A survival guide to disruption risks in the B2B financial services industry

In my previous article, I reflected on the multiple factors of disruption that may affect the B2B financial services industry. I now turn my focus to strategic actions that can be undertaken to preempt, mitigate, or even take advantage of the resulting opportunities. By financial services industry, I refer to commercial banking, capital markets, leasing, insurance and investment management.

Stay alert, build your watchtower

Establishing an “observation post” in each business unit is a good first step. This proactive measure involves gathering intelligence on emerging players, especially new platforms, and monitoring the testing and rollout of new technologies such as blockchain and generative AI. Tracking strategic moves by existing competitors, particularly those involving Fintech acquisitions is also important. The findings could be compiled into a quarterly report circulated internally.

This disciplined approach not only makes the organisation mentally ready when something unexpected happens (an announcement by a competitor for instance, or a large transaction lost to a newcomer), but also contributes to building an innovation-centric culture.

Track the Fintechs but watch-out for the big players

Fintechs are agile entities not burdened by the incumbents’ way of working. They come up with great ideas, develop their proposition in no time, but then face issues of trust as well as perceived reliability risks. Corporate customers do not have the time or energy to try out new solutions with them. The danger comes when they partner with, or are acquired by a large player, whether an existing financial institution or a Bigtech, and their solution is integrated into an “institutionalised” offering. Hence, while innovation mostly originates in Fintechs, the threat comes from the big players.

Maintain humility, for disruption spares none

Disruption may initially seem confined to specific segments of the value chain, creating a false sense of security about one’s business model. For instance, the bond issuance process has largely been unchanged over the past few decades, being primarily based on the investment bank’s relationship with issuers and investors and their ability to advise them. At the same time, e.platforms for quoting targets on private placements, for book-building or for new issue info distribution are becoming mainstream. Also, new solutions for documentation and blockchain based settlement have surfaced. So in this case the risk is to believe that the investment bankers’ role in the new issuance process will remain unchanged even when it seems that everything around it is moving to the digital age.

Follow adjacent areas, disruption can spread like a virus

In some cases, disruption starts with an obvious product before moving to an adjacent one. For instance, forex platforms have existed for years, pitching banks against each-others to obtain the best quote for the customer, and are expanding to the derivatives market. Also, Supply Chain Finance platforms have been a serious competitor to banks for a while, reducing them to the role of funders and risk takers, and similar platforms have entered the Purchase of Receivables area. What’s next?

Think outside the box, like the disrupters do

You may be taken aback by the irruption of a disrupter, especially if you focus only on your current offering. Instead, the whole value chain should be investigated, not just the outcome.

For instance, in this recent article, Matt Brown explains that in B2B payments, an area with an immense potential, the real issue isn’t actually about the payment but instead about the workflows and data that are a precursor to the payment being made. He concludes that the most successful “B2B payments” companies won’t probably look like payment companies at all, and therefore will possibly come from outside the financial services industry.

Industry convergence between financial institutions and the industries they serve is also a trend to watch-out, like when merchants embed financial products in their offering. In this context of moving industry boundaries, it is wise to shift the focus away from who you are as a financial institution and instead think about the wider market: what are the key value units being exchanged and what is your role in that process.

Take the corporate customer angle, they are the judges of what will fly or die

A pivotal aspect in weathering disruption is adopting the corporate customer perspective. Disruption is rarely product specific: instead new players aim at addressing a customer’s jobs-to-be-done, like liquidity management for a corporate treasurer. Their solution therefore happens across a given financial institution’s in-built product silos, like in this case the different units in a bank providing cash management, trade finance, forex and working capital management. Therefore, instead of trying to improve your existing products and services, you should reassess how they fit into the customers’ jobs-to-be-done.

Also, try to anticipate their future needs, not just respond to them, and reflect on novel ways how they can be met. To illustrate, most financial services can be thought of as subscriptions in disguise. So what about getting inspiration from subscription based businesses to change the way you offer and charge for the services you provide, before someone else does it.

Analyse your existing and future competitive advantages and build on them

When looking at the existing operational and business model, do not overestimate your institution’s historical role and what have been the perceived competitive advantages, like a large balance sheet for a bank. Instead focus on what is difficult to copy or replace, such as trust, customer-knowledge based advisory, or proprietary data sets. Also, uncover your firm’s capabilities which have so far only been used internally and could be commercialised, like fraud management in an insurance company or credit risk evaluation in a bank.

Be ready to be a first mover and disrupt yourself before others do

For instance, when the innovation by a Fintech is potentially threatening some elements of your business model, you may be tempted to disregard the threat on the assumption that they don’t have the financial clout, the credibility or the reach to be successful. Alternatively, you could consider that it is probably only a question of time before this type of solution will emerge at scale. In which case it makes sense to investigate how to replace the existing business model (or part of it) with this new one, even if it is painful at first.

Keep options open and stay agile

As I discussed in an earlier article, interoperability is becoming a precondition for financial institutions to keep a high level of agility, like creating or participating in platforms, forming an ecosystem of fintech partners, or simply integrating into their corporate customers’ systems. To achieve this goal, they need to overhaul their business and IT architecture and move towards portable micro-services (or modules) connectable with APIs. I know that it is easier said than done given the maze of legacy systems, but should be the vision anyway.

Be smart and bold

All-in-all, I believe that the best way to get prepared for the inevitable disruptions is to observe the market and listen to customers, upgrade the operational and business model for the future and dare to take advantage of opportunities.

Disruption risks in the B2B financial services industry

In a recent article, I discussed why it looks like the B2B financial services industry is immune from obsolescence or transformative shifts. It is a sector where personal relationships with corporate customers have been the key focus, changes are complex to implement and customer interest in advanced digital services remains relatively subdued. Moreover, the high level of regulation is a barrier against external threats.

In this context, it is easy to be fooled by the apparent inertia, especially when other financial institutions exhibit a comparable lack of initiative. However, even though the complexity related to B2B is slowing down the pace of change, it is in no way stopping it.

I now reflect on the risks of disruption in the B2B financial services industry and in which form they may concretise. By financial services industry, I refer to commercial banking, capital markets, leasing, insurance and investment management.

Understanding disruption

In the realm of financial services, disruption signifies a profound transformation that significantly impacts a company’s business model. It can be triggered by various factors, such as new technologies or innovative applications of existing technologies (APIs, blockchain, IoT, AI, cloud computing, asset tokenisation, driverless vehicles). It could also result from shifts in the competitive landscape with the emergence of new players (Fintechs, Bigtechs), alterations in the strategies of existing players (other financial institutions, ERP providers), new regulations (Basel IV, MIFID II, PSD2–3), societal considerations (increased focus on ESG) or major geopolitical and economic shifts (war in Ukraine, exceptionally high interest rate volatility).

Potential sources of disruption

Predicting disruption is inherently challenging as it can originate both within the industry and externally, often arising from a combination of the aforementioned factors. In addition, its impact can be progressive at first and seen as benign, and then suddenly become a game changer. So, where should we direct our attention?

I list below a few trends that in my opinion could significantly impact the B2B financial services sector.


