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15-03-2023 11:21

The Finnish athlete with her eyes on the ‘red dragon’

As a young orienteering talent in Finland, Tuuli Koivu dreamt about a career in sports. Now the Nordea chief economist strives to be on top of the global economy – and especially the future direction of China.
Tuuli Koivu Chief Analyst Finland

You may recognise Tuuli Koivu from Finnish media, where she often appears, sharing her expertise and insights on the economic outlook. The Nordea chief economist describes herself as a “passionate follower” of the world economy, never bored when analysing the complex relationships between monetary policy, the financial sector and economic growth.

As a youngster, she also loved analysing signs to figure out the direction – only in a much more literal way, with a map and compass in hand.

“I competed a lot in orienteering when I was younger. That was my big passion, along with following cross-country skiing and pony riding,“ she says. Tuuli and her friends kept notebooks full of results from sports competitions and championships, and she dreamt of becoming a sports journalist covering the Olympics before she to got interested in other topics.

Koivu started out as a political science major at the University of Jyväskylä, but that changed after a training camp for orienteering talents when a teammate showed her his economics notes.

“I found it very interesting,” she recounts. “I’ve always loved math, and I also found it fascinating to combine how people behave with what’s happening in politics and what it implies for economics.” She switched her studies to economics, alongside Chinese language and sports administration, and later earned a Ph.D. in economics.

Customers in focus

Tuuli Koivu started her career as an economist in the Bank of Finland in 2001, with a focus on China. She then moved to the European Central Bank in 2009 as a China economist. In 2011 she returned to the Bank of Finland before joining the Finnish ministry for financial affairs in 2014 as a senior advisor, working on financial sector regulation at the EU level.

Koivu joined Nordea as a senior economist in 2016 and became chief economist in 2019, a role that brings her in contact with a wide range of customers in all business areas at Nordea.

“The customer dialogue is very interesting, but I of course have to do my homework first,” she says. Dialogue with the Nordic press is also an important part of the job. She says her favourite part of the role is the continuous learning.

“Nothing stands still. Everything is in constant motion. I am in a position where I can study full time and increase my skillset every day, as well as exchange views and have interesting discussions on how others see the world. That gives me a lot of energy,” Koivu says.

Nothing stands still. Everything is in constant motion. I am in a position where I can study full time and increase my skillset every day, as well as exchange views and have interesting discussions on how others see the world. That gives me a lot of energy. 

Tuuli Koivu, Chief Economist for Finland at Nordea

Inflation and geopolitical risks

When it comes to the current outlook for the world economy, Koivu notes that we’re living through exceptional times with great uncertainty. She points to soaring inflation as the most important theme to keep an eye on.

“We have not seen a scenario like this since the 70’s. Even if things have started to look a bit better, there is still uncertainty about how the central banks will get it under control, and how much they will raise interest rates,” she says.

Yet while inflation dominates the discussion in Western countries, we are experiencing significant challenges from climate change and negative environmental trends. Geopolitical risks related to the Russian assault on Ukraine and the great power competition between the US and China are also complicating the global picture.

“This is all horrible news and something I do not enjoy as an economist. We all want to see growth, enough work for everyone and an increase in people’s welfare,” she says.

As one of Finland’s leading experts on China, Koivu is also particularly concerned about the country’s future direction. At China’s Party Congress in October, President Xi Jinping continued to strengthen his role as China’s leader.

“We know that he has very ambitious plans for China, but his policies towards the economy have been quite rough,” she says. “He has increased regulation and taken billions from certain billionaires. The fact that he now has so much power is quite risky from an economic perspective. I think I am now much more worried about China's long-term outlook than I have ever been before.”

She notes that the rivalry and diplomatic tone between the US and China will be important to watch going forward:

“The great power competition will only intensify. I just hope that both countries will have wise leaders so that nothing unnecessarily bad happens.”

Tuuli Koivu at a glance

Position: Chief economist for Finland at Nordea

Family: Husband, daughter (11 y/o) and a dog

Education: Ph.D. in economics from the University of Jyväskylä

Interests: Orienteering, skiing and activities in nature

Daily news and updates: Chinese media, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, European and Finish media

Favourite book: Factory Girls by Leslie T. Chang alongside a lot of modern Finnish literature. Favourite author: Rosa Liksom.

Favourite podcast: The Trade Guys, a Washington, D.C.-based podcast discussing all aspects of the international trade war, hosted by the think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). In addition, China-related webinars from all around the world.

Favourite TV show: While she doesn’t watch much TV, “Pitääkö olla huolissaan?” tops the list. Viewers send in questions about the world and specific situations. “The panel, three best-selling authors in Finland, always come up with a funny response,” she says.

Follow Tuuli's research