I'm just on my way back from a banking conference in Copenhagen, and it surprised me.
It surprised me because, as I said to the audience, the Nordic and especially Danish banks had always led innovations in Europe and yet I hadn't spotted a single major innovation in recent years.
I had in Poland (Alior and mBank), and Turkey (Deniz and Akbank), and Spain (BBVA, Caja Navarro, la Caixa, Banco Sabadell) … but Denmark? I would be hard pressed to think of anything, apart from e-identity.
When I asked the audience whether Nordic banking was leading or following innovations, they voted about 6:1 in favour of following.
What's gone wrong?
Nothing, they said.
Just that Internet banking became so dominant in this country – used by 80% of the population, double of the average in the EU – that there wasn't much more innovation they could do.
I'm not sure I agree, as mobile is a hotbed of change and yet one of the banks presented a case study of mobile and made clear that it was precisely the e-id that was holding them back.
This is because e-id is based upon a public/private partnership of development between government and finance.
NemID, the public/private encrypted identification system, needs to Javafied if the banks are to offer native tablet and smartphone apps. But the government won't offer a Java NemID until mid-2014.
As a result, the banks have had to use HTML4 websites in apps, because they cannot offer in-app ID checks.
Now that all got a bit technical – don't even mention Hadoop – but the bottom-line is that banks can only innovate as fast (or slow) as governments in the Nordic markets.
So there's a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, I admire the Nordic countries for creating a digital identity program that is used and shared by both government and banking.
This means that welfare, healthcare, benefits and banking are all harmonised and standardised, and that is a dream for all.
On the other, a government and bank co-development program can only move at the speed of the slowest member and by Gawd, the government can be slow.
Anyways, my walkaway is that we can all learn lessons from what the Nordic markets are doing with e-identities and, in this respect, they are leading the world.