The ways to reach customers (also called go-to-market or channel strategy) is perhaps the area where B2B financial institutions will be most affected in the years to come. In particular, disintermediation, whereby financial institutions lose the relationship with their traditional customers, is for me an inevitable trend with possible massive consequences.

In banking, it is best illustrated by the multi-bank platforms which have spread from initially foreign exchange to bank guarantees, letters of credit, supply chain financing and receivable discounting. So far, they have mostly handled the bidding process, and the transaction has been settled separately between the bank and its corporate customer. However, sooner or later, they will be connected via APIs with banks and integrated into the corporate customers’ back-office system, allowing a straight-through processing. The next step will likely be the creation of marketplaces where all daily banking products will be on offer. When this happens, the risk is that transaction banks will become invisible and they will be turned into infra-providers.

Embedded finance, which happens when a non-financial company offers a financial product or service to its customers, is also bringing a radical change to the go-to-market strategy of the traditional financial service providers. For instance, embedded insurance integrates seamlessly insurance products into a customer’s buying experience, and embedded banking currently includes the offering of bank accounts, credit cards and consumer financing. As a result, embedded finance is akin to switching from B2C to B2B since the main customers are no longer the retail clients but instead the companies that embed those financial services into their own offering. It can be seen as a threat to the retail unit of a given financial institution, and as an opportunity for its corporate unit.

Generally, the role of intermediary, which is the essence of a financial institution, will evolve in the future and may turn to be the demarcation line between the winners and the losers, around issues like trust (identification, security) but also the integration and smoothness of processes (APIs, modularity).

One should also bear in mind that blockchain, by bringing a new form of trust, challenges the intermediary role of financial institutions. The hype of a few years back has gone, but new versions of the technology, by being less energy voracious, faster in processing and easier to implement, will broaden its use.

Commoditisation and unbundling

Commoditisation removes the uniqueness of a product so that it becomes interchangeable with other products of the same type, allowing competition on price only. For example, the harmonisation of the payment infrastructure has largely turned single payments into a commodity. Foreign exchange has been another clear example for a while and trade finance products are fast joining this category.

A consequence of commoditisation is unbundling, i.e. the process of breaking down traditionally bundled products or services into individual components that can be purchased separately. This happens for instance when it becomes easy for a corporate treasurer to cut a cash management proposition into pieces and buy the different elements from different banks and even change the provider on a case by case basis.

As in the retail market but probably to a lesser extent, re-bundlers will be needed to reduce the “cost of search” resulting from the buyers having too many options. They will do that by offering a more complete solution, for instance “Business-in-a-box” for merchants. However, re-bundlers will more likely be fintechs, platforms or marketplaces, and not financial institutions in the traditional sense since it would require them to enter into a new business model going beyond financial services only.

Like disintermediation, this will greatly affect the traditional go-to-market approach based on personal relationship with corporate customers.

Data usage

Since the financial services industry is essentially about sourcing, processing, analysing and storing data, we can anticipate that it will continue to be greatly affected by advances in computing power, cloud services and AI, as well as new sources of data.

One example is the use of alternative data in investment management, from traditionally structured financial data to new types of data such as satellite images, social media posts, geolocation data, credit cards transactions and mobile application data.

In an earlier article co-written with Bernardo Antunes, we also speculated that if banks could make sense of all their proprietary data, starting with payments data, enrich it with data available in the market and process it with sophisticated AI, they could really gain a unique and powerful role in society. This in turn could be converted into a lucrative business, especially in the B2B segment.

Generally, the use of AI on large data sets is radically changing how risk management is done at banks and insurance companies (including fraud, compliance and credit risks).

New regulations

An example of a game changing regulation is Basel IV which made banks hardly competitive any more in delivering bank guarantees since private insurers are under a more lenient capital regulation. However, in my opinion, regulatory environments are generally more protective than disruptive. Regulatory authorities are keen to keep market stability and although from time to time they seem to be challenging the incumbent players, the last thing they wish is to disrupt them and create systemic risk.

In fact even Open Banking regulations (PSD2–3) that are supposed to level the playing field for new Payment Service Providers, have had a really limited impact on banks. API banking, based on commercial APIs and hence driven by market offer and demand, will instead have a much larger effect.


I posit that everything that can be automated will ultimately be automated, as advances in technology bring ever more simple and affordable solutions. This means that only the financial service solutions that allow automation will be acceptable to corporate customers.

For a corporate treasury, it means that its operations will over time be automated, from payments to reconciliation, cash and liquidity management as well as risk handling. For instance, guarantees will be “automatically” requested and delivered by one of their banks (subject to a credit decision algorithm), auto FX rules and account transfers within virtual cash pools will be left to an AI and working capital management will be integrated into logistics with automatic dynamic discounting, payments and account reconciliation.

In the asset management and insurance sectors, automated execution will allow propositions like the fully invested check account (also for companies), on demand insurance and more generally, customised solutions at scale.

Another consequence of automation is that it leads to a near “zero-interaction” model between financial institutions and their corporate customers, at least for daily transactions. In turn, this will question not only their traditional relationship model based on human interaction but will also make their digital customer interface obsolete.

Digital customer interface

Financial institutions are presently polishing their digital interface with corporate customers by combining their scattered portals and making their use easier and more comprehensive. However, over time, everything that can be handled directly through the corporate customer’s own system or portal will likely be handled from it, for the same reason as related to automation, i.e. simpleness and affordability brought by technological advances.

For instance, the corporate treasurer will be able to follow, in real time, her cash, liquidity and risk situation as well as initiate transactions on her own multi-bank dashboard. Hence there will be hardly any need to log into the banks’ respective digital portals. The reduced use of digital customer portals will in turn accelerate the disintermediation trend described above.

Employee productivity

Generative AI is expected to boost productivity in the B2B financial services industry, especially in the front office side, in particular by doing an increasing part of the work of associates in gathering, analysing and producing reports. For instance, ChatGPT is being embedded into the Microsoft 365 suite of tools under the brand name “Co-pilot”, which is akin to an AI personal assistant having access to all the work-related data, from emails, business chats, documents, calendars, contacts and CRM. As such, it brings the context into play, putting together connections and insights in a way that has been so far out of reach.

If handled properly, the quality of the output will be lifted in a very visible way to customers. In addition, by dramatically increasing the productivity of employees for cognitive tasks, fewer of them will be needed and the overall cost will go down. This is disruptive to the extent that it will differentiate those financial institutions that are early adopters at scale from those clinging to older tools.

Changes in corporate customers’ industry sectors

New technologies are affecting entire industry sectors in a way that the services and products provided by financial institutions to their corporate customers may need to be re-invented or else become obsolete.

An example is the coming-of-age of driverless vehicles, especially fleets of cars and trucks, which demands a new approach by insurance companies. In particular, it requires them to review the concept of liability and to change the way they view risk.

Another is the new business models adopted by equipment manufacturers under the Equipment-as-a-Service business proposition that requires a more flexible form of equipment financing. My experience is that leasing companies are totally missing this opportunity, mostly due to stiffness in their internal systems. If this trend expands and they continue to only offer traditional equipment finance products, they may quickly lose market shares to new players.

Preparing for disruption

This overview is just a snapshot of potential disrupters in the B2B financial services industry. In my next article, I will delve into strategies to navigate disruption effectively.

