Thanks to several major startups driving growth, the Danish fintech scene is full of success stories and employment in the industry has more than tripled in five years. The problem? They’re running out of people, and if Danish fintechs are to keep up with the rest of the world, they need to attract more digital talent.
Pleo is doing well. Very well, in fact. In just six years, the fintech company, which provide small to medium-sized companies with company cards and integrated expense management, has gained over 17,000 business customers. Most recently, after an investment of 950 million DKK, the young company has earned itself a place among the unicorns, as a startup with a valuation of over 1 billion dollars.
Pleo already has 350 employees, 165 of whom are based at the company’s head office in Copenhagen. But if the rapid growth is going to continue, as Pleo expects it to, it will need to hire many more. Easier said than done; Danish fintechs are already struggling when it comes to sourcing talent.
“As a small, relatively new company, it can be difficult to attract talent because not that many people know about us, and we’re not able to pay skilled employees as much as an established company can. Today, it’s become a little easier, but it’s still a challenge, because now we have such a huge need for talent and it’s hard to find them in a small country like Denmark,” says Jeppe Rindom, CEO and co-founder of Pleo.
Nine government proposals
The digital talent shortage doesn’t only affect the fintech industry. Figures from Statistics Denmark show that 70 percent of all IT companies with 10 or more employees struggle to recruit specialists.
Meanwhile, employment in the fintech industry has more than tripled between 2015 and 2020. Today the industry employs around 2,300 people and this number is growing quickly, so the demand for fintech talent is particularly high.
In line with this, ‘Copenhagen Fintech Policy’, who serve as a political mouthpiece for the fintech industry, have submitted nine proposals to the Danish government, in an attempt to remedy the talent shortage. The proposals include recommendations for how to cultivate the existing talent pool in Denmark, as well as making it easier to attract international talent. It’s desperately needed, according to Rindom.
To start with, we have a huge shortage of digital talent in general. And what are our options as Danish companies? Either we have to fight over the country’s current labour force, which in itself is relatively small, or we have to broaden our horizons and attract talent from elsewhere around the world,
Jeppe Rindom, CEO and co-founder of Pleo.
Cultivation in the backyard
While employment in the fintech industry has significantly increased, 20 percent of positions in banks and mortgage companies have disappeared between 2008 and 2015—after which the figure has stabilised.
Finansforbundet—which is also part of Copenhagen Fintech Policy—is a union for employees in the financial sector, and they see these two coinciding patterns as an opportunity to bring new expertise to the fintech sector in the short term.
“It’s very probable that we can find a place for the employees who no longer have work in the established financial industry in the fintech world. But in the longer term, we need to focus on sharing knowledge and expertise between established financial institutions and young fintech startups,” says Kent Petersen, chairman of Finansforbundet, adding that one of Finansforbundet’s current projects is a fintech academy where union members can get further specialised training.
One of the proposals made to the government also proposed a better exchange of employees between startups and the more established financial companies. The idea is that startups would be able to draw on the knowledge of seasoned industry professionals, whilst the established industry can take inspiration from the innovation of the newer fintechs.
It’s our job to build bridges between the established expertise and the newer, digital know-how—both of which are highly in demand. Sometimes the established industry has a tendency to think that fintechs are only interested in programmers, but there is also a need for experienced financial heads,
Kent Petersen, chairman of Finansforbundet
In the long run, he believes that educational institutions need to focus more on fintech—both with degrees specifically dedicated to fintech, but also integrating fintech as part of the already-existing finance and business degrees.
International talent makes for international success
When Pleo was founded, Jeppe Rindom was the only Dane in the company—a pattern that continued until they were 15 employees. Today, 120 of the 165 employees based at Pleo’s headquarters in Copenhagen are international talents. And of the 75 developers working at the company, only a handful of them are Danes. To Rindom, this can only be an advantage.
“If you want to become an international success, you can’t exclusively hire Danes. It definitely makes a difference to be born internationally, if you want to win internationally,” he says.
However, the majority of Pleo’s international employees haven’t moved to Denmark just for Pleo. They’re here because they studied in Denmark and/or found a partner in the country.
There is also a need to make Denmark attractive not just workwise, but in a more general sense, if the country is to fix its talent problem, according to Digital Hub Denmark, who are campaigning to attract more digital talent to Denmark from abroad.
The new generation of tech talents are ready to move around the world for work, but unfortunately, Denmark rarely features high on the list, when internationals look out into the world and choose a destination to work and settle. It’s important that we make Denmark an attractive alternative by marketing our strengths and our success stories—of which there are many, especially in fintech. Three unicorns in such a short time is a big deal!
Camilla Hjalsted Rygaard, CEO of Digital Hub Denmark, referring to Chainalysis, Lunar and Pleo.
A study conducted by the consulting firm BSG listed Denmark as the 19th most attractive destination for tech talents, coming behind Germany (2nd), UK (5th) and Switzerland (6th). Although Scandinavian countries have a certain appeal, with their flat organisational structures and famous work-life balance, new initiatives are needed if Denmark is to attract more talent in the coming years.
“Since 2014, we’ve seen an influx of digital talent to Denmark. This might be due to the new reforms for international recruitment introduced in 2015, which included several initiatives and regulatory simplifications to encourage and enable internationals to move to and work in Denmark. Unfortunately, this trend has pretty much stalled since. It’s time to up the marketing efforts and start to tell those stories about the amazing growth of Danish startups, so we can become a more attractive destination for the next generation of talent,” says Hjalsted Rygaard.
Pleo’s Jeppe Rindom points out that there are a large number of political initiatives that could make recruitment in the fintech industry a whole lot easier. For example, ensuring that Denmark stays open for international students—who make up a large proportion of Pleo’s current employees. Denmark could also offer initial tax rebates to encourage internationals to try Denmark out in the first place. And once they’re settled here, it’s very likely they’ll want to stay and pay tax like everyone else.
These aren’t just measures that would make things easier for Pleo; Rindom’s has also observed how international employees seem to enjoy living in Denmark and want to invest in society—often by starting companies of their own.
“It’s not the biggest problem for us—if we want to, we can just open more offices abroad. It just seems like Denmark is missing out. Growth successes like ours lead to more growth successes. For example, my co-founder at Pleo is only in Denmark because he was initially part of Tradeshift (yet another Danish startup to recently earn unicorn status) and a few of our more experienced employees have moved on to start their own companies. It’s in society’s interest to attract new talent to Denmark,” he says.