Stockholm-based Trustly is a fast-growing online payments provider, reaching more than 400 million consumers across Europe. Less than 10 years old, the business has expanded by simplifying the e-commerce payments process for both retailers and their customers. Youthful CEO Oscar Berglund explains what the company does, how it differs from peers and how to ensure that colleagues remain motivated and focused during a period of exceptionally strong growth. Smart, driven and persuasive, Berglund also discusses where Trustly is heading over the coming years.​

THE INTERVIEW

In 2009, Oscar Berglund was working for a boutique asset management firm in London, focused on Central and Eastern Europe equities. Aged 30 at the time, he had already spent five years at Goldman Sachs, joining as an analyst straight out of the Stockholm School of Economics.

“I received a call from a friend of mine in Sweden to say he had started up a new company. It was going quite well but they needed some support. As someone working in the financial services industry in London, he thought I might be able to put him in touch with some investors,” Berglund recalls. 

The company was Trustly and Berglund was talking to Lukas Gratte, one of Trustly’s three co-founders, along with Joel Jakobsson and Carl Wilsson.

“Lukas and Joel were hard-core coders and Carl was doing everything else. The company had only started up in 2008 and it was very early days. But I thought it looked interesting so I made a small personal investment,” says Berglund. 

Man for all seasons

Other friends and family also invested in the business and, as the company expanded, there was a growing realisation that it needed a proper board. The co-founders turned to Berglund. 

“I had been talking to Carl for some time anyway about issues such as strategy and pricing so I was a natural choice for the new board. I became the chairman but I was also taking the minutes!” says Berglund. 

Berglund was working in Moscow at this stage so, when Trustly gained its first institutional investor in 2011, he took a back seat, stepping down as chairman but remaining on the board. 

Just a year later however, Berglund’s first child was born and he and his partner decided to return to Sweden. 

 “I’d known Trustly for several years by then and I could see its potential so in 2013, I joined full-time as CFO,” he says. 

 

 

 THE INTERVIEW

Trust me

Trust

me

Our ambition is to become the best and most used bank payments provider in Europe. That’s a pretty big prize but that’s where we’re aiming”​

We want to remove the intermediaries between merchants and online consumers and make online payments as safe, simple and convenient as possible for both parties”​

In 2009, Oscar Berglund was working for a boutique asset management firm in London, focused on Central and Eastern Europe equities. Aged 30 at the time, he had already spent five years at Goldman Sachs, joining as an analyst straight out of the Stockholm School of Economics.

“I received a call from a friend of mine in Sweden to say he had started up a new company. It was going quite well but they needed some support. As someone working in the financial services industry in London, he thought I might be able to put him in touch with some investors,” Berglund recalls. 

The company was Trustly and Berglund was talking to Lukas Gratte, one of Trustly’s three co-founders, along with Joel Jakobsson and Carl Wilsson.

“Lukas and Joel were hard-core coders and Carl was doing everything else. The company had only started up in 2008 and it was very early days. But I thought it looked interesting so I made a small personal investment,” says Berglund. 

Man for all seasons

Other friends and family also invested in the business and, as the company expanded, there was a growing realisation that it needed a proper board. The co-founders turned to Berglund. 

“I had been talking to Carl for some time anyway about issues such as strategy and pricing so I was a natural choice for the new board. I became the chairman but I was also taking the minutes!” says Berglund. 

Berglund was working in Moscow at this stage so, when Trustly gained its first institutional investor in 2011, he took a back seat, stepping down as chairman but remaining on the board. 

Just a year later however, Berglund’s first child was born and he and his partner decided to return to Sweden. 

 “I’d known Trustly for several years by then and I could see its potential so in 2013, I joined full-time as CFO,” he says. 

 

Stockholm-based Trustly is a fast-growing online payments provider, reaching more than 400 million consumers across Europe. Less than 10 years old, the business has expanded by simplifying the e-commerce payments process for both retailers and their customers. Youthful CEO Oscar Berglund explains what the company does, how it differs from peers and how to ensure that colleagues remain motivated and focused during a period of exceptionally strong growth. Smart, driven and persuasive, Berglund also discusses where Trustly is heading over the coming years.​

A neat proposition

Back then, there were 20 employees but the business was already gaining ground in its home market and across the Nordics. In essence, Trustly enables consumers to make online payments directly from their bank accounts, without using credit or debit cards or other third parties. 

