Danske Bank: learning from startups and big tech

  • Danske Bank’s Chief Digital Officer Søren Rode Andreasen has already accelerated the digital transformation of the bank since arriving in Northern Ireland, but he has more big plans for the future, which include Danske playing a significant role in the local startup scene.

    It is not often that you hear a senior bank official saying their organisation could learn from the young, risk-taking entrepreneurs of the startup world.

    But SørenRode Andreasen is not a traditional bank official, he’s Danske Bank’s Chief Digital Officer (CDO) and he is in the process of making Danske not just the most digitally focused bank in Northern Ireland, but setting it on the road to becoming a bank known globally for its digital excellence.

    “Banks are undergoing very big changes and some of those changes are because we can see that transactional income is converging towards zero. There is more and more automation and competition in the financial sector, and that means we have to reinvent ourselves in the digital world,” explains Søren.

    “It is being led by consumer behaviour and how customers want to bank with us. The number of digital transactions now far outweigh physical interactions. That means that our biggest touch point is in our digital solutions, so it makes sense for us to focus on making those really awesome.”

    That is where the startup mentality comes in. Danske Bank, like most banks, has traditionally had a risk focused – some might say risk averse – culture, a conservative approach which adds a lot of value in banking. While he does not want to change that which has made Danske successful, Søren believes the organisation also needs to deliver at pace and add customer value by being fast to market.

    “The practices we have adopted from startups include being super focused on the customer value proposition and developing products in cooperation with our customers. It is about being agile, both in our processes and our mindset; and it’s about trying things out, not having everything based on a one year business plan,” he says.

    Søren elaborates that, having adopted some of that startup mindset, he is also focused on those companies – the tech giants – that are driving innovation. Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple are investing hundreds of billions of dollars into technology advancement which means they are the ones setting the expectations of the bank’s customers. If you are used to the seamless process of shopping from home on Amazon, why would you expect anything less when applying for a loan or a credit card?

    “The expectations of customers are no longer being set by our competitors around the corner. If I look at where competition is coming from I’m not really looking at other banks, or challenger banks. I’m focused on our customers and providing value for them, because if we do that they will choose us as their provider. I look for inspiration from startups and from the big tech companies.

    “What I’m looking at now is how we can go from being very, very good in a Northern Ireland context to being very, very good in a global context. That means learning from the best.”


    Technology, he believes, makes it possible for Danske Bank to compete globally and the CDO says the bank sees the changing landscape as an opportunity, not a threat.

    Danske is already well underway with its transformation from a traditional bank into a company that has digital at heart. Earlier this year it became the first local bank to provide Samsung Pay for customers and the first bank in the UK to make Garmin Pay available.

    The bank has added the capability for small business customers to get lending decisions in a matter of minutes in many situations, such as business overdrafts.

    It is predicted that 72% of the UK population – 35 million people – will bank via a phone app by 2023 and 22 million already manage their current account on their phone. The bank has rebuilt its website to be mobile responsive and has redeveloped its mobile app from scratch.

    “Customers tell us they are very happy with the current app, but we can see it is not going to be fit for purpose in the future. There will be lots of scope to build on with this new app, which just wasn’t possible on our existing platform. It’s still in development, so we’ll be adding more functionality throughout 2018.

    “This is one of our biggest customer-facing developments in many years. We’re incorporating user feedback, providing exciting new features and continuously improving in order to provide a great customer experience.”

    Internally the bank is building up its digital capabilities, hiring digital experts to build customer solutions and help transform the bank on the inside by developing new employee apps.

    “I think it was Facebook who said we are ‘1% done’. A digital company will never be done. I saw a survey the other day where 80% of bank executives said they thought they were done with digital. They had e-banking, they had an app. But being a digital company is about constantly challenging the status quo and improving value to your customers,” says Søren.

    “Once you see the pattern of automation and connectivity and IoT and advanced analytics you can see that whatever can be automated will be automated. This also means that we will put additional focus on those areas that cannot be digitised so we can provide an amazing digital experience with a human touch when this adds value to the customer experience.

    “You always have to reinvent yourself. If you don’t, then you’re Kodak.”


    Danske Bank is committed to supporting innovation so that some of the great companies that emerge in this new industrial revolution are based here in Belfast.

    To assist, the bank is launching a local version of The Hub, a platform which has proved successful in the Nordic countries for connecting startups with both investors and talent – both of which are problem issues for local startups.

    Søren says he has heard first hand that attracting talent is difficult for startups in Northern Ireland as we are somewhat isolated. And while it is often not difficult to attract seed capital, it can be difficult to find investors who can add more than just finance.

    He recounts a conversation with a three-person startup team who had decided to move to Edinburgh because they felt they had outgrown Belfast and were finding it hard to recruit.

    “Many large cities are investing a lot in creating a startup environment that supports innovation and risk taking amongst startups. When I look at Northern Ireland I think we are behind in this area. We have a lot of good intentions but when I benchmark to what I see in other countries I see a gap.”

    The Hub has a lot of knowledge jobs in the Nordics and, as people looking for these jobs are highly mobile, it’s not inconceivable we could see an influx of Scandinavian developers once it gains traction. At the same time Søren wants investors and startups here to use the platform to connect with the other countries.


    It is not just in the online realm that Danske Bank is showing its support for startups. It is putting its money where its mouth is and taking the radical step of creating a brand new startup space on the ground floor of its Donegall Square West headquarters.

    Located alongside the bank’s flagship Belfast branch, the whole floor is being transformed into a co-working space dedicated to the growing cluster of fintech companies that are setting up in Northern Ireland. Søren says the space will support innovation within this field, helping fintech companies who are reaching the point in their lifecycle where they need to scale but don’t yet need their own office.

    “We would prefer to see a lot of these tech companies working in the financial services sector setting up in Belfast rather than London or Manchester or Dublin,” he says.

    “I want to help them and I believe we can do that by having them close to us and contributing knowledge. We have fintech hubs in Belfast but nobody with a global outlook. Danske is globally focused and we want to plug them into our network of fintech hubs and partner banks.”

    Søren is keen to stress that it is not a Danske Bank co-working space, it will be a Belfast co-working space. There is no requirement to work with the bank.

    “There is a requirement that you want to be part of a community but Danske Bank will not run that community. We want to give, we don’t want to take. This is something we are doing for Belfast and Northern Ireland to give back.

    “That’s also why we are inviting all the other co-working spaces here to collaborate on the fintech side. I don’t see us as a competitor to the other co-working spaces in Belfast. I would love to work with them and invite them in to our network and we’ll also help them as much as we can to really put Belfast on the world map as a global hub within financial technology.”

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