New NPC head Camilla Åkerman: ’We’re never satisfied with the status quo’

Camilla Åkerman, the new head of the Nordic Payments Council, discusses her priorities for the organisation and her vision for continued payments integration in the Nordics.

There is very little Camilla Åkerman doesn’t know about payments infrastructure. It’s something she’s been thinking about for some time.

With almost 30 years of experience in banking, the newly appointed Secretary General of the Nordic Payments Council (NPC), only accepted her previous role as Product Manager at SEB with the promise that payments infrastructure would be part of her remit.

“And now, I have the opportunity to focus on it full-time. It’s a very exciting and fortunate position to be in,” she says.

Curious by nature and always eager to improve things, Åkerman has been looking at domestic and cross-border payments as well as clearing and settlements for many years, both within national and international banking operations.

During her time at SEB, she was involved in the project that led to the inception of P27. And today, Åkerman strongly believes the NPC has an important role to play in what’s to come when it comes to payments in the Nordics.

“We realised at an early stage that we needed to have the rulebooks maintained by an independent organisation, making the payments schedules free to use by any clearing house or tech company,” she explains.

Camilla Åkerman: Hitting the ground running

As a non-profit, the NPC brings together a range of financial actors from the region, creating what Åkerman believes is a “stronger voice in Europe” with the clout to influence its European counterpart, the European Payments Council (EPC).

Her first month on the job has been spent familiarising herself with NPC’s activities by participating in working groups, support groups, and the Scheme Management Committee. She has spent time meeting board members from the Nordic banking associations, Swedish authorities, and the Swedish central bank – and even found time to speak at the MoneyLive Nordic Banking 2022 conference.

The main priority in the near term, once the schemes are implemented and P27 has received its clearing licence, is to provide the best possible service for the anticipated influx of new NPC members.

“We have quite a lot to do in the next few months,” says Åkerman.

“As a small organisation, it’s imperative that we stay focused. But now is also the time to plan for what we can do going forward, to continue having a positive impact.”

Åkerman also sees the implementation of ISO standards as one of the most important topics at the moment. While she’s convinced that ISO is the means for successfully creating a shared infrastructure globally, there are always challenges in creating frictionless interlinked cross-border payments, such as local regulations and well-established working methods at the local level.

Connecting the Nordics

Long term, the challenge – and the opportunity – is to remain relevant, by keeping the schemes up to date in terms of demand, and listening to market needs. The Stakeholder Forum, a space where authorities, industry bodies and enterprises, as well as operators in the fintech space, can voice opinions, requests, and feedback, will therefore continue to be an important way for Åkerman to keep a finger on the pulse.

“We need to make sure that everyone in the banking and financial sector knows who we are and how we contribute in the Nordics,” she adds.

The Nordic region is an important market, both for the exchange of services and goods internally, but also with Europe. Creating a workable structure for seamless, simple, and standardised payments in the region will not only improve end users’ experience, but also strengthen security, promote transparency, and reduce the risk of fraud for all stakeholders.

“Harmonising Nordic payments and developing schemes similar to those in place for the euro makes sense, especially given the international focus of many Nordic companies. I really buy into the idea of a currency agnostic platform like the one P27 has created – capable of real-time payments and batch clearing – to simplify and make the processes more efficient,” says Åkerman.

Moving beyond the status quo

She is also confident efforts to harmonise Nordic payments won’t be affected by the current economic uncertainty. Not the least given the commitment among the financial community to implement a pan-Nordic payments infrastructure. She acknowledges it may take some time before businesses see the benefit of their investments in ISO, but the impact will be significant once everyone is onboard, and everything is in the same format.

Despite challenges she and her colleagues at the NPC may face on the road ahead, Camilla Åkerman remains committed to realising the vision of a fully harmonised payments infrastructure in the Nordics. And she doesn’t see any reason to stop there.

“We in the Nordics are never satisfied with the status quo,” she explains.

“And I want us to continue to look into other areas that could benefit from having cross-Nordic standardised solutions. And ideally, this work too can be carried out by the Nordic Payments Council.”