Sakari and Anni Graduates blog

Nordea Graduate Case Competition - let's talk about financial inclusion

16-06-2023 13:02

Meet Anni, a 28-year-old Business Banking graduate, and Sakari, a 28-year-old IT graduate. Anni and Sakari are two of 18 graduates that gathered in Stockholm at the end of May to attend the Nordea Graduate Summit. This year’s Summit was conducted over 3 days with tonnes of activities, like meeting with Nordea’s CEO Frank Vang-Jensen and taking part in the Graduate Case Competition.

by Anni Mäkeläinen and Sakari Mattila 

Sakari is currently working as an IT Security Specialist in Cyber Security. He graduated from the University of Vaasa, where he completed a Master of Economics degree with a major in Industrial Management. Anni works as a Management Partner in Personal Banking Finland, and holds a Master’s degree in Business from University of Eastern Finland. After graduation in 2021, they joined Nordea as graduates and will finalise the two-year programme this August.

You are soon graduating from the Nordea graduate programme – congratulations! What have you enjoyed most during the past two years?

Sakari: Without a doubt, the people have been the best part of this journey. The graduate programme and the rotations in different teams within the technology area have allowed me to meet so many brilliant people. Being able to constantly learn from experienced colleagues has boosted my growth significantly. Also, the close community of other graduates from different business areas has allowed me to expand my network and gain valuable knowledge from the other functions of Nordea.

Anni: For me the most valuable things about the programme have been the ability to do several rotations and gain a wide network that wouldn't be possible without the programme. I never had a clear vision regarding my career, so the programme has been a great opportunity to test out several different roles in an international organisation and see which types of roles suit me the best.  I’ve also enjoyed how big emphasis is put on personal and professional development during the programme both in terms of personal competence development during rotations but also through mentorship and workshops organised by the program.

Sakari: I really agree with Anni that the possibility to rotate within different teams and areas has been invaluable. When I entered the programme, I also wasn't sure what I wanted to do, so being able to work in different areas has not only provided me with vast knowledge, but has also helped me to discover which areas I would like to pursue my career further.

Since you both have mentioned rotations in the graduate programme, could you tell us more about what your journey has looked like these past two years?

Anni: I have done four rotations in Business Banking and one in Personal Banking. I started in the Cash Management unit and worked in a customer interface with our medium-sized corporate customers. After that I moved to the Digital Sales team, where I was involved in content development for our netbank for business customers. Then I continued on to our call centre for corporate customers and started a leadership rotation. It was really exciting to work as a team leader for 13 summer employees, and while in this role, I was also involved in recruitments and ran a sales campaign for the unit. After this I moved back to Cash Management and had my fourth rotation as an Account Manager for our large corporate customers, providing support and help on daily matters related to cash management services. Lastly I joined Personal Banking Finland, where I'm currently on my last rotation in the Management Office. Here I’ve gotten the opportunity to work on strategy development as well as support the country leadership team in various matters. I’ve enjoyed to have an opportunity to get to work closely with all of our corporate customer segments as well as having experience on leadership and business and strategy development.

Sakari: My graduate journey has included four 6-month rotations. I started as an IT Analyst in a team that is responsible for developing and maintaining applications in the Forex Trading area. For my second rotation, I worked as an IT Analyst in the Open Banking area for two teams that are responsible for Nordea's API platforms. After the first year of the programme ended, I jumped to Cyber Security and worked as an IT Security Specialist in the Cyber Problem Management function. In April, I started my final rotation, still working with Cyber Security, but with a focus on network security-related matters. It’s been such a great experience to be able to see many different areas of technology in Nordea and work on various tasks during my time, from requirements management and data analysis, to helping with system configurations and performing root-cause analysis for cyber security-related problems.

How would you describe the working environment, the culture and your colleagues?

Sakari: I have always felt that the environment is very welcoming and supportive, especially when it comes to personal development and upskilling. And even as a graduate I have felt a high level of trust. You are entrusted to take on responsibilities from the beginning and are encouraged to get outside of your comfort zone - and are supported to do so.

