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Niklas Berntsson – Tackling a unique payment challenge

27 Aug 2020

The Avinode family is made up of people from all over the world, with diverse backgrounds and experiences, but there aren’t many Noders who’ve represented their country in their chosen sport. Niklas Berntsson has, and here he tells us about his long journey back home, combining education with his passion for ice hockey and what he’s most looking forward to as the Product Owner for Paynode.

Welcome to Avinode and welcome back to Sweden. You’ve been away a long time

I have indeed. After high school I went to college in New York so I could study and play ice hockey. I played on the Swedish national team when I was 17/18 and I knew it would be hard to combine hockey and school at a high level if I stayed in Sweden. The US collegiate system let me do that, so I made the move and ended up staying in America for 13 years.

And after graduating you stepped straight into the world of corporate America

I spent one year at a small investment firm, but that wasn’t for me, so I joined Mastercard where I stayed for seven years. I started in a group called Advanced Analytics, working on data segmentation and analysis. After getting my MBA from Cornell University I spent another two and a half years in a product management role for their digital payments team, working with technology like Apple Pay.

Then you decided to leave the US. What brought you home to Sweden?

In late 2018 I was questioning whether I wanted to stay in New York. Having missed the chance to travel like many people do after graduating high school, I took off around the world for six months. I made my way through South America, over to New Zealand, Australia and Asia, then back to the US where I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada. 

When my brother and his girlfriend announced they were expecting a baby in Sweden I came back to be part of that. It was then I decided to stay in Gothenburg.

And Avinode came along

Yes. After spending most of my career in a huge organisation I knew I wanted to work at a company that was more personal and one where I could get a little closer to everyone. During the interview I got a great feeling, and my background in payments made me a good candidate for the role.

How different is life at Avinode compared to Mastercard?

Avinode is certainly more agile. I think that has a lot to do with Swedish culture compared to that in the US, especially in the way we view hierarchy and structure. It’s easier to get things done without going through layers of sign-off – that’s really refreshing. Also, you can always talk to the CEO or anyone in the company, which is great.

Why does the aviation sector need its own payment system?

Most transactions in everyday life are small, but with business aviation we’re dealing with huge amounts, low frequency and often complex transactions that span across borders. There’s currently no standardized way to do this, which is what the sector really needs.

Making these transactions secure, seamless and transparent is a unique challenge to solve. No one has gotten there yet, but we’re perfectly positioned to crack it. It’ll take a lot of work and that’s the fun of it, but we’ll get there.

So it’s an exciting time to join the team?

It is, because a lot of the pieces have already been put in place. I’m not coming into something that’s completely exploratory but at the same time it’s not totally defined either, so there are things I can have an impact on. It feels like something big is about to happen and it’s up to us all to determine what that is.

Surely there can’t be many similarities between ice hockey and product development?

Well, both rely massively on teamwork to deliver success. Each individual brings their own skills to the table and those must come together with everyone on the same page. 

Thankfully, in product development there’s rarely the need to drop the gloves and start fighting!

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