14-12-2023 11:06

From the family dinner table to the trading floor: Chief Economist Annika Winsth shares her journey

As she approaches 30 years in Nordea and 15 as chief economist, Annika Winsth reflects on her career path, the biggest economic risks on the horizon and her advice for the next generation.
Photo of Chief Economist Annika Winsth by Karl Nordlund
Photo: Karl Nordlund

Annika Winsth didn’t always have her eyes set on becoming an economist. Yet, from her early days as a child at the family dinner table, she felt the excitement of discussing the issues shaping society. Today, she is one of Sweden’s most esteemed economists, sought after for meetings and speaking engagements around the country. When she isn’t engaged in discussion, you can find Annika working in her 100-year-old garden or on a walk in the forest – “two of the best places for getting good ideas.”

Do you remember what first sparked your interest in economy and finance?

“Ever since I was a child, we had a lot of discussion around the dinner table at home. My father was a doctor but very interested in politics, economics and society. The whole family, including my two brothers, got involved in these conversations. My parents expected us to have ideas, and they listened to what we were saying. I was always interested in these societal questions and having a view on issues. I didn’t dream specifically about becoming an economist, but I’ve always wanted to work with some combination of economics and politics. I find the intersection very interesting.” 

How did you get your start in your career?

“I studied economics and political science at Lund University. I wasn’t that focused on the financial markets but more the combination with politics. I finished school in 1992, during Sweden’s financial crisis, when it was very tricky to find a job. I eventually did land a position at the Ministry of Finance, and it was so exciting to be there. I loved the people and learned so much from them. They had a lot in common with those I work with today on the trading floor in Nordea Markets – so much knowledge and dedication. I love working with people who are engaged, work hard and take responsibility.” 

Can you explain your role at Nordea?

“In 1994 I joined Nordbanken (which later became part of Nordea). That gives me 30 years at Nordea in December. I received the ‘chief economist’ title in December 2008, so I have had that role for 15 years now. When I took on the chief economist role in 2008, people didn’t know that much about us. My task was to get out there and be visible, to take part in the broader debate on questions that are interesting for the bank and our customers. Much of it is about economic data and monetary and fiscal policy, but also what’s going on in society. The job is quite broad, and I really like that. Now, in Sweden, we have areas with big problems in some companies, such as real estate, that also have an impact on the economy.”

Photo: Karl Nordlund

The bank is big, and my title is also a door opener. I have the privilege of being in many interesting rooms and discussions.

Annika Winsth, Nordea Chief Economist

What would you consider your most important tasks?

“I travel a lot, meeting with customers all over Sweden, from the biggest to medium-size companies, investors, politicians, academics and authorities. I typically have many meetings each day, which is very interesting. I learn a lot from them and then take that information back to our macro team in Sweden for discussion. Tobbe (Nordea Chief Analyst Torbjörn Isaksson) can then use that input in his forecasts. I’ve worked with Tobbe for over 15 years, and I think one of the reasons we’ve managed to avoid any major mistakes is thanks to our unique combination. He focuses most on the analysis and the numbers, and I can listen to what’s happening in society and bring that into our forecast.” 

What has been your experience working in a traditionally male-dominated field?

“Growing up with two brothers, I learned a lot about this at home. I’m clear when I’m talking and find it easy to work with men. When I was young and starting out in my career, it was important to be well read and prepared, for example when appearing on stage. You can get a lot of tricky questions, and preparation is crucial. My ambition is to not talk about things I don’t know. And one perk is you don’t have to wear a suit on stage.”

What gives you energy in your daily work? 

“Hands down, the people. I have the privilege to meet so many different interesting people. Customers, prospects, my colleagues, politicians, authorities, academics. I’m so grateful for all the knowledge I encounter every single day. The bank is big, and my title is also a door opener. I have the privilege of being in many interesting rooms and discussions.”

What is the most important thing happening in the global economy right now? 

“In the short term, it’s very important that the central banks manage to achieve a soft landing for the economies. We’re in the middle of a turnaround from having free money for many years to hiking rates rather fast in many countries. The risk is they’ll do too much, and we’ll end up in a crisis. In the long run, there are many risks, for example, around the democratic process. We’ve seen the rise of populist sentiment and politicians focused on winning elections in the short term, telling people what they want to hear. There’s a risk we’ll end up with decisions that are not good for the economy in the long term.”

And what about in Sweden? 

“We’re very sensitive to higher interest rates here in Sweden, given the high debt level and high exposure to floating rates, for example in the real estate sector and in the housing market. We can already see now how higher rates have started to have an impact on the labour market.” 

I often get good ideas while walking through the forest or using my hands in the garden. 

Annika Winsth, Nordea Chief Economist

We are experiencing turbulence and volatility both in geopolitics and financial markets. How do you see this playing out in the time to come?

“I think there’s a risk it will get worse before it turns around. We have rising tension between China and the US. Then we have the open question about who will be the next US president, which could have an impact on the war in Ukraine. There are many risks out there, most of them tilted towards the downside. It’s a tricky time to be a CEO of a company these days. Not only do you have to be an expert in what you’re producing, you have to take all these different risks into account – geopolitics, security, the shift to green production. It’s important to have a good layer of protection against these different risks.” 

What do you do to relax after a hectic day at work?

“Because my days are so filled with meetings, people and discussions, I tend to gravitate towards the opposite in my time off – quiet, solitude and nature. I like to go to my cottage by the sea and spend time working in the garden or going for walks in the woods nearby. I often get good ideas while walking through the forest or using my hands in the garden. It’s an old garden from the 1920s. Sometimes the result isn’t perfect. For example, if what I planted turns out to be too big or the wrong colour. Then I have to wait until next year to fix it. I think that’s good for me.”

Who has been an important source of inspiration for you throughout your career?

“I would start with my father, for encouraging those dinnertime discussions. I would also credit Gunnar Wetterberg, who first hired me at the Ministry of Finance. We’ve since worked on multiple boards together. I’m very grateful to know him and for what he’s done for me. And I also have to mention Hans Dalborg. He was the CEO of Nordea when I joined the bank, and such a nice man. He was genuinely interested in people and talked to everybody, including me as an inexperienced 26-year-old. We lost him last year, and if you ask those who worked with him, everyone remembers him with love and gratitude.”

What advice would you give to young students who dream about a career in finance? 

“First, you can’t do the job alone. It’s important to have people around you that you trust and have other skills than you. So build a network. You can start with that in school. Second, feel with your stomach. If you enjoy a particular subject, run with that. If you’re interested and having fun, it’s much easier to excel in the field. Trust what your stomach is telling you and go in that direction.”

Annika Winsth at a glance

Position: Nordea Chief Economist, Sweden

Family: Three adult children

Studies: Program in Public Administration and Economics, Lund University

Interests: Family, friends, travel, culture

Daily news and updates: Swedish media, the big international ones and a lot of statistics

Favourite podcast: Radio Sweden The USApod

Favourite program: Radio Sweden The Sunday interview

Favourite artist: There are many, but I really like Ane Brun