Front banner: Nordea’s crowdfunding board has tapped into a very special entrepreneurial culture: Photo: south_agency/gettyimages
It doesn’t take long talking to Vesa Riihimäki before a clear picture of the man begins to emerge.
As one might expect from someone charged with making important investment decisions for start-up and early-stage ventures in his native Finland, Nordea’s business banking unit head is steeped in finance. But, in his supplementary role as a member on Nordea’s crowdfunding board, there is also a deep-rooted commitment to the start-up culture and to the specific needs of startups that underpins everything he says.
“I have been doing nothing but working with new or newish ventures for the last six years now,” says Riihimäki, who was a natural fit for the crowdfunding board when it came into existence in 2015. “My role used to be dealing with corporations and very traditional SME banking clients, but this has been very different.
“It’s a start-up ecosystem basically,” he says. “It’s full of ideas, of innovation and of people with huge drive. There is a collaborative approach to everything and a real sense of helping each other.”
Riihimäki should know all about start-up ecosystems of course. His wife is involved in a startup after years working at KPMG and both his daughters are at university taking degrees in finance that no doubt incorporates the very kind of start-up culture that he has become immersed in.
There is a collaborative approach to everything
and a real sense of helping each other
When Nordea begin scouting the market for an equity crowdfunding partner, it wasn‘t long before Invesdor emerged as the No.1 choice, says Riihimäki.
“We had a clear understanding of who the players were and what their track record and success rate was,” he says. “We quickly decided Invesdor was the best one.”
Since then, the relationship has flourished. Nordea’s six out of seven success rate actually outstrips Invesdor’s performance, but Nordea’s head of business banking unit has nothing but positive words for the platform and the partnership.
“We are happy with the cooperation,” he says.
It’s hardly a surprise then that he was an early convert to the whole equity crowdfunding vehicle and a driving force behind the decision to propel Nordea down a path that might seem at odds with the scope of a traditional bank. Crowdfunding is after all associated with a hipsterish audience that turned its back on conventional forms of fund raising and found a more natural home in the phenomenon that evolved initially through donation-and rewards-based schemes towards debt-based and equity-led platforms.
“I was part of the core group when we were preparing and executing the decision to move into the equity crowdfunding arena,” says the Helsinki native. “I was one of those who really started pushing for it because I could see how it could create value and that we should be looking at providing fresh channels or tools for equity.
“I was extremely positive from the very beginning and one of the people to make the business plan and build our platform,” says 52-year-old Riihimäki. “We had a great base as we effectively have 80% market share of this customer base in Finland so it gave us a very competitive advantage against other banks.”
Decision made, Nordea then began to utilise its huge database of some 2,500 start-up customers and in 2017, made the decision to partner with Finnish equity crowdfunding platform Invesdor to consolidate the process and utilise Invesdor’s platform expertise.
Since then, Nordea has given its ‘collaboration’ stamp to seven crowdfunding campaigns, of which six have successfully gone on to hit their minimum targets, effectively tapping into Helsinki’s flourishing entrepreneurial culture that emerged out of the chaos of the global financial crisis more than a decade ago.
It’s little wonder then that ventures like Naava, POWAU and Komero food with their overtly upbeat messages of sustainability and health have proved a natural fit for the crowdfunding board and a relatively easy sell in the crowdfunding rounds.
“Sustainability isn’t actually a part of the criteria we use when assessing who to give our stamp to,” says Riihimäki, who has been with Nordea since 1989. “But there is no doubt that we have a clear vision about the kind of ventures we want to work with and which fit with Nordea values.
“There is a clear correlation with sustainability, social responsibility and our desire to support impact entrepreneurism.”
That’s not to say classic ‘know-your-customer’ and ‘anti-money-laundering’ parameters are not important, nor that a clear track record with proven experience also plays an essential role in the selection, but, taking these as a given, the sustainability message is more often than not the glue that holds together the board’s vision.
We have a clear vision about the kind of ventures
we want to work with and which fit with Nordea values
“It’s reflected in the investment community,” says Riihimäki. “Profit is obviously part of the equation but it’s not only that. We have big venture capitalists and angel investors entering into the rounds at an early stage which is a big change from the early days of equity crowdfunding, but they are keen to influence and almost act like advisors.
“It’s win-win for the crowdfunder who gets competencies and advice on board, for the investor, who can see a clear business plan and move towards profitability tied up in a venture they can ethically support and for us, the whole venture has effectively become a pilot for this model across the Nordics.”
Riihimäki turns somewhat coy on whether that means a roll-out is the next step, but his enthusiasm soon gets the better of him.
“Let’s not forget that in the scheme of things, seven startups and six successful campaigns is modest compared to our overall business in Finland,” he says. “But then, not every business is suited to the crowdfunding model and sometimes, even if they are, they are not quite at the level to take that on and we give them feedback that might enable them to get to that stage.
“But we certainly have had the discussions that would allow us to take this across the Nordics and we’ve got the fundamentals in place having gained first-hand experience in Finland,” he says. “No decisions have been taken yet but the target is there.”
Riihimäki says that in the end, this is customer driven. “Equity crowdfunding is here to stay and will only become more consolidated in the next few years.”
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