As we previously announced, after serving for more than a decade as Chief Economist, Robert Bergqvist has decided to step down and assume a new role as Senior Economist. He is now being succeeded by SEB’s Household Economist Jens Magnusson. We spoke with the two long-time colleagues and well-known economists in a joint Teams meeting.
Jens, how does it feel to take over the Chief Economist role? What will you enjoy most about your new assignment?
It’s going to be exciting and a challenge, but most of all incredibly fun. What I will enjoy most is the opportunity to work with the really big perspectives, to cover what is happening around the world – with economic policy and macroeconomics – and then break it down and make it comprehensible and in such way create benefit both for our customers and ourselves.
It will also be fun getting to work with some new customers in the Large Corporates & Financial Institutions division. It is the only division in the bank that I have not yet worked in. I’m also looking forward to working with the incredibly talented economists who work with the bank’s economic and financial analyses and forecasts.
Robert, what will you be doing now?
I will continue to puzzle together things – try to capture all interesting economic, financial and political events, try to identify patterns and understand where we are headed. But I will now be doing this with my sights set a little farther ahead into the future than what I have done in my role up until now. There is hardly a shortage of important issues. The world’s economic, financial and political systems were facing immense challenges already before the pandemic, and these may lead to quite large shifts going forward. The questions are growing, and hopefully I can play a part and sort out some of them.
Jens, what is Robert’s greatest strength as an economist?
There are so many! Robert has been somewhat of an institution in the Swedish economy – the recognised authority in many areas, but perhaps especially in the areas of monetary and central bank policy. His strength lies in his unique combination of breadth and depth – that he has been engaged in the entire economic spectrum, but still has managed to take such an in-depth look in so many aspects. There are very few, if any, who have his breadth and depth of insight, and so it’s no wonder that he is so highly appreciated by customers, colleagues and the media.
Robert, what is Jens’ greatest strength as an economist?
A guiding principle for me is that good analysis and good communication go hand-in-hand. You must be capable of doing a good analysis, but if you cannot communicate it, it won’t reach the target audience. And conversely, if you are very good at communicating, but can’t make a good analysis, you’ll just have a souffle that falls flat. Jens has precisely that ability to combine good analysis with communication, that is, the ability to explain things in a very pedagogic way. It’s very important.
We currently find ourselves in an exceptional situation. What do you both see as the biggest challenge for the global economy right now?
Jens: In the more short-term perspective, how the pandemic is handled. The acute crisis policy under which you can pump in essentially an endless amount of stimulus to bridge the pandemic’s effects has been handled well for the most part. But it is nearing its end, and the big challenge now will be to go from pure crisis policy to some form of more future-oriented and long-term growth policy. And in doing so to not just re-start the system as it looked before the crisis, but to take advantage of opportunities to create a better and more sustainable economy.
Robert: I have great concerns that the world’s nations and power blocs are becoming more inward-looking. We are seeing growing nationalism in pharmaceuticals, for example, but also in other key product areas. Countries are becoming more focused on their own agendas. We have very large, joint challenges, and they can only be addressed through global solutions and cooperation. In this respect I think unfortunately that we are headed in the wrong direction right now.
And what gives you hope for the future?
Jens: Something that feels hopeful is that the world, despite all, has proved to be somewhat of a learning organisation. For example, we have learned that it doesn’t have to take five years to develop a vaccine. Even though there have been certain setbacks, remarkably it took one year in this case. Also, central banks and governments have in a better way than previously pulled in the same direction to address the crisis. It also seems like we have learned more about how to manage an economy under stress. Lockdowns and new restrictions have been instituted throughout the entire year, but they have had less and less effects on the economy. It has been an exceptional situation, but we have been able to learn during the time and also to learn from history. I think this gives hope for the future.
Robert: Yes, we can see considerable creativity and problem-solving, not least in Swedish business and the surrounding world. Companies have worked together with their subcontractors, their customers and even their competitors to come up with solutions and a path out from the crisis. It shows that when it truly matters, the world can cooperate. I hope that we can build further upon this together.