Why bother with digitalising processes in the B2B financial services industry?

It’s all about the relationship, stupid!

Looking into the intricacies of the B2B (Business to Business) financial services industry reveals a noticeable lag in digitalisation compared to its B2C (Business to Consumer) counterpart. It appears that the sense of urgency and motivation for management to overhaul the existing, often analog operational model is lacking. While the retail side of financial institutions is all about the digital interface with individual customers and the automation of processes, making it fully anchored in modernity, the corporate side seems stuck in a bygone era, akin to a scene from a Kaurismaki film.

During my tenure driving the streamlining and digitalisation of processes at the large corporate unit of my former employer, I frequently encountered an implicit sentiment by customer-facing colleagues when proposing radical changes: “But don’t you understand, it’s all about the relationship!”. Their perspective was that while simplifying daily administrative tasks was welcomed, altering a working formula was unnecessary. They believed that success hinged on personal relationships with corporate customers, relegating the rest to behind-the-scenes logistics.

Having been a client executive, I empathise with their viewpoint. Long-term business relationships are pivotal for establishing mutual trust and securing the large mandates. Moreover, transactions with corporate clients involve larger sums, making the costs associated with selling, delivering and administering financial products smaller in relative terms. It also means that tailor made solutions are not prohibitive and in fact often the norm. Consequently, efforts to streamline and digitalise processes often take a back seat.

Another deterrent to modernising the operational model is the daunting nature of the task.

Digitalisation poses unique challenges in B2B

Selling products and services in the B2B realm fundamentally differs from B2C, evident in the methods of reaching customers, the relationship dynamics, decision-making rationale, process complexity, and delivery methods.

This disparity amplifies when financial services move online, accentuating issues of trust and risk management as physical interactions between service providers and buyers diminish. In particular, the seller not only needs to authenticate the person representing the corporate buyer, but also to understand what their rights to act on behalf of their company are.

Furthermore, as transactions increase in size, the process becomes inherently more intricate. For instance, the granting of a large loan to a corporation requires the writing of a credit memo and a formal review in a credit committee. While the workflow leading to the credit decision may be greatly improved, complete automation remains elusive, unlike the streamlined processes in consumer financing.

If these challenges weren’t sufficient to deter well-intentioned initiatives, the final blow may come from corporate customers themselves.

Lack of corporate interest

On the customer facing side, there is less demand for a top notch portal backed by automatised processes. While employees in corporations ideally seek the same digital touch and service in their professional lives as in their private ones, they acknowledge that, on their side too, systems are predominantly outdated.

For instance, most corporations are not ready to integrate external APIs proposed by financial institutions, although it would allow system-to-system integration as a basis for automation. In fact, the main risk for process innovation in B2B is its premature introduction. If corporate customers show no interest, promising solutions will fade into oblivion. This has been well exemplified by the fall of basically all the new platforms like we.trade or Contour that were reinventing how trade finance can be done: companies were simply not yet ready to change their trade finance processes.

Financial institutions focus on their existing operating model

As highlighted in a previous article, efficiency gains have predominantly driven efforts to streamline and digitalise business processes in the financial industry. Building an internal business case is simpler when measurable parameters like cost reduction, time savings or fewer errors are involved. This means that projects often have short term goals, they focus on specific issues only, and hence they tend to be scattered around the organisation without a common perspective. As a result, the benefits are under optimised.

The other issue is that even when projects go beyond the short term cost-cutting route and instead aim at smarter execution and improved customer experiences, they tend to address only the existing operational and business model. Little reflection is devoted to potential future models that financial institutions could or might be forced to implement to stay relevant. And there is even less back casting efforts to determine what types of enablers should be built today in order to acquire the needed agility and in that way keep options open to enter some of those future models.

For instance, transforming processes into plug-and-play modules with real time connections could provide the interoperability necessary for sustained agility. But even this argument seems to fall on deaf ears, especially since the prevailing sentiment is that incumbent financial institutions are resilient to newcomers and show no sign of obsolescence.

Sparse signs of disruption in B2B financial services

The importance of long term customer relationships, the complexity to provide fully digitalised financial products, corporate customer reluctance to adopt them and the high level of regulation explain the limited entry of new players into the B2B financial services arena. While fintechs offer point solutions, improving a small part of the value chain, scaling remain a challenge for them.

In this context, procrastination is easy, especially when short term profitability takes precedence over transformational projects that are initially cost-heavy and yield benefits only years down the line.

I however wonder how long can a given organisation remain antiquated in a world that seems to be accelerating with the implementation of new technologies, exemplified by the leaps in generative AI.

In an upcoming article, I will explore this anachronism further by examining the risks of disruption in the B2B financial services industry.

Management consultants in the financial sector: leeches or change catalysts

In the first two articles of this series (article one, article two), I defined the concept of efficiency and digitalization in the financial industry and presented the benefits it brings, with a focus on interoperability and business transformation agility. I then listed ten basic rules to avoid the main pitfalls and apply best practice in related projects. I now reflect on the role of management consultant, having in the past been on the customer side before recently switching my role to that of a consultant myself. For each assignment, how can I provide the best value for money and leave behind me a positive legacy?

External consultants are expensive and useless

My former boss disliked external consultants. For him they were a bit like leeches, sucking money from their customers but delivering little in exchange. He was annoyed by their grand introductory speeches about their capabilities and what they could bring to the organisation, only to later introduce junior consultants who would come in, interview the staff and deliver a heavy bunch of pre-formatted powerpoint slides summarising what they had gathered during the interviews.

Once they had left, leaving behind them a set of more or less vague recommendations, the customer would not have built any more competence or knowledge. This is why he was a fervent supporter of developing skills in-house.

Why are consultants then so widely used?

I have noticed a number of reasons, good and bad, invoked to hire an external consultant.

The most current one is the absence of internal resources, either for lack of competence but more often than not because the relevant employees don’t have any spare time to lead a transformational project. Another is that hiring an external consultant seems like an easy decision: you just need a budget and hope that the rest will handle by itself, i.e. that the consultant will take care of everything.

It is also a question of attitude. As the saying goes, “No one is a prophet in their own land”, meaning that it is difficult to be recognised by close colleagues as a transformational leader. Instead, external experts, especially when coming from the large consulting firms, have an aura of competence. It is often justified but the risk is that the team they send has little experience in the financial industry. As a result, the organisation’s own competent people spend time just to get the consultants up the learning curve.

A better reason to call-in external consultants is that they bring a view from outside, not burdened by how things have always been done. Their thinking is not distorted by entrenched practices or even internal politics. They can for instance make controversial recommendations which challenge the internal status-quo, something that internal employees or managers may not dare to do.

In addition, they bring structure to the reflection, and in this respect the pre-formatted slides I mentioned above are also a way to apply an academic thinking into what may look like complex operations. Defining the parameters at play and establishing how they interact can make wonders in clarifying the discussion.

And last but not least, since they intervene at competitors, they can get a good view on other industry practices and recreate the best-in-class methods. This is however akin to industrial spying, so make sure you are on the receiver side and protect your replicable competitive advantages.

