Norsepay

Cash management

Norsepay

October 2019

The Nordics have a long history of intra-bloc cooperation and innovation at the top of the European digital pecking order. flow examines how this has played out in payments and trade finance

In the ninth century, when the Vikings sailed their longboats to Greenland, the Mediterranean and up the large Russian rivers as far as Kiev, little did they know they were laying the foundations for a future of trade and economic cooperation. Fast forward to modern times and it is clear that the regional DNA of innovation and determination is not only alive and well, but is disrupting the status quo and transforming industries.

Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland are commonly felt by outsiders to have a strong regional identity and a cohesive and collaborative approach to business. This is supported by political and economic regimes that draw on a once very strong Protestant tradition of thrift. Today they are broadly united in having market economies combined with powerful labour unions and a comprehensive welfare sector financed by what many outsiders view as heavy taxes. This article charts the region’s achievements in trade and digitalisation with the support of the banking sector.

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Regional assets

Natural resources remain – as they have always been – the backbone of the region’s exports, and sustainably managed forests in Finland and Sweden provide wood pulp and lumber to much of the world. Norway’s huge North Sea oil assets have been carefully managed to create long-term wealth (its sovereign wealth fund surged past the US$1trn mark in 2017), and most of its installed electricity capacity comes from renewable energy sources. Reflecting Denmark’s huge investment, wind power produced the equivalent of 43.4% of the country’s total electricity usage in 2017.1

Careful cultivation of its comparatively barren terrain has allowed Denmark to position itself as a leading player in the global food industry – Danish Crown being the world’s largest pork exporter. Innovations in the uses of Nordic mineral resources and the introduction of the Siemens-Martin method in the 1880s led to Swedish steel being considered the finest in the world. This product provided an essential building block in establishing a reputation for robust, reliable and no-nonsense engineering and design.

More recently, high-profile Nordic developments have included the expansion of the service sector and innovation in information and communications technology and telecoms; examples of which can be found in the growth of telecoms led by multinational corporates such as Nokia and Ericsson and, of course, music streaming phenomenon Spotify.

 

Digitalisation

The Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) summarises relevant indicators on Europe’s digital performance and tracks the evolution of EU member states (these exclude Norway) in digital competitiveness. The Nordic countries dominate the ratings (see Figure 1).

In a corporate banking environment client relationship, banks all work together to deliver the best outcome for that client
Anders Ohlsson, Head of Corporate Cash Management Nordics, Deutsche Bank

Finland leads the pack, with its public sector having walked the digital walk long before anyone else. Eight years ago at Sibos Toronto 2011, delegates heard Keijo Kettunen, Payment Transactions Manager, State Treasury of Finland, explain in an e-Invoicing panel session that the country’s payment system was transitioning from paper invoices to electronic format and how the e-Invoicing system owed its success to tight collaboration between different interest groups and the wide availability of internet connectivity and electronic banking to consumers.2

Neighbouring Sweden is steadily nearing its goal to become the world’s first cashless society by 2023. A growing number of shops and restaurants proudly proclaim themselves ‘cash free’, while a 2018 study from the Swedish central bank found that only 13% of payments in the country still involve notes and coins, as debit cards and the national mobile payment system Swish increasingly become the norm.3

Turning to the fintech evolution, Finland’s central bank, the Bank of Finland, addressed every regulator’s conundrum in a 2018 bulletin where it stated: “Authorities and legislators must constantly juggle between diverging interests: competition, innovation and better customer experience are positive elements but cannot be promoted at the cost of financial stability or consumer protection.”

It also makes the point that if digitalisation shifts financial services provision from banks to actors “that are less regulated and supervised” this could give rise to new risks. Critically, it reflects that regulators and supervisors will need new skills as banking business models increasingly become based on algorithms and data analytics. “Someone needs to be able to say whether a data set formed by millions of lines of code in different systems is adequately secured against cyber threats.”4 This is an issue faced by all developed world economy banks, many of which – including Finland’s – are hiring data analysts, engineers and statisticians to ensure their services are future-proofed.

 

Images: Alamy, Christoffer Engström

Payment platforms

The emergence of regional payment platforms around the world – think Australia’s New Payments Platform and Europe’s SEPA (Single Euro Payments Area) Instant Credit Transfer scheme – took a step further forward on 25 June 2019 when the P27 Nordic Payments Platform (owned by Danske Bank, Handelsbanken, Nordea, OP Financial Group, SEB and Swedbank) announced its partnership with Mastercard. Replacing the existing payment infrastructure, the new payment system is to provide real-time and batch payments across the Nordic markets.

Dubbed ‘Project 27’, the platform sets out to establish within the Nordics the first integrated region for domestic and cross-border payments in multiple currencies through an open-access common infrastructure that should, says the P27 vision, “deliver state-of-the-art payment experiences to customers across the Nordics”.5 By aligning its standards with those of SEPA and applying to payments in the eurozone, Project 27 declares it “will bring further harmonisation to the European payments landscape”.

