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How can unions grow in a new sector? The Danish finance union innovating in fintech



How can unions breakthrough into new areas and be successful? How can they take advantage of a growing area within their sector? This is the challenge that Danish union Finansforbundet sought to solve, gaining a collective agreement in 2020 with fintech employers and recently a UNI Global Breakthrough Award for their innovation.

The minute we heard this, Unions 21 sat down with Michael Budolfsen, Vice President of Finansforbundet about his union's recent work to find out what other unions could learn.

Finansforbundet is a Danish union for those working in finance. Membership is open to students, IT specialists, finance professionals, managers and leaders in finance. As a union, they have around 55,000 members which is around 80% density and have 1,200 local reps based in workplaces. They negotiate the standard collective agreement covering the entire finance sector.

During 2014, the union began to assess sectoral trends and noted two major developments - that the headcount in traditional banking were down by 20% and that investment in a new area called fintech was growing in countries such as the UK and US. This led them to ask a very simple, yet challenging question:

‘Why not Denmark? Can Denmark be a hub for fintech in the Nordics or even northern Europe?. We had a lot of members but the landscape was changing. Where will the union be if this continues without us?’

Michael explains that traditionally, the union, like many others, would work from the ground up; encouraging membership, activism and then a collective agreement but in this context, the union decided to be proactive. The sector was emerging so it took steps to build the sector to build membership.

In Denmark, the industry has a Bankers’ association and an Employers’ association so the union used existing relationships with both as well as approaching the Copenhagen municipality to establish a fintech hub to encourage sectoral growth. This hub would support small innovators in the field and begin to build the sector, and with it, jobs.

Since that first start, fintech has been recognised as a sector in it’s own right and as a national point of strength, attracting taken and growing from 700 to 3000 jobs (Denmark has a population of just under 6million) and investment in the sector from 13 to 470 million euros.

These people, Michael says, were brilliant with the IT ideas and knowledge/skills but not necessarily in the areas of making a sustainable company which is where the union came in. As the sector grew, the union thought it was time for a collective agreement. ‘Before you have a sectoral agreement, you need a sector. The employers themselves need to organise so we encouraged the employers association to set one up.’

Once this occurred, it was about encouraging those employers in the hub to join and sign up to the collective agreement. Like most start ups, these companies employed relatively small numbers of people so the incentive was framed that agreeing to set arrangements (with modifications) would enable the company to get on with the things it needed to do rather than have individual arrangements which could take time away from business development.

With the agreements in place, the union is moving towards recruitment of members. The union has taken the philosophy of patience, persistence and perspiration which is that they know this will take hard work and not come overnight but that they have laid the ground for membership which is coming. On this, Michael makes the point:

‘You cannot sell a problem, it’s all about solutions and community so that’s what we are going back to members and potential members with. What do you value? What kind of community do you want to be a part of? What do you want your worklife to look like? This is what we focus on as a way of talking about union membership.

Our usual recruitment would come from our reps who are the backbone of our union. Especially during the pandemic, when restrictions meant visits could not take place. Like other unions we have needed to adapt but have faced challenges. Many would assume that fintech workers are all digital. Yet we have found that not to be the case. The fintech workers want to be together, want to learn and need to share ideas so activities to grow the community that way is really important. This makes reps even more important.’