With Mark Andersen, co-founder SWISS FIN LAB
Payment platforms, social media, email accounts, website hosting, telephone companies, smart phone providers, airline accounts, banking apps, clouds, blogging platforms, news subscriptions, the list goes on. Do you see what I see?
20 years ago, few of us had more than a handful of online accounts. If that. The same doesn’t hold true today. Think of what you’ve signed up with over the years.
“Each of us has a digital identity that spans across a vast amount of data. This includes friends, contacts, preferences, education and employment history, religious and political tendencies, etc. Where does that identity exist? It hides behind the walled gardens of dozens (and maybe hundreds) of centralized online services.
However, we have little control and ownership of that identity. It’s fragmented, inconsistent and insecure. Each of those services holds its own image of our information. Much of it is redundant. Some of it is old, some of it invalid. We don’t know how much information each of those services collects and stores. Consequently, we have no other choice than to trust them with keeping our data secure and use it responsibly.
Given the amount of sensitive and intimate information they handle, these services have a heavy burden to bear. And oftentimes, their knees buckle under the weight of that burden, at our expense. Long story short, our online identities have become too valuable and complicated to entrust their safekeeping and management to anyone else but ourselves.” (Source: The Next Web)
It is probably time to take back control of our digital life and profiles. New regulation is around the corner, but how are companies adjusting and how will we exactly take ownership back?
Fortunately, technology is on the cusp of a major paradigm shift in the field of identity. Blockchain will create a major revolutionary transformation in this area — but many questions of how still remain unanswered. Companies, governments and NGOs are beginning to tackle this question in ways that hint at the profound impact this will have on how we live our lives.
“It is counter-intuitive, but the reality is that we don’t really own ourselves (in the digital sense). Though we can edit the profiles we create, third parties ultimately own our data. And it can be painful (or impossible) to wrest back control of that data. Imagine trying to sustain your personal relationships while deleting all your social network accounts, or put a down payment on a home without a credit history.
Why is this important? Well, to begin, as Jaron Lanier writes in Who Owns the Future, “You don’t get to know what correlations have been calculated about you by Google, Facebook, an insurance company, or a financial entity, and that’s the kind of data that influences your life the most in a networked world.” Lanier calls these services siren servers, and notes that we are eerily comfortable giving away personal data in a trade for convenience.” (Source: TechCrunch).
What are the implications of this paradigm? And how are organizations really managing data?
“More than ever, the ability to manage torrents of data is critical to a company’s success. But even with the emergence of data-management functions and chief data officers (CDOs), most companies remain badly behind the curve. Cross-industry studies show that on average, less than half of an organization’s structured data is actively used in making decisions—and less than 1% of its unstructured data is analyzed or used at all. More than 70% of employees have access to data they should not, and 80% of analysts’ time is spent simply discovering and preparing data. Data breaches are common, rogue data sets propagate in silos, and companies’ data technology often isn’t up to the demands put on it.” (source HBR)
Interestingly, in the past few months I have happened to (re)connect with two ex colleagues who, like myself, have left the safe corporate harbor to go out and find ways to make an impact and change history. Of course, I only found out about their latest whereabouts on my LinkedIn feed, where else?
Mark`s story has been for me of particular interest for different reasons: his newly founded company has set out to improve exactly the semi-chaos I describe above, his choice to leave behind a corporate career to tackle impact entrepreneurship speaks volumes to someone who has done the same, funnily enough at the same time, and finally, his energy is too good not to write about! I say this as someone who has worked with him in the corporate world and once out, during a lunch, we both nearly missed a meeting because we just could not stop talking about the exciting projects that lie ahead!
Q. Mark, tell us a bit about yourself.
I am a 38 years old Danish guy living in Zurich. I am married, but with no kids. My wife lives in Hong Kong, so I naturally travel a bit. I love meeting interesting people, trying to solve challenges, make a difference, and have a bit of fun as I go along.
Q. You recently co-founded SWISS FIN LAB. How did that come about?
I moved to Switzerland in 2006 to join UBS as an investment strategist. After a tremendous 10 years with UBS and a career that gave me the opportunity to meet interesting people around the world, learning to engage with people and lead teams, training my analytic and diplomatic skills, understanding the good and bad of large organisations, living in buzzing cities as Hong Kong and New York, learning to get a bit more comfortable with public speaking, and most importantly taking everything in as an experience...
I thought it was time for another adventure. It didn't have to be FinTech, but technology is a tremendous enabler, and with a personal toolbox that includes finance and investment related skills, it was the natural place to go. From a development perspective, I am really excited to learn how to run a company, and be part of the ongoing technology revolution, which is turning industries upside down right now.
Q. Why did you co-found SWISS FIN LAB?
The mission statement and the first few lines of our shareholder agreement spells out the reason we exist as a company. It's the desire to:
1. Make meaningful products that the world needs
2. Build a company where people love to work
3. Be financially successful so we can continue doing 1 and 2
Q. What are you up to at SWISS FIN LAB?
We believe that the successful companies of the future will have access to data and the ability to use it for smart algorithms to provide more relevant services for people. We also believe that individuals will thrive with ownership of their digital identity and control of its usability for services. We try to take advantage of this by developing software that enables the exchange of personal data between individuals and companies and in its usability for applications, in particular for personal financial management.
