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My e-Journey - over 40 years. Part 1. e-banking started with payments.

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Why should I jot down some notes from my digitalisation and leadership journey? Because I think that this experience from innovation ladders (one thing leads to another - and eventually to a new level - base for the next ladders) and engaging people for good-for-society-at-large actions (start with WHY - a purpose) can still be useful.

It started in the 70s when payments where made with cash and cheques, bookkeeping entries often entered manually, letters written, telex was used for chatting in dealing rooms, loan agreements were signed on paper etc. My work as cashier, in back offices, as loan officer handling international payments, trainee in dealing and then in syndicated credits led me to seek automation and standardisation - to save time and costs and improve customers services.  Some progress was made. Lesson learned: Important to understand the back-office work.


Then somebody asked why large customers have to send payment material for our staff to key in - instead of getting the same terminal to their own offices. This lead to launching TeleUBF customer terminals in Finland in 1979. Among the first of its kind - if not the first in he world. This was the start of the e-banking revolution - the most fundamental change in banking so far seen. TeleUBF evolved from individual and especially batch payments gradually into a cash management service.  In 1984 we connected customer’s accounts in our about to-be established London branch (I was the managing director) to the TeleUBF so that account entries automatically sent SWIFT real time messages to the customers terminals in Finland - receiving payment instructions in return. Probably the first of its kind in the world. Cost 3500 pound sterling. Lesson learned: Ask simple “stupid" questions.


E-banking for large corporate customers lead to a need for doing the same for households and SMEs. As push-button telephones had become widespread it was possible to launch home and SME-e-banking (later branded SOLO) for payments supported by word syntheziser in 1982. This was also used in the first mobile services in the early 90s.  One time passwords were used upfront.

This was upgraded to PC-banking in 1984. As few households had modems in those days strong focus was put on selling in workplace banking. Another strategic key to success was to use the then wide branch network for selling the e-banking service to customers. We could use the surprisingly high leaps in customer satisfaction e-banking adoption led to (observed in surveys)  as motivation for staff - and also the income generated from monthly fees. The branches competed enthusiastically on the "Route 66" - 66% of active customers signed up first and not as the last. This resulted in Union Bank of Finland became the largest bank in the world measured by absolute numbers of e-banking payments - a position then passed on to its successors - all the way to Nordea Bank. Foreign payments were included in the 90s - at first by connecting e-banking to an old printer in the foreign payments back office. The impact of e-banking for society at large has already for the payments part been massive - but seldom recognised to a justified degree.

Lessons learned:

(i) Start early - with what you have at hand, Do not overplan.

(ii) the Finnish distributed (no central "factory") standardised payment infrastructure encouraged competition in creating e-banking services,

(ii) Use the living selling force in branches while you have it and let them own also the customers e-experience. This was later used for signing up SMEs for e-invoicing,

(iii) Understand that there are no corporate customers - only human customers in different roles and  make the user experience as similar and simple as possible for all roles,

(iv) try to measure the impact (not only including time savings with home and office banking - but also how time saved on routines can be used for value creating activities at home and at work) for society at large,

(v) valuable services should not be free of charge as income is needed for taking the services to higher levels,

(vi) charging for manual transactions (cheques and over-the-counter payments) is just and helps the customers to understand what he has paid for without realising it before...


This was the payments part - sometimes referred to as e-banking 1.0.  The economy of repetition and economy of trust it created across roles formed a strong foundation for the next phase - in part 2 

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