“When you think about it, pretty much everyone gets their salary paid into a bank account and when they buy something, the money has to come out of their bank account sooner or later. With that in mind, we want to remove the intermediaries between merchants and online consumers and make online payments as safe, simple and convenient as possible for both parties,” says Berglund. The group has grown in leaps and bounds during the past four years, operating across 29 European markets and processing payments from consumer accounts at more than 3,000 banks.

Making payment easy 

“Historically, it was quite hard to pay online directly from your bank account. You needed to remember complicated passwords or put your card into some kind of hardware device. Today, it is increasingly easy to make online payments using fingerprint ID or text messages. That is one driver of the growth of our business. A lot of people like the idea of paying for things via their bank account. They perceive it as safer and more convenient than paying with a card – especially the younger generation, who want to be able to transact as quickly and simply as possible,” says Berglund.

Trustly’s customers are the merchants, rather than the banks or the consumers. When seeking new business, the company’s message is that its payment services give consumers more choice, thereby increasing the chance that they will complete a transaction. Importantly too, Trustly facilitates cross-border payments, which play an increasing role in the e-commerce space. 

“Many merchants today want to reach out to consumers in different countries but they also want to spend time developing their core business not worrying about how to get paid in different jurisdictions. Trustly solves the problem for them. We are like a one-stop bank payments shop for European merchants,” Berglund explains.

Overcoming resistance

Initially, a number of banks were less than enthusiastic about Trustly’s services. Giving consumers the choice of paying directly from their account reduces the number of debit and credit card-based transactions, traditionally a lucrative source of income for the banking industry. 

“There has been some resistance from banks, although more so a few years ago,” Berglund admits. “Now though, most have understood we are in the same court, strategically speaking. We both want the bank account to be at the heart of the consumer’s and the merchant’s financial life so we make it easy to pay from and into the bank account. Also, we believe that banks shouldn’t fight the consumer. If consumers want to pay in a certain way, they should be allowed or even encouraged to do so.”

Some banks are still trying to push against the tide but Trustly’s logic and the simplicity of its offer are seductive. The company offers cross-border payments via consumer bank accounts across Europe and processes more than two million transactions a month.

Stepping up 

It has also won a number of awards, most recently from the London Stock Exchange Group, which recognised Trustly as one of the most inspiring and fast-growing SMEs in Europe in its 2017 edition of ‘1000 Companies to Inspire’ report. Agreements have been signed with two of the world’s best-known payment services providers, PayPal and Western Union, and employee numbers have shot up, from 20 four years ago to 165 today.

Berglund himself became CEO in September 2016, since when the workforce has grown by more than 50 people and revenues are up by over 60 per cent. 

For Berglund, the pace of growth is both exciting and a challenge. 

“I am really focused on continually building the organisation, recruiting the right people, making sure they are properly trained, empowering them and making sure they fit into our culture,” he says. 

“It’s also important to keep updating our processes and routines and building the right structures within the company. When you are growing as fast as we are, you can’t just look at what you did last year and make a few minor adjustments. You have to rethink things sometimes several times a year, while making sure that you stay efficient and keep growing in the right way. It’s a challenge but it’s also great fun.”

Cultural niceties

The office environment is certainly designed to encourage employees to enjoy their work. Like many tech companies, there is plenty of downtime space, with table football, pinball machines and outdoor areas, replete with loungers and fake grass. 

Many employees have breakfast at work every morning and there are regular Friday night drinks at the group’s fully functioning bar. “I think it’s really important that people enjoy themselves at work. Then they feel happier and work harder. Also, when you are expanding fast, you need to pay attention to the culture. When we were really small, people knew what was going on just by meeting in the kitchen. Now we need to actively communicate with everyone and make sure they are all engaged in our business,” Berglund explains. 

The need is all the greater as Trustly has offices in Malta, London, Cologne and Barcelona, as well as the main head office in Stockholm. 