A consultant, like a smart but turbulent kid, needs to be tightly managed

Consultants should not be called-in with an open mandate, like “here is the status of our operations, please come up with a plan to digitalize our processes”. Instead management should first have a clear view of their financial institution’s strategy and goals for the coming years. What is the ambition, what role to play in the forming ecosystems, how much of a transformational journey is the organisation ready to undertake?

As I mentioned in the previous article, if for instance the focus is on short term cost cutting, a low-tech streamlining of individual workflows across the organisation will likely deliver the best results. If on the contrary the institution is aiming at a leading role in the future financial ecosystems where interoperability is a prerequisite, the consultant’s mandate should include a review of the overall technological architecture.

The risk otherwise is that, with a too open mandate, consultants will be all over, advising on the overall strategy as well as on specific operational processes, and maximising their billing hours while doing so.

The road less travelled

I see my role initially as a sparring partner to the management of a financial institution, starting with a review of their vision, strategy and goals, and the means (money and resources) they are ready to use to achieve them. When this is clear, the next step is to understand how the existing operational model, including the business processes, fit into the future picture and how much will need to be changed. This is then a good basis to scope the process efficiency project.

The next step is to appoint a project driver and a core team from inside the organisation. I view myself as an initiator and mentor of related projects, relying on the own staff of a financial institution to carry out the bulk of the work (if needed aided by my fellow Uhma Solutions’ colleagues). The aim is to build the know-how within the customer itself and make sure that, once the consultant has left, the project is self-sustainable.

This differs markedly from the usual approach of the large consulting firms and is in my opinion the best guarantee that there will be value for money.

Suomalaiset eläkevarat ja varhaisvaiheen yritykset – helppo ratkaisu vaikeaan ongelmaan

Suomalaisten eläkeyhtiöiden tulisi perustaa yhteinen erillisyhtiö, joka sijoittaisi omistajiensa varoja suomalaisiin varhaisvaiheen yrityksiin sekä rahastojen kautta että suoraan.

Ennen edellä väitetyn perusteluita tehkäämme lyhyt katsaus nykytilanteeseen. Jyri Engeström ja Timo Ahonpelto käsittelevät eläkeyhtiöiden sijoituksia suomalaisiin varhaisvaiheen yrityksiin podcastissään Startup-ministeriö (Kymmenkertaistetaan startup-sijoitukset, 6.11.2023). He mainitsevat eläkeyhtiöiden allokaation suomalaisiin varhaisvaiheen yrityksiin olevan tällä hetkellä noin 0,5 %:n luokkaa kaikista eläkeyhtiöiden hallinnoimista varoista. Koska eläkevaroja on yhteensä noin 250 miljardia euroa, sijoitusten euromääräiseksi arvioksi saadaan 1,25 miljardia. Tämä ei ole missään nimessä mitätön summa.

Väitän, että on suomalaisten eläkeyhtiöiden ja suomalaisen eläkejärjestelmän edunmukaista kasvattaa sijoitusallokaatiota suomalaisiin varhaisvaiheen yrityksiin. Suomi on pääomaköyhä maa, jossa on paljon hyviä ideoita, runsaasti hienoja alkuvaiheen yrityksiä ja suotuisat olosuhteet yrittämiselle. Eläkeyhtiöt eli käytännössä suomalainen eläkejärjestelmä hyötyisi kahdella tavalla menestyvistä suomalaisista yrityksistä. Ensiksi ansaitsemalla hyviä sijoitustuottoja yritysten omistajina. Toiseksi saamalla tulevaisuudessa suurempaa maksutuloa talouden dynamiikan (lue työllisyyden) parantuessa menestyvien ja kasvavien yritysten toiminnan kautta.

Jos edellä esitetty allokaation kasvattaminen nähtäisiin järkeväksi, jäisi päätettäväksi tapa toteuttaa allokaation kasvattaminen. Minusta paras ja nopein tapa on eläkeyhtiöiden (Varma, Ilmarinen, Elo, Veritas, Keva, VER) yhteinen erillisyhtiötä, joka sijoittaisi pääasiassa suomalaisiin listaamattomiin yrityksiin suoraan ja rahastojen kautta sekä omaa että vierasta pääomaa. Näen yhteiselle erillisyhtiölle useita perusteita:

  • Jos sijoituksia kasvatetaan, pitää sijoittamiseen käytettäviä resursseja kasvattaa. Lähtötilanteessa yksittäisillä eläkeyhtiöillä ei ole suomalaisiin listaamattomiin yhtiöihin erikoistuneita sijoitustiimejä, sillä nykyinen allokaatio 0,5 %:a sijoitusomaisuudesta ei ole perustellut omia tiimejään. On huomattavasti nopeampaa kerätä osaava ja hyvin resursoitu tiimi erillisyhtiöön kuin kasvattaa resursseja kaikissa eläkeyhtiöissä erikseen.
  • Erillisyhtiö voisi rakentaa prosessit, käytänteet ja kulttuurin vastaamaan varhaisvaiheen yrityksiin sijoittamisen tarpeita eikä sen tarvitsisi toimia alisteisena ison institutionaalisen sijoittajan kulttuurissa. Toisaalta eläkeyhtiöt pystyvät omistajan roolissa antamaan uudelle yhtiölle merkittävää tukea sekä tekemään strategisia valintoja pidemmälle tulevaisuuteen.
  • Mahdollisesti isoin hyöty sijoittamisesta suomalaiseen VC-kenttään tulee eläkeyhtiöille epäsuorasti kasvavina maksutuloina. Tämä hyöty tulee kaikille eläkeyhtiöille riippumatta siitä, kuka sijoittamisen toteuttaa. Tärkeintä olisi, että nämä sijoitukset toteutetaan. Erillisyhtiö varmistaisi tämän.
  • Uusi, iso toimija saisi varmasti paljon näkyvyyttä, mikä osaltaan auttaisi houkuttelemaan Suomeen uusia yrittäjiä, yrityksiä ja sijoittajia
  • Erillisyhtiö voisi olla toiminnassaan huomattavasti avoimempi kuin yksittäiset eläkeyhtiöt ovat nykyisellään. Tällöin myös yhtiön kautta sijoitettavia varoja on huomattavasti helpompi valvoa varojen omistajien eli kaikkien nykyisten ja tulevien eläkeläisten toimesta, mikä mielestäni korostuu Suomeen ja listaamattomiin yhtiöihin sijoitettaessa.
  • Erillisyhtiön kautta suomalainen eläkejärjestelmä saisi uutta ja positiivista näkyvyyttä Suomessa.
  • Uuden yhtiön kautta omistajina toimivat eläkeyhtiöt saisivat erittäin mielenkiintoisen näkökulman Suomen talouden tilaan ja pääsisivät seuramaan läheltä uusien innovaatioiden ja ideoiden muodostumista.
  • Erillisyhtiötä olisi myös mahdollista käsitellä eläkeyhtiöitä koskevassa vakavaraisuussääntelyssä ”kannustavasti”, jos eläkeyhtiöiden sijoitusriskin ottamista haluttaisiin lisätä. Sijoitusriskin lisäämisestä eläkejärjestelmästä taas tuntuu olevan laaja konsensus tällä hetkellä.