Q. Do you have a higher purpose with your company?
Yes, I think we do. Two keywords for me are data democracy and helping people reduce stress in their daily lives. In terms of "problem statement", I would say:
1. Data democracy: Today, personal data is gathered and sometimes "exploited" by the large Tech giants. Upcoming data regulation tries to democratise this process, and we want to support this development by helping people and companies access and make use of personal data for better services.
2. Reducing stress: Personal finances is the largest source of stress for people globally. We want to help solve that by making use of people's personal data and smart investment algorithms for better personal financial management.
Q. What type of products does that lead to?
We come at it from the two angles described before. First, in terms of personal data, we are just launching ZOA GDPR, a software for companies to manage EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that will also work as an enabler for companies and individuals to exchange personal data. Secondly, to help people reduce stress around personal financial management, we are offering investment applications to financial service providers via our product FINANCIAL LIFE GOALS.
Q. What gets you most excited?
At the moment, it's building a company. The creation of a team of super experts in their field, no arrogance, just competence, and the prospect of bringing a contribution to this world. I have nights when I am off to bed, where I can hardly wait to get up in the morning.
Q. What are your biggest challenges?
As a young company, we are relying on people believing in our skills and vision to work with us. We believe in partnerships, and we are proud and happy to have found the first companies that trust in us and have given us work, and then of course talented individuals that want to join the ride and come work with us.
Q. How do you manage your energy?
I am trying not to sound too "zen" about it when I say this, but I really try to listen to my body and optimise the use of my energy. I have times where I feel I can really concentrate. Then I work full speed and preferably uninterrupted. Some of my most concentrated work hours, I can get in while travelling. Other times I need to move, socialise, rest and so on, and whenever I can, I will try to play into those needs. I understand I am in a privileged position to manage my life in such a fashion, but I think it's a way to optimise ones' capacity. I also try to stay healthy and do sports to give myself more energy.
Q. How does that play out in a work-life-balance?
I am still learning my rhythm, but my experience is so far that I tend to work most days. Some days more than others. But I rarely push myself through a consultancy or investment banking style working day.
Q. Any life philosophy?
I recently discovered this American psychologist, Carl Rogers, who I think has a quite cool life philosophy, and that represents somewhat how I try to approach things. He says: "This process of the good life is not, I am convinced, a life for the faint-hearted. It involves the stretching and growing of becoming more and more of one's potentialities. It involves the courage to be. It means launching oneself fully into the stream of life".
Q. You still have an engagement with UBS - tell us a bit about that.
Yes, I am still 20% employed at UBS. UBS is really an extraordinary company with some extraordinary people, and I think my working arrangement speaks highly of the capacity of the firm to adapt to a future working model. The attempt is to create a win-win model between a large visionary corporation like UBS and what we believe is a visionary young company SWISS FIN LAB.
Q. There is a large debate going on around the future of work. How do you see it playing out?
I think the future of work is more flexibly and more meaningfully defined. As more and more people are fortunate to grow up not struggling with the basic human needs of food and shelter, I think looking to bring a meaningful contribution to the world becomes an increasing focus. And that's a really cool thing for society. But it also means that if your mission as a company is simply to "make money", you will no longer attract the best talent. It's a bit of an anecdote, but since we launched as a company, we have had some really exceptionally talented people reach out asking to be part of our team and mission. That's really motivational, but also something to live up to.
Q. Any final thoughts for the #FearlessFridays readers?
I really like the concept of "Own the way you live". Many of us are fortunate enough to live in parts of the world, where we don't have to be prisoners in our own lives. And when we dare taking charge, that's often when the magic happens.
A few final words on the second key societal goal of SWISS FIN LAB: “Reducing stress when it comes to personal finances by making use of people's personal data and smart investment algorithms”.
The fact that personal finances is the largest source of stress for people globally is undeniable and true for everyone. However it is especially true in the case of women. Women live longer statistically and over a life time, for different reasons, earn less than men. It is often the inevitable result of taking time out to care about children or family members. But what increasingly research shows is that women have been holding back from taking charge of their own finances due to lack of confidence. Women suffer more from this than men and in the area of finance – so set about jargon and idiosyncrasies – it`s all too easy to become intimidated.
What I have learned is that sorting out finances – to buy property, invest in the stock market, get better educated, take care of your pension - takes time and trust. In yourself firstly and in the advice that sources you choose to trust will provide. What happens to trust when it is managed by smart investment algorithms combined with your own personal data, beliefs, needs and preferences? Watch this space, as your world is about to change, bringing back that much needed little extra confidence boost. What`s not to like about such a rising star?
Thank you Mark, we look forward to hearing more about SWISS FIN LAB in 2018!
- Manuela Andaloro