Best in Europe

“Over time, our ambition is to become the best and most used bank payments provider in Europe. That’s a pretty big prize but that’s where we’re aiming. Of course, there are obstacles along the way. We need to keep ahead of the competition, educate consumers and merchants, create new products and continuously improve. We’re also a regulated business so we have to keep on top of that too,” says Berglund.

Fortunately, Berglund believes that Trustly’s culture responds well to challenges. “We are resilient and resourceful. We’re relatively humble in the way we treat partners and colleagues. And we’re quite ingenious. There are a lot of smart people here, who think out of the box and turn ideas into proper products,” he says. 

“In fact, what I most enjoy about this job is when I feel that the team around me is solving things and executing on our strategy. It’s really rewarding when you see people working well, working together and working with pride and joy,” he adds. Berglund is a problem-solver himself. Described as one of the smartest people they know by colleagues, he speaks five languages, Swedish, English, Russian, German and Spanish.

Broadening the horizons

“I went on a US exchange when I was at university and before that I learnt Russian when I was in the Swedish army in 1997 and ’98. I also went on language courses in Russia and Spain, though my Spanish is pretty rusty today,” he explains. 

Bridgepoint Development Capital invested in Trustly in 2014 and Berglund has closely worked with it over recent years, particularly as it has an office in Stockholm. 

“It’s really useful bouncing ideas off them. I talk to them a lot and they have introduced us to a number of great contacts in retail, banking and elsewhere. Their international reach and network is really helpful too and their knowledge of the retail sector,” Berglund explains. 

Berglund believes that his time at Goldman Sachs and asset manager Alpcot Capital have also helped him in his current role.“At Goldmans, I learnt a lot about teamwork and data-driven analysis, as well as the importance of putting the client first. Alpcot was pretty much a start-up. It was very entrepreneurial and innovative so that has helped me a lot here,” he says. 

Having joined Trustly full-time following the birth of his first child, Berglund now has three daughters, aged five, three and seven months. Life is busy.

“I travel quite a lot, meeting merchants, driving new business and going to our other offices, although I am here in the Stockholm office the majority of the time. Most of my free time is spent with my family though I like to do a bit of exercise and read a book, when I can.”

For exercise, read basketball, a natural sport for Berglund, who measures 1.98m (6’6”). 

“I was a natural. It was always my sport. My height compensates for my lack of ability,” he says, with typical Swedish humility 

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I became the chairman but I was also taking the minutes!”​

When we were really small, people knew what was going on just by meeting in the kitchen. Now we need to actively communicate with everyone and make sure they are all engaged in our business”​

When you are growing as fast as we are, you can’t just look at what you did last year and make a few minor adjustments. You have to rethink things sometimes several times a year, while making sure that you stay efficient and keep growing in the right way”​

A neat proposition

Back then, there were 20 employees but the business was already gaining ground in its home market and across the Nordics. In essence, Trustly enables consumers to make online payments directly from their bank accounts, without using credit or debit cards or other third parties. 

“When you think about it, pretty much everyone gets their salary paid into a bank account and when they buy something, the money has to come out of their bank account sooner or later. With that in mind, we want to remove the intermediaries between merchants and online consumers and make online payments as safe, simple and convenient as possible for both parties,” says Berglund. The group has grown in leaps and bounds during the past four years, operating across 29 European markets and processing payments from consumer accounts at more than 3,000 banks.

Making payment easy 

“Historically, it was quite hard to pay online directly from your bank account. You needed to remember complicated passwords or put your card into some kind of hardware device. Today, it is increasingly easy to make online payments using fingerprint ID or text messages. That is one driver of the growth of our business. A lot of people like the idea of paying for things via their bank account. They perceive it as safer and more convenient than paying with a card – especially the younger generation, who want to be able to transact as quickly and simply as possible,” says Berglund.

Trustly’s customers are the merchants, rather than the banks or the consumers. When seeking new business, the company’s message is that its payment services give consumers more choice, thereby increasing the chance that they will complete a transaction. Importantly too, Trustly facilitates cross-border payments, which play an increasing role in the e-commerce space. 

“Many merchants today want to reach out to consumers in different countries but they also want to spend time developing their core business not worrying about how to get paid in different jurisdictions. Trustly solves the problem for them. We are like a one-stop bank payments shop for European merchants,” Berglund explains. 