Suomi ja suomalainen eläkejärjestelmä hyötyisi suuresti lisäsijoituksista suomalaisiin listaamattomiin yrityksiin. Suomalaisessa eläkejärjestelmässä taas on runsaasti pääomia sijoitettuna ja sijoitusvarallisuus tulee kasvamaan edelleen tulevina vuosina. Monesti helpoimmat ja yksinkertaisimmat ideat ovat parhaimpia.

A quick guide to the digitalization of business processes in the financial industry

In my previous article, I defined the concept of efficiency and digitalization in the financial industry and presented the benefits it brings, with a focus on interoperability and business transformation agility. I am now using my first-hand experience at leading efforts in this area to come up with ten basic rules to avoid the main pitfalls and apply best practice.

Rule #1: Change has to come from the top

There are a number of reasons why the transformation of business processes in a financial institution needs to be strongly anchored in the top management.

Firstly, it should be clearly aligned to the strategic priorities and the vision to be achieved. Where does the firm aim to be in three to five years from now? How does the transformation fit into the current overall strategy? For instance, if the focus is on short term cost cutting, I would advise on a low-tech streamlining of individual workflows and the introduction of robots to replace more expensive humans wherever possible. If on the contrary the institution is aiming at a leading role in the future financial ecosystems where interoperability will be a prerequisite, the project should start with a review of the overall technological architecture and be driven on a company basis.

The other reason is that change does not happen by itself, especially in incumbent financial institutions where the staff is used to doing things in a certain way and where Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) are too often missing. In addition, individual units are primarily focused on their KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) which are usually short term goals in a “business as usual” mindset. It is therefore the role of upper management to take the balcony view, set longer term goals, allocate the resources and follow-up on the achievements.

In any case, it is also only upper management which can break the mental barriers to change. People tend to love the status quo and the hurdle to change how things have always been done is really high. Yes, initiatives will be regularly started from the ground by enthusiastic employees, but unless they get support which goes beyond moral encouragement, they will tire and return to their business-as-usual mindset.

Rule #2: Someone needs to take a driving role for any given end-to-end process

End-to-end processes involve, by definition, a number of units, including the front line sales team, the product units as well as the support units (compliance, middle and back office, etc.). Each one can try to improve its own way of doing, i.e. its contribution to the full workflow, but if no one takes the responsibility of the whole value chain, little will happen.

Hence the need for a driver with a clear mandate from management.

In many cases, the customer fronting unit is the one best place to take ownership of the whole value chain since they are the first one to suffer from inefficient processes. For instance when admin tasks take too much of their time, errors are regularly made and customers complain about long delays in answering their requests. Ultimately, they are responsible for what is delivered to their customers, they get allocated all the costs involved and they are the only unit with the total view on the end-to-end value chain.

Rule #3: Start from the core processes

It is tempting to address a specific process inefficiency with a local solution. It is in fact the way to go if solving this pain point can be done by redesigning it (how information is flowing, who is involved, etc.) and questioning rules (for instance internal procedures to comply with a given regulation can be unnecessarily strict). But if the effort involves the use of technology at scale, it makes sense to start with the core processes.

Core processes attract more attention and are more likely to get funding and resources. A cascading effect can then be initiated by demanding the digitalization of connected processes and is a good opportunity to insist on having clear internal SLAs (Service Level Agreements) and full auditability and visibility of those supporting processes.

Rule #4: Use common sense before calling-in a robot or an AI

Transforming end-to-end processes in a profound way requires the widespread use of technology (Digital platforms, robots, workflow tools, iBPMs, AI, etc.) but also to apply common sense. My experience is that some of the initiatives require substantial development resources and IT budget, but many of them are more about clarifying roles and responsibilities, and challenging the internal guidelines which in many cases have become outdated.

A method used by my former employer really made a difference. We created ChangeLabs which gathered around a facilitator all the participants in a specific value chain for a time-boxed “sprint” lasting a few weeks. This brought a structure as well as a proven framework for analysing the pain points, prioritising the issues and looking for concrete, and primarily short term, solutions.

Rule #5: Optimising current processes is not the end game

A trap I have noticed too many times is the urge to improve current processes without reflecting on the possibility to completely reinvent them. The risk is to focus on doing better what has always been done, to improve bits and pieces or even to make them more digital or automated. Instead, end-to-end processes should be rethought totally and redesigned in the best possible way, using technology where it makes sense.

Digitalization efforts should also be seen as a unique opportunity to question the status-quo, anticipate what is coming in the financial industry sector and prepare for it. For instance, what if the existing business model or large chunks of it start to be obsolete in 5 or 10 years time? It is generally difficult to grasp the industry trends and conclude on how they will affect the current business, but one thing can be done: to keep options open. In this respect and since ecosystems are becoming prevalent, building a high level of interoperability for the key business processes is a decision which has little downside.

Rule #6: Aim at modularisation

Such interoperability is reached when processes and sub-processes can plug-and-play into each other and with the external world. This means that, when processes are redesigned, the goal should be to move towards modularisation: each process should be chopped into a series of modules (or micro-services) built as APIs. This brings flexibility and the ability to easily change or upgrade a given micro-service.

For instance, a modular corporate lending process is made up of micro-services that are integrated together to deliver, i.a., the credit rating of the customer, the list of all the bank’s exposures to a given customer, or the industry sector analysis. When this is achieved, data can flow between systems in real time, eliminating rekeying, manual imports and inconsistent formatting. In such a set-up, a good governance model is really important, with in particular each microservice having an owner, i.e. someone responsible for its performance and improvement.

Rule #7: Measure what you can, before and after

As Peter Drucker coined it, “you can’t manage what you can’t measure”. This is all the more valid in a business efficiency project where the development budget needed will be weighted against the benefits it will bring. To be credible, the business case needs to include easily measurable and credible parameters like cost to process (primarily employee time needed), speed (time from initiation of the process to the delivery of its output) and reliability (down-time, number of errors and related costs).

Other benefits, for example increased sales thanks to more efficient processes, better auditability of those processes or the production of extra data are more difficult to measure. And when it comes to technology infrastructure transformation, for instance to reach a high level of interoperability, it is more about a strategic bet on the future than an excel calculation (although in many cases those will be produced).

Rule #8: Communicate relentlessly

Like for any change initiative, it pays off to involve at an early stage all those who will be affected, for instance by interviewing as many of them as possible on the current processes and asking for improvement suggestions. During the development phase, progress reports should be circulated very regularly (or better, presented in person) not only to management but equally importantly to those who will be affected by the change. And during the implementation of new processes, especially when technology is used and affects the way people cooperate with each other (for instance an iBPMS platform), you should not take for granted that those affected will immediately change their way of doing and you should instead continue to evangelise the benefits generated.

In fact, it is smart to groom early adopters to be advocates of the new processes, by involving them all along and using them as a reference board. They will be very instrumental to spread the good word, especially if they are considered as influencers.

