Anniina Brusi is known as a high-energy Agile leader, who pushes things in the right direction, and finds opportunities instead of waiting around. She has over eleven years of leadership and management experience in the Finnish banking sector — primarily in sales, marketing, e-commerce, and product development. In recent years, Anniina has been working in FinTech companies such as Nets, Ferratum Group, and Zmarta Group, creating and providing better digital financial solutions for the consumer market.
Why did you choose a career in technology?
My move into FinTech was a natural career switch after ten amazing years in the banking sector. I’ve been privileged to work in different parts of the consumer banking sector, and have seen the industry from different perspectives. I have observed various twists and turns in the industry: the 2008 financial crisis, some major bank M&As, digital transformation, and now the coronavirus pandemic. These changes have broadened my knowledge and understanding, and have also provided wonderful experiences.
The FinTech field is a lot bigger than I thought. Essentially, FinTech is all about service and product design; I would say that it breaks old and rigid processes in the financial industry, and combines the latest technological developments to build more customer-friendly solutions across all areas of finance — investment, banking, insurance, lending.
Nowadays, technology is probably the biggest disrupter when it comes to banking — especially now that the banking industry has undergone digital transformation. In this sector, technology has become a vital element of renewal.
Working in this field means constantly learning. We work in a very fast-paced environment using the latest technologies, such as PSD2, AI, robotic process automation, marketing automation, UX, IoT and many more, which makes it a very exciting place to work. My tasks vary from process development to product development, from marketing automation to brand management, and from vendor contract negotiations to compliance tasks.
Working as a leader in this industry demands a hands-on attitude, as well as strong analytical skills to execute your business strategy.
Your last two companies — Ferratum and Zmarta — are true challengers, fully digital firms. What have been the main differences between working for those businesses and for large incumbent firms?
To keep it short, customer-centricity and speed. These companies are doing everything to make their customers happy, and are constantly changing their organisations to support different circumstances. No one knows what the market will look like a year from now, so you must constantly renew your organisation. While this requires a lot from your employees, it is nevertheless rewarding. Players in this industry are usually agile, and do not have complex organizational structures. In addition, since FinTech interfaces with computer and mobile, the front-end development is crucial. Roles such as UX designer, digital product managers, full stack developers, and data analytics are very important in these companies.
Which are the hottest FinTechs in Finland?
There are plenty of them! During these past years, many Finnish FinTech companies have managed to grow their businesses significantly — did you know that Finland has the most digital startups per capita in the world? The steady business environment together with the thriving startup scene makes Finland an excellent place to develop new innovative solutions. We have been able to build a strong ecosystem for FinTech companies: receiving financing, finding the right expertise, and building close cooperation between banks and other FinTech companies.
Finland might be the best-kept secret in ICT and digitalization. And when it comes to banking in Finland, we have a high rate of digital adoption and a well-developed infrastructure for online banking and online credit. However, the Finnish banking market is dominated by four major banks, which together hold 81% of the market share. There is great potential for new challengers with innovative solutions — and of course, opportunities for cooperating with incumbent banks.
Here are some Finnish FinTech companies to keep an eye on:
Why did you become a leader rather than a specialist? What motivated you to take leadership positions, and the associated challenges and responsibilities?
I have over eleven years of leadership experience now. Growing as a leader has been a painful but fruitful journey of development. I have always been motivated by a strong desire to encourage others to perform better, enable growth opportunities and make changes. When I succeed, I want others to succeed with me. And when people around me succeed, I will succeed too.
Leadership is generally a challenging task, especially with coronavirus, and in the current market situation. It is no longer enough to “just get stuff done” and achieve your KPIs and budget; as a leader I need to ensure the well-being of my employees, to respect them and involve them in all situations.
During my career, I have seen a tremendous need for better leadership. This inspired me to do things differently, and motivated me to grow as one of the new generation of leaders. There are very few certainties about the future, but one of them is that the world will be very different from how it is right now. New technology, new regulations, new innovations, new products, new organisational models, new attitudes, tighter competition, and especially a new generation that requires a new kind of leadership, with new skills. In the year 2020, for the first time in human history, the global workforce comprises five different generations. Globalisation, cross-border organisations and remote work have made leadership especially challenging, as it is not always possible to be physically present. However, I feel that physical proximity between leaders and employees is not always necessary — but mental and emotional proximity are essential.
These complications make leadership more challenging, but also more interesting. How does one then become a successful new-generation leader? I have been thinking about this question a lot.
First of all, I believe that the most difficult job for a leader is probably persuading others to follow. This is only possible if you motivate your employees by inspiring them and setting a great example. Make sure that every one of your employees is accountable for what they are doing; this is easily done with clear and realistic roles and targets.
In addition, I believe that self-learning is key element for successful leaders. Self-learning is one of the most interesting part in leadership, because it keeps your mind fresh and challenges you to constantly think of new ways to lead people and business. In addition, as a leader I must keep up with trends in my industry, and thus I have to love learning and sharing new information.
For my own development journey, I have built my own leadership philosophy, which includes my values as a leader. I did this mainly for self-learning, but my written leadership philosophy lets my team members and others know what I expect, what I value and how I will act in any given situation. Our values are our most natural motivators, so it is natural to refer to our own values when creating a vision or making a decision. Confidence is another key element of a strong leadership mindset. It comes from knowing yourself, and understanding (and appreciating) your own strengths and weaknesses. Confidence also comes from observing and analysing how you make decisions, both good and bad. I believe that each leader faces unique circumstances, brings unique backgrounds to their leadership position, and leads unique teams of individuals.
So, to answer to your question, “Why did you become a leader rather than a specialist?”
The future needs a new kind of leadership and I want to be part of influencing that change.
What has been the biggest lesson or challenge for you in your career in such a tech-intensive business?
Working in FinTech demands a strong understanding of the banking sector; you can’t be a challenger if you don’t know what to challenge. From a technology perspective, FinTech is a rewarding industry if you want to reskill yourself and pick up on trending technologies. I did not have a technical background, and to be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of technology. So I really ended up escaping my comfort zone to take new responsibilities in a tech-intensive business — which was perhaps a combination of courage and ignorance.
I had to learn everything from scratch, starting from the very basics: the meaning of terms such as API, PSD2, NFC, PCI, SaaS and many more. Quite soon, I realised that it is not only technical skills which are needed in this industry; there is also a need for professionals who understand the technology, the ecosystem it operates in, and how to commercialise new technical innovations. And so, over time, I got excited about technology. Working in FinTech definitely requires a passion for technology. A tip for those who are considering working in FinTech: you don’t have to be a strong technical expert as long as you have the right attitude and you are eager to learn.
I know you have written a book — please tell us about it!
This book was written in collaboration with some very talented people — several young leaders, and the Finnish author and journalist Helinä Hirvikorpi. It was published in 2014.
The book is called “From Manager to Leader” (Esimiehestä Johtajaksi) and we worked on it during our year-long leadership training. In this training, we were honoured to have coaching and mentoring lectures from many top Finnish leaders including former prime minister Mr. Jyrki Katainen, technology entrepreneur Mr. Pekka A. Viljakainen, Brigadier General Janne Jaakkola of the Finnish Defence Forces, and Ms. Maija-Liisa Friman, who was named Finland’s Most Influential Businesswoman in 2012 — and their thoughts about leadership are included in the book.
From Manager to Leader is a unique combination of fresh thinking, advice for day-to-day work, and the wisdom of experience. It is a collection of thoughts about leadership from leaders across many industries and ages — not just from a dusty leadership guru in a corner office, or from the all-experienced leaders talking to the younger ones.