In 2015 the most powerful startups in the world where building payment solutions and mobile banks. In 2016 fintech startups became passé.

What happened?

From one side the money dried up: funding of financial and payment sector startups dropped a staggering 54 percent in just one year to $1.51 billion.

From the other side – the financial industry has started to wake up. I see a good example of this meeting Nordea mobile payment team at the Helsinki offices.

The largest Nordic bank has a team in Helsinki on a mission to build the best mobile wallet in the world. They know they have still a lot of work ahead of them before reaching the target, but having the strong backing from the top executives of the bank give team leader Eero Eloranta confidence of building the team for making a product which can be outstanding globally.

Compared to its closest domestic rivals Nordea has surely the best shot, it is the only one with the global reach. And it is the industry where the global reach will be crucial. Everyone who’s someone in tech or financial industry – Apple, Google, Paypal, Visa, Mastercard – they are all trying to get a stake of this.

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In the essence, the office of the mobile payment team looks like any other well-funded startup – one of those which are not launched by a high-school team with no capital. The room is full of people deep in their tasks, and the walls are covered with proofs of some first landmarks of the project.

“It works!” says handwriting on one slip, which shows a transfer of 0.01 euros on Jan 13, 2016.

The timeline is there, also the alert-board on a monitor with a classical colour scheme. When I visit a couple of red flags are here and there, but Eero is calm: these are not critical, nor they are urgent.

The banks have started to understand that payments are those rare occasions when bank and consumer actually meet these days. For Nordea it’s 1.8 billion meetings a year mobile app could need to deal with.

Those meetings make it clear that for a relationship-focused retail banking brand in 2017 the focus has to be on smooth mobile payment solutions.

The task at hand is clearly defined: The world’s best mobile wallet award. Nothing local, nothing regional – the global award, latest in 3 years at Mobile World Congress.

“We have the setup to compete on global scale. For example, Mikkelin Jukurit cannot get to NHL,” Eero wraps the situation.

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The team is not your usual old bank tech support team. No-one has spent more than 2 years in banks, and most of them are top hired guns from best consultancies of town.

AD Timo Londen has spent last 6 years working on around 10 different projects on behalf of Reaktori: designing tools for anything from 10 users to 10 million users. He is fascinated by the variety of projects.

Working at Nordea is a bit like the homecoming for him – 15 years ago he was building one of the early revolutionaries 2is mobile payment field. Finnish startup Meridea raised more than $5 million in 2006.

And the times have changed. “It’s much easier now. The variety of devices was so much larger back then,” he says.

For Eloranta to take the team forward he is looking for more hires – top professionals who would love to be building the best mobile wallet for possibly years to come.

The odds are clearly turning for him. In 2015 every Tom Dick and Harry, who had any relevant skills, were grabbed for red hot fintech startups. In 2016 the startups started to run out of the steam (and money) and banks – talking of Nordea first here – have seriously started to wake up for the challenge.

Photos by Thomas Poole

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