Rule #9: Be ready for setbacks

Changing the way things are currently done faces resistance from many directions, so be prepared for a roller coaster of achievements and setbacks. I have for instance met the following obstacles:

  • Multiple stakeholders in the value chain, making the anchoring, decision making, prioritisation and funding process cumbersome;
  • Scarce resources within stakeholder teams, especially in support units which have experienced staff reduction and near or off-shoring, leaving experienced employees with very little time for development initiatives;
  • IT organisation (development and architecture) more concerned about keeping the shop running and avoiding risks;
  • Kafkaesque process for evaluating and onboarding external technology providers or partners.

Rule #10: Keep a positive spirit

Be patient with the naysayers, they are often just worried about their job. And resist those who argue that “we need to fix the basics first to get a good foundation in place before we can truly innovate and transform”. I agree that it is difficult to innovate when there is a weak platform, processes are manual and data access and quality are poor. But if you listen to them, there will always be something to be fixed first.

As I like to say, attitude is everything …

In my next article, after taking a harsh look at the role of traditional business consultants, I will try to define a novel way to combine external contributions with internal competence build-up.

The digitalization of business processes in the financial industry is becoming a licence to operate

In a series of three articles, I first describe why the digitalization of business processes in the financial industry is becoming a licence to operate. I then move on to the how and enact ten rules to avoid the main pitfalls as well as apply best practice. And in a third text on the by whom, after taking a harsh look at the role of traditional business consultants, I try to define a novel way to combine external advice with internal competence build-up.

Let’s now start by defining what it is all about and present the benefits it brings, with a focus on the new elephant in the room: interoperability. In particular I argue that, although efficiency gains have so far been its prime driver, interoperability (plug-and-play modularity with real time connections for all the main processes and sub-processes), by enabling business transformation agility, will soon prevail as the main incentive for the digitalization of business processes in the financial sector.

It is all about data management

The financial industry sector has in common the offering of immaterial products and services: whether it is an insurance, a loan or an investment fund, the only thing that is produced and moved around is data and its more elaborate form, information. A financial business process is therefore a sequential series of tasks, or workflow, that takes a set of data to a finished state. Apart from the customer relationship which in certain cases still needs to be handled physically, the financial industry is therefore essentially about sourcing, processing, analysing and storing data.

Process efficiency is (nearly) synonymous with process digitalization

In this respect, digitization should not be mixed up with digitalization. Digitization is the action of converting information into a digital (i.e. computer-readable) format whilst the digitalization of a process is its adaptation so that it can be operated with the use of computers and the internet. Hence digitization is generally the first step in the journey towards the digitalization of a process. In turn, process efficiency aims at improving a process (to be faster, cheaper, more reliable, etc.) which can be done in many ways, including simply redesigning it or off-shoring it, but in a data driven industry, it also generally ends-up involving its digitalization.

The financial industry relies on a few key processes

It starts with the customer interface to handle bilateral communications and extends to the underlying processes to support it (identification and authorisation, execution of a customer request, display of information about the status of the relationship, etc). Another one relates to the customer life cycle management which, in a highly regulated industry, has an inflated role since it is strongly linked to compliance, from customer onboarding, KYC (Know Your Customer) and AML (Anti Money Laundering) procedures, until possibly exit scenarios. I can also mention the end-to-end processes related to the offering, delivery and administration of financial products and services, as well as all the processes supporting risk management.

The many facets of process efficiency

Process efficiency means different things depending on the type of process. In the customer interface, it is generally a portal accessible from a computer or designed as a mobile app. It should be easy to log-in, have a clear interface, display all the relevant information, guarantee a secure communication, give access to a document library and allow you to handle all usual requests, not to mention the fast improving chatbots. In addition, the portal should be connected to all the corresponding internal systems to maximise the level of automation. With corporate customers, the interface should be complemented by APIs so that the systems of the customer can directly communicate with those of the financial service provider.

For other processes, such as AML or the administration of transactions, a high level of automation is usually pursued, with only exceptional cases surfacing to be handled by a human. In addition, some processes, like the credit decision making for corporate customers, require the cooperation of a large number of units inside the organisation. In this case, a iBPMS (intelligent Business Process Management System) can be the solution, integrating in an overall platform the required subprocesses (for instance sourcing the data related to outstanding credit exposures, or the delivery of the credit rating).

In fact, some argue that the implementation of a iBPMS is the solution for all process implementations, with applications and data sources below this layer. It doesn’t need to be the only interface but should be connected and responsible for them.

Benefits go well beyond lower costs, faster processes and fewer errors

The most immediate benefit of streamlining and digitalizing an end-to-end process is the resulting improvement in internal efficiency with a faster process, a quicker decision making and ultimately lower internal costs. All of this with a consistency in quality, more predictable execution times and a better auditability, the latter point being key in the highly regulated financial industry. Another benefit is that it allows to create a modern digital communication channel with customers such that it is not just a digital user interface requiring manual work on the back of it but a real end-to-end integrated process.

A digitalized process also produces new data which can be used by management, for instance related to cost transparency or potential bottlenecks, and supports the prioritisation of internal development portfolios and workforce capacity planning. In addition, an automated process means that the operations, and in particular tailored client solutions, are more scalable.

Interoperability is the new elephant in the room

Streamlining and digitalizing a single process, even end-to-end, is an achievement. However, a financial institution will only get the full benefits if all the efficiency efforts are coordinated at company level. In particular, it is only when the overall technological architecture allows a plug-and-play modularity with real time connections for all the processes and sub-processes, that it will reach the interoperability level needed for an effective business model transformation.

In practice, it will allow to break internal silos and build platforms that can support multiple segments, markets and activities. For instance, my experience is that units serving the retail segment have had their own processes and systems supporting them, distinct from those serving the corporate segment, falsely justified by the fact that the two business models are so different. But when each sub-process is transformed into a micro-service that can be plugged into other micro-services through APIs, most of them can be used in both segments.

Externally, the benefits of interoperability are even larger. It starts with making optimal use of the cloud and other vendors services. It greatly facilitates outsourcing and using shared service centres (for instance asset servicers and custodians in the wealth management sector). It also lowers the barrier to partner with Fintechs, technology vendors or data providers. Even the collaboration with competing firms, for example when building a joint Know Your Customer (KYC) data gathering platform, is greatly facilitated.

Corporate customers will also increasingly demand the possibility to connect through APIs with the systems of their financial service provider. For instance, corporate treasurers looking at automating their operations prefer to be able to handle cash management or trade finance related tasks directly from their system, without having to manually log into the bank’s customer portal.

From process efficiency to business transformation agility

Efficiency gains have so far been the prime driver of efforts to streamline and digitalize business processes, if only because it is easier to build an internal business case to obtain a development budget when you can use easily measurable parameters, such as cost reduction, time saving or fewer errors.

I however believe that, as interoperability brings business transformation agility and in many instances is becoming a licence to operate, it will soon prevail as the main incentive for the digitalization of business processes in the financial sector.

In the next article, I will put together a quick guide on how to carry-out the streamlining and digitalization of business processes, describing how to avoid the main pitfalls and apply best practice.

Uusi Uhmalainen – Sami Ahon mietteitä kehittämisestä finanssialalla

Miksi päätit vaihtaa mielenkiintoisesta positiosta ja työympäristöstä Elon sijoituksessa Uhmaan ja finanssialan konsultointiin?