Anni: I agree with Sakari that the people here are very helpful, warm and welcoming. I have really enjoyed the working culture that is professional and ambitious while it’s also encouraged to have fun when working. I have been able to work both in cross-border teams as well as local teams, which has given me the opportunity to see different sub-cultures inside the bank. And it’s been a pleasure to work with such passionate and experienced people.

Sakari: I also really value the fact that Nordea has a very diverse workforce, with many impactful initiatives to emphasise diversity and inclusion (D&I) and celebrate different groups. This includes Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) that focus on various aspects of D&I, like gender balance, LGBTQ+ inclusion and age diversity.

Anni: I completely agree – D&I is highly prioritised and embraced in Nordea.

The Winning Team of the Nordea Graduate Case Competiton 2023: Annalena Heck, Alicia Murphy, Sakari Mattila, Mats Olsen Myrland

In May you both took part in a three-day Graduate Summit in Stockholm, including a Graduate Case Competition. Could you tell us more about that and what your experience was like?

Anni: The Graduate Summit is an annual meet-up for graduates across the Nordics, where we meet in-person and work on solving interesting cases. This year our case was related to sustainability and more specifically, financial inclusion. I especially appreciated meeting members of Nordea’s senior management, who made up the jury, and participating in a tough but friendly competition between the four case groups.

Sakari: We only had around 24 hours to work with the case, given to us by the Group Sustainability unit, and after that we presented our proposed solution to the jury. With such a short time, it was very intense but rewarding to go from the brainstorming and analysis phase to finally drafting a solution proposal and presenting it for the jury. The key thing I learned is in order to be successful, you have to collaborate and utilise the different skills that people have within your team. Also, efficient time management is required to be able to deliver in the end.

Anni: We should also mention that socialising with the other graduates was a fun and important part of the Graduate Summit, where we were able to share our experiences and explore Stockholm together. That was also a highlight!

Could you share some positive surprises and valuable challenges you have faced since you started in Nordea back in 2021?

Sakari: I was positively surprised how valued graduates are in Nordea. I had some concerns when I started, like would my credibility be questioned because of my graduate status? I quickly realised that it is quite the opposite here. Nordea has been running the graduate programme for many years, so people already know what graduates are capable of and they embrace us from day one. I believe that helps create trust quickly and is one of the reasons graduates are given a lot of responsibility from the beginning.

Anni: I agree with Sakari, I definitely think the most positive surprises are related to the responsibilities and challenges I have been given during the programme. The doors have been opened for me, and I have explored areas and met people that wouldn't be possible to access without the programme. In addition, I have learned so much about our customers and leadership. One wonderful surprise has also been the level we have connected with other graduates across the Nordics. I feel that we have gained a network that will truly benefit all of us, both now and after the programme.

Sakari: And regarding valuable challenges, there have been a lot of them. Not only challenges that you face through your work during your rotations but also case competitions and other activities that the graduate programme organises, which adds an additional layer of development to this two-year journey.

Anni: I have been pushed outside of my comfort zone and have sometimes felt a bit overwhelmed when it came to the tasks I was given. But at the same time, I have had great leaders and teams around me who have supported me and shared their knowledge every step of the way, which I am extremely thankful for.

Do you have any advice for others who would like to join the programme and Nordea?

Sakari: When applying to programme, I wouldn't stress if your background doesn't seem to fit perfectly with the role description at first glance. We have people working in similar roles with very different backgrounds and it is seen as an asset, not a blocker. Motivation, curiosity and the ability to learn are the key factors. When you join the programme, a key thing to remember is to proactively seek new challenges and ask for more responsibility whenever you feel comfortable with current tasks. Although every graduate’s journey is different and very personal, the common principle is that more you put in, the more you get out of it. In the end you have the responsibility to ensure that you get most out of the programme.

Anni: The graduate programme gives you a great opportunity to kick-start your career and test different roles withing banking. We are an ambitious group of people with various backgrounds, so come as you are and experience one of the best graduate programmes in the Nordics!


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