From Habbo to Holvi: AJ Suominen on leadership and diversity
As BBVA-backed digital banking service Holvi continues to build momentum, we catch up with its CEO, Antti-Jussi (AJ) Suominen, who shares his insight on how to build sustainable diversity in business.
Creating the foundations for diversity and inclusion is an essential component to building a forward-thinking company that seeks to create lasting solutions for its customers. Entrepreneur Antti-Jussi (AJ) Suominen, CEO, Holvi, has worked across the entirety of his career to provide companies with the relevant tools to promote diversity. As a BBVA-backed digital banking service, Holvi operates across Europe. Here, he speaks with Business Chief about how his experience supports the fintech company’s growth.
You’ve been the CEO of some major names, from Habbo Hotel through to Holvi. Could you tell me a little bit about your career experience?
I was driving new business growth for B2B and B2C companies, including Sonera, Nokia and Elisa. I was also building and running new businesses and have facilitated innovation in the mobile and online services domains in both corporate and startup environments. My background in a range of diverse industries (and most recently in online gaming and mobile commerce) plays an essential role in accelerating Holvi’s transition from a fast-growing fintech company to an even more customer-centric online service.
What are some of your personal achievements over the years?
Recently, it would have to be scaling up Holvi with over 150,000 microbusinesses served and growing Holvi to a 100+ employee company. The scaling has taken a lot of time and effort to execute but it was one of the most rewarding parts of my career. At the beginning of June 2019, we opened our new branch office in Germany and made the country our second home market. Since our mission is to make life easier for our customers, we made the decision to go "all in" for our customers.
How has diversity and inclusion factored into your work from the start of your career until now?
They are two things that I have always taken very seriously throughout my career. I think that it is essential to keep diversity at the centre of a fast growth business, otherwise you can lose sight of what you are trying to achieve: innovation. To ensure we are getting a holistic view, Holvi has built a sustainable culture where more than one voice is heard.
Whereas many businesses used to treat diversity as a box-ticking exercise, they now rightly view it, and inclusion, as a route to success. It’s important that employees of a company think differently and approach situations from different angles, and I think there is definitely more of a focus on ensuring other voices are heard in comparison to 20 years ago. The corporate approach towards diversity is clearly transitioning from reactive to proactive, which is of course a positive change, but one that can still be improved. We’ve come a long way but there is always more that can be done.
How do you ensure that the whole of a staffing body is onboard with inclusivity initiatives?
Culture is very much based on values. When hiring and inducting new people, values need to be explained from the outset to avoid onboarding talent that does not uphold the standards and principles of the company.
Everyone at Holvi understands the importance of diversity to building an inclusive culture. Our team consists of more than 25 different nationalities and we always look to hire open-minded, curious people who are keen to learn new things and meet new people. As we have expanded across Europe, this approach has proved invaluable to understanding different markets and the needs of our consumers across the continent.
I have been lucky to work in organisations that are international and diverse by design, but of course there are always some challenges when people are required to change the way they work. Diversity comes in many colors and it always takes time to adapt to change. Whether it be changing the working language of a company to English, as the number of people from different language groups grows, or respecting different national holidays or vacation periods when companies grow to multiple locations.
What is your advice to other C-level executives looking to diversify and become more inclusive within their companies?
Naturally, every leader wants to help shape the culture of their organisation, to leave their mark in some way. But a great leader understands that they don’t want to create a homogenous culture where everybody looks and thinks the same. My advice would be that cultivating a sustainable culture doesn’t happen overnight, but if you are willing to invest in creating a more diverse culture then you will reap the benefits in the long term.
What gives Holvi its competitive edge?
The idea of setting up a business is the scariest part of becoming a sole trader. Because we did it ourselves, we can totally understand why. Finances annoyed us, so we took care of it. Today, our mission is to eliminate the stress from finances and to make it as simple as possible for our customers. And in addition to that, we speak plain English and don’t confuse our customers with jargon. In short, we offer straightforward business banking for the everyday sole trader.
What are the key benefits users of Holvi gain?
Holvi is free, easy-to-use and intuitive; it’s even easier and more reliable than Excel.
Fast and clear: With Holvi sole traders spend less time with their finances and always have real time overview and control over their business.
Our Holvi business account is designed to save our customers time and help them.
Easy to use: Unlike Excel, Holvi is made for your needs.
Do you modify your services from country to country to suit the customer base?
Local regulations across Europe are a challenge for a fast-growth fintechs like Holvi. Cross-border innovation is currently being restricted by the issue of local IBANs, which add another layer of local regulatory compliance. In order to receive a local IBAN, you need to set up a payment branch in that country, and then apply to the local regulatory framework. Therefore, there are always different approaches when considering regulation. However the product itself is predominantly uniformed because our customers across Europe face similar issues.
As Holvi gears up to expand to the UK, what can Britons expect from the company?
Holvi helps solve real problems. Many of our clients don’t know much about business accounting and need a service that helps them understand their finances so they can take control of their own finances. With Holvi, sole traders no longer need to fill out lengthy spreadsheets and use guesswork to understand their finances. That’s what we do.
For more information on all business in Europe, please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief Europe.
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