Työ Elolla oli erittäin mielenkiintoista ja palkitsevaa. Päätös vaihtamisesta ei ollut helppo. Henkilökohtaisella tasolla olen aina kokenut kiinnostusta yrittäjyyttä kohtaan ja sopivan tilanteen tarjouduttua siihen oli tartuttava. Ammatillisessa mielessä näen, että kokemukseni avulla pystyn tuottamaan monille finanssialan toimijoille lisäarvoa.

Millaisia kehityskulkuja/trendejä olet havainnut sijoittamisessa/finanssialalla viimeisinä vuosina?

Yhä useammat toimijat keräävät dataa monimuotoisesti, ja julkipilveen siirtyminen on lisännyt kustannustehokkuutta ja mahdollisuuksia. Kerättyä dataa ei kuitenkaan käytetä vielä hyödyksi päätöksenteon tukena optimaalisella tavalla, koska data ei ole tarpeeksi joustavasti käytettävissä koko organisaation tasolla. Potentiaali lisäarvoa tuottavien analyysien toteuttamiseen on todella merkittävä ja lopulta saavutettavissa hyvin maltillisilla investoinneilla. Tärkeintä tässä on koko organisaation motivaatio ja sitoutuminen siihen, että kerätystä datasta otetaan hyöty talteen.

Millä keinoin näet, että finanssialan toimijoilla on mahdollisuus hankkia kilpailuetua tulevaisuudessa?

Modernien kehitysympäristöjen käyttäminen ja integroiminen osaksi joustavaa kehitysmallia. Data scientisteille ja muille datan parissa töitään tekeville tulee sallia mahdollisuus käyttää tarjolla olevia ja tehokkaita työkaluja. On luotava kehitysympäristö, missä data on mahdollisimman helposti ja standardoidussa muodossa käytettävissä. Tällöin dataa voidaan jalostaa helposti ja nopeasti päätöksenteon tueksi. Uskon, että lopulta finanssialalla voittavat ne, jotka hyödyntävät dataansa järkevimmin. Oli tämä sitten sijoituspäätösten tekemistä tai sujuvien ja miellyttävien asiakasprosessien tarjoamista.

Mitkä ovat finanssialan tyypillisimmät haasteet kehittämisen suhteen?

Haastavinta on löytää henkilöitä, jotka ymmärtävät koko datan elinkaaren. Tällä tarkoitan sekä liiketoimintatarvetta että teknistä kokonaisuutta, joka muodostuu pilvi-infrastruktuurista, dataprosesseista ja analyysityökaluista. Viitaten edelliseen vastaukseeni lopulta voittaja on datan tehokkain käyttäjä ja siinä kokonaisuus ratkaisee.

CSRD tulee, oletko valmis

Vuosi 2024 tulee olemaan merkittävä vastuullisen sijoittamisen historiassa. Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) astuu voimaan ja tulee paljastamaan erot sijoitusorganisaatioiden välillä.

Vastuullisuus tai vastuullinen sijoittaminen ilmestyi finanssialalla noin 15 vuotta sitten. Finanssiorganisaatiot ymmärsivät, että niiden tulisi näyttää ulospäin vastuullisilta ajan hengen mukaisesti. Toisaalta kukaan ei tiennyt, mitä vastuullinen sijoittaminen käytännössä tarkoittaa.

Ratkaisu vastuullisuushaasteeseen oli yksinkertainen ja suoraviivainen. Vastuullisuudesta kyllä viestittiin laajasti, mutta käytännön vastuullisuustoimenpiteet jäivät lähes kokonaan tekemättä. Aurinkopaneeleita käytiin laittamassa toimiston katolle, mutta sijoittaminen jatkui samoin periaattein kuin aikaisemminkin.

Samaan aikaan sijoitusorganisaatiot alkoivat toistaa yhteistä mantraa: meillä vastuullisuus on integroitu sijoitusprosesseihin. Tarkastellaan mantraa tarkemmin alla kuvatun ”kehityskolmion” avulla. Kolmion ylimpänä kerroksena on organisaation liiketoimintatavoitteet. Jos vastuullisuus on integroitu sijoitusprosesseihin, sen on oltava joko ylimmässä kerroksessa liiketoimintatavoitteena tai alemmissa kerroksissa yhtenä keinona saavuttaa liiketoimintatavoitteet.

Olkaamme rehellisiä. Vastuullisuus ei ole itsenäinen tavoite yhdellekään finanssialan toimijalle. Kukaan ei uhraa tuottoja tehdäkseen vastuullisuustekoja. Täten vastuullisuus on aina keino saavuttaa yrityksen primääritavoitteet. Tämä on äärimmäisen tärkeää ymmärtää ja myöntää, jos tavoitteena on saada aikaiseksi konkreettisia tuloksia viestinnän sijaan.

Vastuullisuus tai vastuullinen sijoittaminen on siis keino saavuttaa primääritavoitteet. Nyt vastuullisuuden pitäisi tarjota jotain uutta ja arvokasta tietoa sijoituspäätösten tekemiseen eli vastuullisuuteen liittyvää tietoa on saatava datakerrokseen. Sen lisäksi on ymmärrettävä ne mekanismit, joilla vastuullisuuteen liittyvä data ja tieto vaikuttavat sijoituskohteiden arvoon. Näiden ehtojen on täytyttävä, jotta vastuullisuus voitaisiin integroida osaksi sijoitusprosessia.

Toistaiseksi ei ole ollut (paljoakaan) luotettavaa ja vertailukelpoista dataa vastuullisuuteen liittyen. Salkunhoitajan työtä tehneenä voin varmuudella todeta, että on vaikea integroida vastuullisuus osaksi sijoitusprosessia, jos ei ole oikein mitään mitä integroida. Ilman luotettavaa dataa ei myöskään ole mahdollista tunnistaa mekanismeja, joilla vastuullisuuteen liittyvä data mahdollisesti muuttaisi sijoituskohteiden arvoa.

Kaikki tämä muuttuu.  Yritysten vastuullisuusraportoinnista tulee kattavaa, vertailukelpoista ja luotettavaa, kun CSRD tulee asteittain voimaan vuodesta 2024 alkaen. Alkuvuodesta 2025 suuret listatut yritykset julkaisevat ensimmäiset raporttinsa perustuen vuoden 2024 toteumiin. Vuodesta 2026 eteenpäin direktiiviä sovelletaan myös pieniin ja keskisuuriin listattuihin yrityksiin.

Oma näkemykseni ja toiveeni on, että CSRD:n voimaantulo antaa merkittävää kilpailuetua niille finanssitoimijoille, jotka ovat valmistautuneet tähän muutokseen. Nämä organisaatiot kykenevät ottamaan uutta tietoa sijoitusprosessiinsa ja muuttamaan sen liiketoiminta-arvoksi parempina sijoituspäätöksinä. Toisaalta vain viestintään panostaneet organisaatiot ovat merkittävän haasteen edessä, kun lupaukset pitää lunastaa pohjautuen yrityksiltä itseltään tulevaan luotettavaan ja julkiseen vastuullisuusdataan.

Vuosi 2025 on vuosi, jolloin vastuullisuus on ensimmäistä kertaa aidosta integroitavissa sijoitusprosesseihin. Toisaalta se on myös ensimmäinen vuosi, jolloin vastuullisuus pitää olla integroituna osaksi sijoitusprosesseja.

