they are to call their investments sustainable. And in 2023 and beyond, the EU taxonomy will come into play, placing demands on companies’
reports about sustainability issues. These are initiatives that will only increase interest in sustainability in general and the products and services that fintechs and other companies work with.
No longer if but how sustainability should be part of the strategy
Sebastian André Olguin Sørensen also noted another interesting trend in the analysis.
“It’s no longer about whether sustainability should be part of the strategic agenda – now it’s about how to do it. It may sound banal, but compared to 4-5 years ago, it’s a big step that pretty much everything now has to be thought of in real sustainable solutions, because otherwise it just is not credible. All major companies have entered this agenda. The big question now is how to get sustainability anchored in the business and the existing functional strategies. How do you make sustainability live in everyday life and in what we call an operating model. That’s the big question – to go from having the great strategies to actually acting and delivering on the various objectives set in the strategies.”
One of the questions that the report in 2020 had set out to investigate was also whether the next major unicorn in the Nordic region could be a fintech having sustainability as a core focus in the business model.
“One of our initial hypotheses was whether the Nordic countries could have an advantage because sustainability is relatively well integrated into our mindset today. Perhaps the next unicorn could be one that is rooted in the SDGs or based on another concrete sustainability purpose. With the mapping, there was clearly an indication that there is an ecosystem out there working on sustainability that is much larger than what many might have thought. The report indicated that there is great potential and a strong foundation in the Nordic region to create a fintech success with sustainability as a core area – and that was initially the conclusion of the hypothesis,” says Sebastian André Olguin Sørensen.