 

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The Øresund Bridge is the longest combined road and rail bridge in Europe and connects two major cities: Copenhagen and Malmö

Digitalisation of trade

While the overall momentum towards digitalising trade finance is slower than that of real-time payments, the moves we have seen have had a distinctly Nordic flavour. Paula da Silva, Head of Transaction Services at SEB and Chairman of the board of the P27 Nordic Payments Platform, says that Nordic corporates have a strong demand for digitised transaction banking products and services, and that in terms of cash management SEB is almost fully transformed. “More than 99% of our products on payments are contactless, but when it comes to trade, you trade in physical paper, and there are so many players in the chain of one transaction,” she explains.

Digitalisation in transport and logistics is a huge area of focus as this impacts on trade – and ultimately economic growth. Here again, we have a Nordic corporate taking the lead. On 29 April 2019, Denmark’s A.P. Møller-Maersk launched its Customs Clearance online shipping management platform, which covers all types of cargo for all Maersk brands in seven European countries: Germany, France, Denmark, the Netherlands, Poland, the UK and Spain. The goal is to expand this across the world by the end of 2019. “The solution provides downstream benefits of full governance and compliance [and] eliminates the need to provide a quote as pricing is displayed online, saving three to five minutes per quote,” explains the container shipping company’s Chief Commercial Officer, Vincent Clerc.6

"Competition, innovation and better customer experience are positive elements but cannot be promoted at the cost of financial stability or consumer protection"

Bank of Finland

Bankside support

In what has been a perfect storm of regulatory pressure and liquidity-washed price compression, Nordic banks such as DNB, Nordea, Danske Bank and Swedbank (to name but a few) work cooperatively and informally together to allow each bank to engage in healthy competition for repeat client business, interpret new regulations, share documentation and develop digital solutions.

One of the common denominators of this close-knit group of Nordic-based financial institutions is the share scale, track record and reach of the Nordic-based corporates they serve. Equinor (formerly Statoil), Volvo, Ericsson, Nokia, H&M, Ikea and A.P. Møller-Maersk, along with Swedish/Swiss ABB, have operations all over the world, and because of their sheer scale have various non-Nordic banking relationships to support their transactional activities.

Deutsche Bank has a long tradition of working with Nordic corporates, particularly in the capital goods, engineering, energy and telecoms industries. As reported in the H1 2019 issue of flow, reserve-based lending has helped Sweden’s Lundin Petroleum develop its giant Johan Sverdrup North Sea oil field, and also allowed Norway’s Vår Energi to extract oil from 17 producing fields on the Norwegian Continental Shelf.7 Deutsche Bank’s Trust & Agency Services (TAS) team acts as American Depositary Receipts (ADR) bank for Lundin Petroleum’s Sponsored Level 1 ADR programme.

Power purchase agreement-driven transactions in Nordic wind energy make it possible for corporates to buy an offtake from the local grid to power their centres and production sites. In May 2018, German asset manager Luxcara sold an offtake from its Bjerkreim wind farm site in Norway to Facebook so that it could power data centres in Odense, Denmark and Luleå, Sweden. Deutsche Bank’s TAS team acted as financing and security agent for the bond issuance used to finance the wind energy.8

Turning to telecoms, Deutsche Bank’s Structured Trade and Export Finance team arranged US$5bn of export credit agency deals, signed with US 5G telecoms provider Verizon, to support equipment purchases from Ericsson and Nokia respectively.9 Other telecoms deals include Saudi operator Mobily and AT&T. Denmark’s export credit agency EKF has also worked with the bank on other deals. In addition, the bank’s TAS team acts as ADR bank for Ericsson’s NASDAQ-listed ADR programme.

 

Allies not adversaries

“In a corporate banking environment client relationship, banks all work together to deliver the best outcome for that client, and this is particularly true in the Nordic region,” observes Deutsche Bank’s Head of Corporate Cash Management Nordics, Anders Ohlsson. With a habit of cooperation that has been going on for more than a thousand years, this is a region to be watched.

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Sources

1 See https://bit.ly/2qVFOGk at rte.ie
2 See
https://bit.ly/2HcMeX6 at sharespace.digital (updated from 2011)
3 See
https://bit.ly/2KTPo3k at riksbank.se
4 See
https://bit.ly/2MqgIJH at bofbulletin.fi
5 See P27 factsheet at
https://bit.ly/2YZ6kPD, project27.info
6 See
https://bit.ly/2vwV4ZP at maersk.com
7 See ‘Sunset to sunrise’ at
https://bit.ly/2KSSTXz, db.com/flow
8 See ‘Nordic wind energy blows hot with investors’ at
https://bit.ly/2MryuvS, db.com/flow
9 See ‘Outside the trodden path’ at
https://bit.ly/2KYMnib, db.com/flow

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