Tarkemmin Euroopan arvopaperimarkkinaviranomaisen (ESMA) sääntelyyn liittyviä tapahtumia ja sääntelykokonaisuuksia on käsitelty täällä:
Vastuullisen sijoittamisen sääntelyn tapahtumat ja aikataulu selkokielellä (pdf)

Vain riittävän vakavaraiset eläkeyhtiöt saavuttavat tarvittavat sijoitustuotot

Yksityisten eläkeyhtiöiden sijoitustoimintaan liittyviä erityispiirteitä ei juurikaan tunneta ja ymmärretä yhtiöiden ulkopuolella. Tilanne ei ole yhteiskunnan kannalta optimaalinen, sillä yhtiöt sijoittavat yhteensä noin 145 miljardin euron arvosta yhteisiä eläkevarojamme. Julkinen keskustelu eläkevarojen sijoittamisesta on toivottavaa.

Tässä kirjoituksessa esitämme ja perustellemme lyhyesti kaksi väitettä:

  1. Yhteiskunnallamme ei ole varaa päästää yhtään eläkeyhtiötä alhaiseen vakavaraisuuteen ja hävitä näin sijoitustuottoja.
  2. Syyt nykyisille eläkeyhtiöiden vakavaraisuuseroille johtuvat paljolti eroista eläkeyhtiöiden asiakaskunnassa, mutta ilmiötä ei ymmärretä.

Aloitamme lyhyellä selityksellä eläkeyhtiöiden sääntelystä sijoitustoiminnan näkökulmasta. Säätelyssä eläkeyhtiön vakavaraisuus eli sijoitusvarallisuuden suhde eläkevastuisiin määrittää täysin sen, kuinka paljon eläkeyhtiön on mahdollista ottaa sijoittamisessaan riskiä. Tässä kohtaa ajattelemme, että sijoitusriskin määrä on pitkällä aikavälillä sama kuin sijoittamisen tuotot.

Tiivistäen, mitä vakavaraisempi olet, sitä enemmän voit ottaa sijoitusriskiä. Mitä enemmän otat sijoitusriskiä, sitä suuremmat tuotot saat sijoituksillesi.

1. Heikkoon vakavaraisuuteen ei ole varaa

Toisaalta on helppo ymmärtää, että vakavaraisuudelle ja sijoitustuotoilla on yhteys. Eläkeyhtiöille voidaan määrittää sijoitustuotto, joka säilyttää yhtiön vakavaraisuuden ennallaan. Jos yhtiöt saavuttavat edellä mainittua korkeamman sijoitustuoton, niin yhtiöiden vakavaraisuus paranee. Tämä taas helpottaa tulevien tuottojen saavuttamista.

Toisaalta ilmiö toimii myös toiseen suuntaan. Jos yhtiöt saavuttavat edellä mainittua huonommat sijoitustuotot, niin vakavaraisuus heikkenee. Tämä taas vaikeuttaa tulevien tuottojen saavuttamista.

Tässä piilee vaara. Eläkeyhtiö voi ajautua niin heikkoon vakavaraisuuteen, ettei yhtiö enää voi saavuttaa eläkejärjestelmän kannalta tarvittavia tuottoja. Yhtiö on ajautunut hitaaseen valumiseen kohti toimintakyvyttömyyttä nykyisessä säätelyssä. Näin kävi eläkeyhtiöistä Eteralle, joka sulautettiin osaksi Ilmarista vuonna 2018.

Ensimmäinen väitteemme on, ettei yhteiskunnallamme ole varaa päästää yhtään eläkeyhtiötä alhaiseen vakavaraisuuteen ja hävitä näin sijoitustuottoja. Perustelemme tätä yksinkertaisella laskelmalla, jossa tällä hetkellä heikoimmassa vakavaraisuudessa oleva yhtiö valuisi kohti toimintakyvyttömyyttä.

Oletamme pelkistäen, että hidas valuminen kestää viisi vuotta. Jokaisena vuonna yhtiön tuotot jäävät prosenttiyksikön verran heikommiksi huonon vakavaraisuuden takia kuin vastaavalla vakavaraisella yhtiöllä. Tällöin hävittyjen sijoitustuottojen kautta koituisi yhteiskunnalle yli 1,5 miljardin euron tappiot.

2. Asiakaskunta vaikuttaa

Tästä pääsemme kirjoituksemme toiseen väitteeseen. On mahdollista, että eläkejärjestelmämme sääntöjä on kehitettävä edellä esitettyjen sijoitustappioiden välttämiseksi. Järjestelmän kehittämisen on perustuttava kattavaan ja analyyttiseen ymmärrykseen nykytilanteesta ja sen syistä. Toinen väitteemme on, että nykyiset vakavaraisuuserot eläkeyhtiöiden välillä johtuvat paljolti eroista yhtiöiden vakuutuskannoissa eli asiakaskunnissa.

On luontevaa olettaa vakavaraisuuserojen johtuvan täysin eroista yhtiöiden sijoitustuotoissa. Nämä selittävät kyllä osan eroista. Silti tutkimalla yhtiöiden pitkän aikavälin sijoitustuottoja ja vertaamalla niitä yhtiöiden välisten vakavaraisuuserojen muutoksiin huomaa, että asiaan täytyy liittyä muutakin.

Koska vakavaraisuus on sijoitusvarojen suhde eläkevastuisiin, täytynee loput selityksestä löytyä eläkevastuista. Selkokielellä sanottuna kunkin yhtiön asiakaskunta vaikuttaa yhtiön vakavaraisuuteen ja tätä kautta kunkin yhtiön kykyyn toteuttaa sijoitustoimintaansa.

Yhteiskunnan tasolla vakuutuskanta eli yksityisten eläkeyhtiöiden vakuutetut määräytyvät täysin Suomessa toimivien yksityisten yritysten mukaan, sillä työeläkevakuutus on kaikille pakollinen. Lisäksi eläkevakuutuksen hinnoittelu on järjestelmän puolesta päätetty eikä yksittäisillä eläkeyhtiöillä ole mahdollisuutta vaikuttaa siihen mitenkään. Täten on varsin ongelmallista, kun jotkin eläkeyhtiöt saavat asiakaskuntansa kautta merkittävää suhteellista etua vakavaraisuuteensa toisiin eläkeyhtiöihin nähden.

Nyt olisikin syytä selvittää tarkasti, kuinka paljon erot yhtiöiden asiakaskunnissa ovat vuosien saatossa vaikuttaneet eroihin yhtiöiden vakavaraisuuksissa eli kyvykkyydessä toteuttaa sijoitustoimintaa. Tämä tieto on välttämätön pohdittaessa eläkejärjestelmän tulevia uudistuksia.

Kirjoitus on alunperin julkaistu Kauppalehden Debattina 14.11.2022 (linkki)

Tarkemmin eläkeyhtiöiden sijoittamista koskevaa sääntelyä on lisäksi käsitelty blogissamme: Opas sijoitustoiminnan sielunmaisemaan eläkejärjestelemässä – Tavoitteet ja rajoitteet yksinkertaistettuna