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Final conference of project on trade union’s role in Fintech

On 10 May, the final conference of the EU-funded research project (VS/2020/0113), which has been studying the impact of Fintech companies on the financial sector, as well as the role that trade unions could play in securing good working conditions throughout the sector, took place in Copenhagen. Among the 60 participants were members of trade unions from a wide range of European countries as well as representatives from employers’ organization and Fintech associations.

The project, which has been running for two years, is run jointly by UNI Europa, The Nordic Financial Unions and the University of Gothenburg. Further researchers have been added to the research team, including participation from Tartu University, Radboud University and Copenhagen University. The project has four target countries, which are Sweden, The Netherlands, Estonia and Denmark, in which interviews and specific research has been conducted in order to draw comparisons and highlight best case examples between the different countries.

After a presentation by one of the lead researchers, Bertil Rolandsson, of the project findings, four panels were held throughout the day. While the first two panels were dedicated to discussing the outcomes of the research and to dig more into the specifics of Fintech development in the target countries, the last two panels focused more on the importance of skills in the finance sector and the way forward for trade unions and the Fintech part of the finance sector.

The first panel, which went under the heading ‘Discussion of national aspects of project report’, brought together Anna Ilsøe, Associate Professor, Employment Relations Research Centre, Copenhagen University, Jaan Masso, Programme manager, University of Tartu Faculty of Economics and Business Administration, Bengt Larsson, Professor of Sociology, Gothenburg University Faculty of Social Sciences and Paul Suilen working with the FNV and Dutch central bank in the Netherlands. The panel was moderated by Morten Clausen, Director of Financial Regulation, UNI Europa Finance, and gave the panellists the opportunity to expand on the country specific research they had done for the project. Examples such as the collective agreement signed by Finansforbundet and the employers’ organization for Fintech companies in Denmark was brought up, as was the fact that Fintech doesn’t seem to be as disruptive to the financial sector as first thought, but rather develops its own niches or integrates into the existing framework. The often short-term cooperation between Fintechs and incumbent institutions was also mentioned as a sign of the increased dynamism of the sector. With regards to trade unions in the sector, the consent of the panel pointed toward unions needing to reach wide in their cooperation with other stakeholders, to include Fintech associations, universities and the places where Fintech workers can be reached, thus expanding their exposure and being able to reach the Fintech workers who often have very little knowledge about trade unions and see little need for them until they possibly find themselves in need of added support. How this exposure can take place will of course need to vary from context to context, but one example could be to create office space where Fintechs could meet and work together, since cooperation and ideas exchange is often much more widespread in the Fintech community than in the rest of the finance sector.

The second panel, titled ‘Social partners reflections on the project report and exploration of related initiatives’, brough together speakers from the trade unions, Massimo Mensi, Head of Department, UNI P&M and Oliver Hauser, Gewerkschaftssekretär, Ver.di, as well as Simon Schou, Chief Innovation Officer, Copenhagen Fintech and Paolo Guidici, Professor of Statistics, University of Pavia. The panel was moderated by Trine Pernille Larsen, Associate Professor, Employment Relations Research Centre, Copenhagen University. This panel allowed practitioners from the field to give their views on the project research and to contextualize it with their own experience. Some of the main takeaways from this panel was the reminder, that not everyone who works in a Fintech company are highly sought-after IT engineers, and that these workers often have less independent bargaining power than is usually thought of as being the case for the entire sector. This is one important angle for trade unions to keep an eye on and also makes the case for why organizing or creating works councils in Fintech companies once they achieve a certain size makes sense. Another point of much debate on this panel was the challenges and possibilities posed by digitalization of the financial sector. Because as the panellists discussed, Big Tech if adopting the practices of i.e. Amazon, could have severely negative impacts on the working conditions in the sector, yet many start-up Fintech companies, at least in the target countries, start out with quite positive ambitions, of providing service offerings where they see there is a need and place that need at a higher priority than pure profit maximization.

The third panel of the day, was dedicated to ‘Skills and talent, how to develop them and retain them’, and featured participation by Diederik Bruggink, Head of Innovation and Payments, ESBG; Dr. hab. Renata Włoch, Scientific Director, Faculty of Sociology, University of Warsaw; Petru Dandea, Secretary-General of National Trade Union Confederation Cartel ALFA and speaking as a representative of the European Economic and Social Committee; Arne Fredrik Håstein, Vice-President, Finansforbundet Norway and Maurice Jongmans, CEO, Payment Innovator. The panel was moderated by Simon Jernberg, Policy Advisor, Nordic Financial Unions. Given the current shortage of IT skilled labour on the market these years, each of the panellists could present their unique view on the challenges it poses for the Fintech and wider finance sector, while also allowing for reflections on how the shortage could be ameliorated. This included examples of cooperation with educational institutions by trade unions, co-creating specific training modules for current and future finance employees, to ensure that they have the necessary skills to easily move about the finance sector and can continue to do so in years to come. During the discussions, the European Commission was also encouraged to help create more education and training opportunities to help alleviate specific skills shortages. Likewise, Maurice Jongmans, spoke about how important it was for incumbent financial institutions to see Fintechs less as competitors but more as potential partners and to share resources and knowledge, to the benefit of both the companies themselves and the customers.

The fourth and last panel of the day looked at ‘The way forward, how the Fintech sector will be organised in the future’. The panellists were Ella Sjödin, Director Policy and Public Affairs, Finansförbundet; Louise Grabo, Secretary General, Swedish Fintech Association; Peter Kerstens, Adviser on Technical Innovation and Cybersecurity, DG FISMA, European Commission and Morten Holm Bundgaard, Senior Consultant, LL.M., The Danish employers’ association for the financial sector (FA) and the panel was moderated by Carin Hallerström, Secretary General, Nordic Financial Unions. Throughout the course of this panel a number of important topics were raised, including the ever present question of whether there is a level playing field for Fintechs and traditional finance when it comes to regulation. The interesting point here is that both sides of the debate sees themselves as the one with regulation skewed against it. The question of whether European Fintech companies were daring enough was also brought up, with the remark made the European Fintechs tended to be much more cautious about their value propositions than I.e. American ones would, while often having far better infrastructure to back up their offerings. Which often led to European companies being outcompeted or putting unnecessary restraints on themselves preventing scaling up. As for what potential role trade unions could play in the future of the sector, the point about needing to be innovative and explorative was again brought up, as was the possibility of unions to play an active role in promoting more diversity in the sector, in terms of gender, skills and background.

More information about the project, as well as the project reports and recordings of events held throughout the runtime of the project can be found on the project website: www.fintechandtradeunions.com