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Record year for the international network despite pandemic

Katarina Jonsson

In terms of business, 2020 was a record year for SEB's international network, which serves subsidiaries of SEB's northern European corporate customers in countries such as China, Singapore, the USA, Brazil, Russia and Ukraine.

 “I am incredibly impressed by the teams that, despite a difficult work situation, onboarded so many new customers and delivered superb results,” says Katarina Jonsson, Head of SEB International since February.

Katarina Jonsson, who has a background as a civil engineer and commodities trader, joined SEB in 2010. She has had several management positions within FICC Markets (Fixed Income, Currencies and Commodities) at SEB.

As head of the international network she is in charge of nearly 375 employees at 11 offices in nine countries. Of these, most are locally employed and some 30 are expats, i.e., people sent out from any of the home markets on limited-term contracts.

What is most fun about your new job?

“Working with all the competent country managers and their teams,” says Katarina. “It is also fun having the opportunity to broaden out in new product areas, such as Transaction Services, which is super interesting. Working with a geographically spread business, you encounter a constant stream of small problems, challenges and opportunities that have to be solved. It’s both developing and fun.

“It’s going to be great to be able to travel around and meet all the employees and also have a chance to meet our customers in the network once the pandemic eventually subsides.”

How is the business going?

“In terms of results, last year was a record year both financially and in terms of the number of new customers. We brought in a large number of subsidiaries, driven above all by the fact that our Nordic competitors closed down entirely or in part in our geographies. This started in 2019, but most of the customers were on-boarded last year.”

How is business being affected by the pandemic?

“It has left its mark on most things during the past year, but at varying paces and degrees. Shanghai was the first to enter lockdown, but today the restrictions there are nearly gone. They can conduct in-person conferences, and it’s wide open to travel as long as you stay in China.

“Hong Kong, on the other hand, is still shut down and has been so off and on since the protests in 2019. Singapore opened up but has had to partially shut down again. In India the situation is still very serious. But in the US and Europe it feels like we are headed towards brighter days with some semblance of normality.”

What is the international network’s greatest value for the bank?

“Naturally there is the strictly business value, where the network contributes to the bank’s results. But even more important is its role in supporting and strengthening relationships with our home market customers and the competitive advantage it gives us in prospecting for new customers. And then the role varies based on the different customer categories. For the smaller companies, we are their international banking alternative. As for the biggest companies, we support them more selectively in areas in which we have a strong product offering.

“We also do institutional business with a really impressive list of international institutions, which we serve with the best Nordic products that SEB has.

“Internally, the international network also means a lot. We are the only Nordic bank that can genuinely say that we are an international bank. There is intrinsic value in the fact that we can work in various parts of the world and bring that experience back home with us.”

What is in focus going forward?

“We will continue to clarify and refine our strategy and draw benefit from the fact that we are the Nordic alternative for our customer around the world. The focus is on bringing in new subsidiary customers and broadening our business with existing customers. Our goal is mainly to do this with existing resources, by improving efficiency, automating and increasing scalability.

“I will also be spending a lot of time on reviewing our infrastructure and our sustainability offering to make sure we are relevant not only today, but also in the future.