Trust and differences strengthen shared leadership
One is driven by willingness to change, the other by curiosity and the desire to make the complicated simple. One makes quick decisions, the other wants to be completely sure of the facts. Meet Mika Burman Götz and Jonas Svärling who are co-heads of a large part of SEB’s Swedish banking operations.
Mika Burman Götz's path into the banking sector started with Uppsala's studies in business economics and social psychology. During her studies, she worked part-time at SEB's office in Uppsala.
"I have always been extremely interested in the stock market, and during my studies, I started a trading room for students who share this interest."
After her studies, Mika got a job with the non-profit association 'Unga Aktiesparare' (Young Shareholders), where she was responsible for building up an information project for schools. She visited upper secondary schools around Sweden and educated young people about personal finance.
"This is where my driving force comes from and the reason I wanted to work in the financial sector. I saw it as a rather hard industry that could exploit people's ignorance in those days. I wanted to change that and help people to understand the products they buy and what they invest in on the stock exchange."
Responsible for day traders
Eventually, Mika became CEO of Unga Aktiesparare before she took the step over to a job with the niche bank Nordnet. She was responsible for developing the business towards the day trader customer segment. She was later appointed as Deputy Country Manager, Sweden.
"After a while, I realised that there is a limit to what you can achieve with a niche player. If you want to drive change in the sector, you must be with a major bank. So, I joined SEB, although I must admit that at the time, it felt like a big cultural leap to step into the bank on that first day ten years ago," she says.
Her heart beats for digital
Mika has had various managerial roles at SEB, primarily linked to the development of the internet bank and the digital offering.
"With the aid of technology, we can create such unbelievably better products and services. In a digital world, there is different transparency surrounding how we design our products and services and how they are perceived in the market."
Her view of the bank's role has also changed.
"I have understood how much we as a bank contribute to the good of society both for private individuals and companies. We do an unbelievable number of good things, above all within sustainability where we have a stated ambition to contribute to positive change."
Double degree graduate
Jonas Svärling did not grow up in an academic home, but he has always put a lot of effort into school and his studies. He spent his national service in a position still surrounded by secrecy and where he also got to learn Russian.
After his military service, he found it hard to decide on his study programme, which meant that in the end, he stood in front of the post box with two applications, one in each hand. But in the end, it was the envelope containing his application to Engineering Physics at KTH Royal Institute of Technology which got posted.
After his first year of the highly demanding master's programme, he also applied to the Stockholm School of Economics to study for his master's in economics at the same time. This led to a couple of intensive years with scheduled instruction of up to 80 hours per week.
At the Stockholm School of Economics, Jonas also received a prize as the best student who allowed him to study at Stanford University in California for a semester. He used this to do his thesis work for KTH. As a student at the Stockholm School of Economics, he also found time to exchange in Canada.
Started a company
After his double degree from the two universities, Jonas founded an IT consulting company with a fellow student. In addition to consulting assignments, they also launched a hedge fund.
"But it took time to find investors and therefore to get a salary. So I jumped ship and applied to SEB's trainee programme. I am driven by learning things and have a thirst for knowledge. So the trainee programme was perfect since it allowed me to learn a lot quicker and to obtain a holistic view," he says.
Since the trainee programme in 2004, Jonas has worked, among other things, as a quantum mathematician within risk and a specialist within risk, finance and treasury management. In 2010 he was given his first management role, and four years later, he had the privilege of participating in SEB's Wallenberg Institute leadership development programme.
"For me, this was a huge personal journey. This is a world-class leadership development programme with a focus on personal development. For me, it was a fairly major change to realise the importance of people and relationships, having previously buried myself in equations and exams," says Jonas.
Mika and Jonas have been co-heads of the Retail Banking Sweden business area since 2020. This comprises 2,300 employees who handle sales and customer service for private individuals and SMEs in Sweden. They meet customers in offices, over the telephone, digital distance meetings, internet banks, mobile apps, etc.
How does shared leadership work?
"It works well, and one reason is that we attended the Wallenberg Institute simultaneously. This provided an opportunity to get to know each other deeper than normal in business life. This built up the trust that is crucial for our collaboration. We can't be involved in every issue all the time. So, therefore, we must split things between us and trust each other. There must be no prestige issues between us," says Mika.
"Another factor is that we complement each other well. Jonas is a little more thirsty for knowledge, wants an in-depth view, and keeps track of facts while I make decisions a little faster. There, it's good that Jonas can make me stop and take another look at a question. And conversely, I hope I contribute to Jonas speeding up his process because I am more eager to move on."
Personal chemistry and complementary skills
Jonas believes that there are two prerequisites for 'joint leadership' to work.
"The first is that personal chemistry functions and that we have a shared view of leadership. For example, we both believe in the importance of daring to show vulnerability and being open and honest. Soft and kind are sometimes seen as bad words, but they are very favourable.
"The second factor is that we have different strengths and weaknesses. It's dangerous to be too alike. This applies both to the way we address issues and make decisions and other areas of expertise. For example, Mika is far stronger than I am when it comes to digital sales, digital channels, and savings. On the other hand, perhaps I am slightly stronger regarding how a balance sheet and income statement hang together. Here too, we complement each other.
This shared leadership also means access to a sounding board for complex issues.
"It's a real luxury in a co-leadership role to always have access to a coach," says Jonas.
How will the banking world change in the future?
"We are undergoing a transformation which is about effectively meeting customers. We want to ensure that we have the right conditions to meet customers in the way they want. This means that an office meeting is still important in some contexts, for example, when a company finds itself in a more complex situation, or when a private individual is facing a divorce or other major life event," says Mika.
"But otherwise, customers are increasingly seeking support at a distance, everything from digital advisory meetings where we share a screen to being able to handle many matters entirely digitally. Customers want to buy shares in the app, and they don't want to go to a bank office when a child has lost a phone and needs a new Bank ID, to give some examples. The right channel for the right customer at the right time are the keywords."
Jonas believes that banking operations have constantly been exposed to change but that the current movement is more significant and going faster than ever.
"Banking is an unbelievably sluggish business. Change is gradual and is noticed very slowly. This also means that it is almost too late when we start to see effects on customer satisfaction or profitability. A bank is like an oil tanker, and it takes five to ten years to change direction. What we are trying to do now is to get a little ahead of the curve so that we also function well in five years," he says.
Bank of the Year
But, despite the fast pace of change and the pandemic, last year was an excellent year for SEB financially and in terms of customer satisfaction. As the icing on the cake, just before New Year, SEB was named Bank of the Year 2021 by the business magazine Privata Affärer.
"It's incredibly gratifying to receive this award. We are the first major bank to receive it in many years. We are unbelievably proud of our colleagues to have achieved this result, but best of all, customers are happy with what we do. That is the most important thing," says Mika.