Suomi! May 26-29

My visit to Nordea Bank HQ!

After 2 flights, over 11 hours of traveling, I’ve made it to Helsinki. While the weather was mostly gray and a little rainy, it didn’t take away any of the city’s serenity. My impression of the Finnish is that they are well spoken, polite, and a quiet people. They speak English very well on average, and are very proud of their history. On Monday, we had the pleasure of going to Nordea Bank’s HQ under the hospitality of Dr. Jukka Vesala, Nordea’s director of credit risk control. The presentation provided some insight into how the Nordic economies are intertwined. Dr. Vesala noted that the Nordic economic environment is stable and efficient, which makes for an ideal environment for businesses. The legal system permits this business climate due to the legal system that allows banks to operate successfully. Dr. Vesala also noted that this stability translates into favorably low loan loss ratios, which told me that the Nordic banks prefer safer investments and are less prone to riskier endeavors. The presentation additionally affirmed some stereotypes that are characteristic of Scandinavian societies: high employment rates (especially for women), egalitarian social attitudes, high taxes, structured labor markets, and well-educated populations. I believe it was mentioned that around half of the Finnish population received a college education. Dr. Vesala noted that consistent household incomes in Scandinavia contribute to the stability of these countries. The visit to Nordea gave me a unique purview into the financial systems of Scandinavia, as well as the nuances of the Nordic banking system. 

Treating myself while walking around Helsinki Harbor

After the visit to Nordea, I had the chance to enjoy the sights of the Helsinki Harbor, Helsinki Cathedral, as well as the old Swedish fortress Suomennlinna. I loved the architecture of the city, the pale colors of the buildings, as well as the city’s serenity. As a history major, I had a special appreciation for the pride of the Finnish people, especially since they just won a world championship in hockey! 

Helsinki Cathredal

For dinner we had a traditional Finnish experience at Restaurant Savotta. It was an adventurous experience to say the least, and I got to try bear salami, marinated salmon, and Karelian Stew, among other things. We had 4 guest speakers representing the Finnish startup entrepreneur scene, and I enjoyed having the chance to connect with Finns that were relatively close to my age. They provided information about their education system, their jobs, and how they are trying to change the lack of ambition in Finland by channeling a youthful entrepreneurial spirit. The young Finns represented Wave Ventures, Kiuas Accelerator, and Aaltoes Startup Sauna. The dinner highlighted a point of conflict within Finnish society, torn between the older generation that prefer safer solutions and the youth who are working to change the entrepreneurial culture of Finland. 

View from the Sokos Presidentti Hotel

The next day we had the chance to go to a university, Aalto University School of Business. The presentation was done by 2 professors and highlighted changes in the educational system at the university. Finnish educaton is more focused on an industrial pursuit, and it is quite often for students to segue into receiving their master’s. I thought it was definitely the opposite of my education in the United States, as I am the product of a liberal arts education. Our final day in Helsinki led us to tour the Aalto Entrepreneurial society and gain some insight into the accelerator scene in Finland. Through my time in Finland, I was able to see how the polite and hospitable nature of the Finns translates into the way they conduct business.