Handelsbanken began its UK banking operations in the early 1980s and today has over 200 branches across the country, stretching from Inverness to Truro, Colwyn Bay to Canterbury. After a number of successful decades in the UK, the Bank marked an important milestone when it acquired wealth management firm Heartwood, now known as Handelsbanken Wealth Management and Heartwood Investment Management. The LINK met with CEO Tracey Davidson, who has been with Handelsbanken since 2003 and at the helm of the wealth management and investment business since 2014.
From the dream of becoming a music teacher….
Tracey Davidson, originally from Liverpool, grew up wanting to be a music teacher. By the end of her high school education however, Tracey realised that she had changed her mind, deferred her university place and took a year off to determine what she wanted to do before going to university. “I think it was my mother who encouraged me to get a job whilst I sorted my ideas out. I successfully landed a job with Barclays International in Liverpool. I loved it from day one and I actually ended up not going to university at all. Instead, I followed an accelerated managers programme, sat my banking exams and then my investment and financial advice exams and I’ve never looked back.”
During her time at Barclays, Tracey also worked in Jersey, in the Channel Islands, and on the south coast of England, in a variety of roles within business and wealth management. Back in 2002, she was approached by a headhunter who introduced her to Handelsbanken’s area manager. He told her all about this exceptional company that worked with a unique organisational structure using a flat, empowered business model. “I was intrigued and enticed, so, in 2003, I decided to move to Handelsbanken. Right from the start I got to see the model in action and I was part of the team that established the Bank’s 10th UK branch in Southampton,” says Tracey.
…to a successful banker and business woman
Tracey went on to work in a number of management positions within Handelsbanken, and, in 2010, she was appointed Senior Vice President and Head of Handelsbanken’s Regional Bank North, succeeding Anders Bouvin, and becoming a part of Handelsbanken Group Management. It was in this role that Tracey worked on the search for a wealth management company to acquire for the Bank, in order to meet growing customer demand for wealth management and investment services.
Tracey says: “We brought the wealth management aspect to our business having been told by our customers that they wanted it. I started with the bank in 2003, and already back then customers asked if they could invest with us but at the time we didn’t have any suitable products locally.”
Having been successful in the acquisition, Handelsbanken asked Tracey to help integrate the wealth management business with the Bank. “Today, Handelsbanken Wealth Management and Handelsbanken branches are perfectly intertwined. Together we serve our customers and meet their needs, providing long-term, holistic financial planning. And since the acquisition, we’ve grown very strongly which has proved that we were right to listen to our customers.”
Working for a Swedish business in the UK
Handelsbanken has for a long time been one of the most famous banks and brands in Sweden. Yet, in the UK, the brand hasn’t always been as well-known as it is today. “In 2003, when I joined Handelsbanken, I spent much of my time explaining to people who Handelsbanken was and what we did. Now I go to meetings and customers tell me who we are, what we do and how great they think we are. I just love that, and it makes me very proud,” says Tracey. When speaking about Handelsbanken’s Swedish roots, Tracey says that she’s been at Handelsbanken for so long that she doesn’t think of the Bank as particularly Swedish. Nonetheless, she says that when people realise that Handelsbanken has a Swedish heritage the connotations that she encounters are solely positive. “In the UK the Swedish connections are viewed very positively and with it comes a credibility that is almost unspoken. There’s always some fun comments about ABBA.” She also says that the concept of fika goes down extremely well at Handelsbanken in the UK. “I regularly have fikas here at work with a mixed group of colleagues from different departments where we talk about anything and everything over a cup of coffee.”
Local decision-making and long-term relationships
As a bank, Handelsbanken is known for having a markedly different culture from that of its competitors. For Tracey it is clear that it is the organisational design that allows Handelsbanken to work as well as it does. “If you start with the branches, we believe that the best decisions are made close to our customers. Employees in branches are empowered to make decisions locally, whilst working towards the Bank’s overall corporate goal, at the centre of which is to deliver the highest possible levels of customer satisfaction. Within this framework we trust our employees to do the right thing, without telling them what products to sell or how to sell them, or worse, how many to sell. This enables us to operate an ethical business, where we focus on doing what is in the customer’s best interest. If that means telling a customer that they shouldn’t invest, then that is what we will do – and we would consider that a job well done, even though it hasn’t made us money that day. Doing the right thing for our customers, whatever that may be, hopefully means we will end up building a long-term relationship with them, which is the best thing for the bank and its profitability in the long-term.”
Financial planning - not one size fits all
In addition to the organisational design, the wellbeing of Handelsbanken’s customers is at the very heart of Handelsbanken’s business. Tracey says that for Handelsbanken it’s all about building a long-term relationship via whatever medium best suits the customer. “15 years ago, the only way that clients would have received wealth management services would have been face to face. Today there are more options available. Financial planning is not ‘one size fits all’. Sometimes you need to sit down and talk to a human being but sometimes you’re happy reviewing your financial planning on your phone at night, home in your pyjamas with a warm cocoa,” says Tracey. In order to meet this evolution, Handelsbanken last year launched a new industry-leading digital investment reporting tool which gives clients an up-to-date view on what is happening with their investment portfolio, what changes have been made, up-to-date commentary from the investment team and an ability to analyse the portfolio performance; a really dynamic experience.
When it comes to the development of technologies such as AI, Tracey’s view is that there is still a human element required when it comes to wealth management services and she is not yet clear on her opinion on AI in terms of delivering financial advice. “I think that whilst there are always people who will embrace new technological developments and who might be willing to take advice from or implement advice given by AI, it’s not something that we see a demand for amongst our customer-base today. Our customers tell us that the human interaction and the relationship element that they get with Handelsbanken is important, but they also like to have the digital tools to support it. We don’t think it’s one or the other, we think it’s a combination of both. We think this dual approach we offer is a USP. With that being said, people are different, times of your life are different, and sometimes it depends on the magnitude of what you are looking to do that will determine whether you want a face to face interaction or whether you are happy using digital tools.”
The love for business
Tracey has a strong passion for the industry of banking, finance and investment which is why she takes every opportunity she gets to promote it as a great place for careers. “I think that if I went into any high school today, not many students would put their hands up and say that they wanted to be a banker in the future, which is a tragedy because it is an excellent industry for people to work in and I’d like to help make that change.”
When it comes to Tracey’s personal success it is clear that her energetic personality, her love of business and her passion for interacting with people have played a big role. “Interacting with people and seeing them succeed as well as a love for the mechanics of business are two of the best things about my job”. Tracey explains that the pace and responsibility that come with her role give her both adrenaline and positivity. She believes that some people would call this stress, but she likes to look at it as a “healthy, good kind of stress”. She says: “I thrive on it, I enjoy all of it and I love seeing things work.” Tracey is constantly looking for the next thing, for new ways to improve and thinks that sometimes the greatest challenge can be to leave things alone. “For me sometimes the hardest thing is to sit on my hands; I have to let people do their job. I have some superb, talented colleagues at Handelsbanken and I am very proud of what we achieve together; I can’t wait to see what we can achieve in the future”.
This article was originally published in the April 2019 issue of our Member Magazine, the LINK. Read the full issue here.