 

I became the chairman but I was also taking the minutes!”​

Overcoming resistance

Initially, a number of banks were less than enthusiastic about Trustly’s services. Giving consumers the choice of paying directly from their account reduces the number of debit and credit card-based transactions, traditionally a lucrative source of income for the banking industry. 

“There has been some resistance from banks, although more so a few years ago,” Berglund admits. “Now though, most have understood we are in the same court, strategically speaking. We both want the bank account to be at the heart of the consumer’s and the merchant’s financial life so we make it easy to pay from and into the bank account. Also, we believe that banks shouldn’t fight the consumer. If consumers want to pay in a certain way, they should be allowed or even encouraged to do so.”

Some banks are still trying to push against the tide but Trustly’s logic and the simplicity of its offer are seductive. The company offers cross-border payments via consumer bank accounts across Europe and processes more than two million transactions a month.

We want to remove the intermediaries between merchants and online consumers and make online payments as safe, simple and convenient as possible for both parties”​

Stepping up 

It has also won a number of awards, most recently from the London Stock Exchange Group, which recognised Trustly as one of the most inspiring and fast-growing SMEs in Europe in its 2017 edition of ‘1000 Companies to Inspire’ report. Agreements have been signed with two of the world’s best-known payment services providers, PayPal and Western Union, and employee numbers have shot up, from 20 four years ago to 165 today.

Berglund himself became CEO in September 2016, since when the workforce has grown by more than 50 people and revenues are up by over 60 per cent. 

For Berglund, the pace of growth is both exciting and a challenge. 

“I am really focused on continually building the organisation, recruiting the right people, making sure they are properly trained, empowering them and making sure they fit into our culture,” he says. 

“It’s also important to keep updating our processes and routines and building the right structures within the company. When you are growing as fast as we are, you can’t just look at what you did last year and make a few minor adjustments. You have to rethink things sometimes several times a year, while making sure that you stay efficient and keep growing in the right way. It’s a challenge but it’s also great fun.”

Our ambition is to become the best and most used bank payments provider in Europe. That’s a pretty big prize but that’s where we’re aiming”​

When we were really small, people knew what was going on just by meeting in the kitchen. Now we need to actively communicate with everyone and make sure they are all engaged in our business”​

Cultural niceties

The office environment is certainly designed to encourage employees to enjoy their work. Like many tech companies, there is plenty of downtime space, with table football, pinball machines and outdoor areas, replete with loungers and fake grass. 

Many employees have breakfast at work every morning and there are regular Friday night drinks at the group’s fully functioning bar. “I think it’s really important that people enjoy themselves at work. Then they feel happier and work harder. Also, when you are expanding fast, you need to pay attention to the culture. When we were really small, people knew what was going on just by meeting in the kitchen. Now we need to actively communicate with everyone and make sure they are all engaged in our business,” Berglund explains. 

The need is all the greater as Trustly has offices in Malta, London, Cologne and Barcelona, as well as the main head office in Stockholm. 

Best in Europe

“Over time, our ambition is to become the best and most used bank payments provider in Europe. That’s a pretty big prize but that’s where we’re aiming. Of course, there are obstacles along the way. We need to keep ahead of the competition, educate consumers and merchants, create new products and continuously improve. We’re also a regulated business so we have to keep on top of that too,” says Berglund.

Fortunately, Berglund believes that Trustly’s culture responds well to challenges. “We are resilient and resourceful. We’re relatively humble in the way we treat partners and colleagues. And we’re quite ingenious. There are a lot of smart people here, who think out of the box and turn ideas into proper products,” he says. 

“In fact, what I most enjoy about this job is when I feel that the team around me is solving things and executing on our strategy. It’s really rewarding when you see people working well, working together and working with pride and joy,” he adds. Berglund is a problem-solver himself. Described as one of the smartest people they know by colleagues, he speaks five languages, Swedish, English, Russian, German and Spanish.

When you are growing as fast as we are, you can’t just look at what you did last year and make a few minor adjustments. You have to rethink things sometimes several times a year, while making sure that you stay efficient and keep growing in the right way”​

Broadening the horizons

“I went on a US exchange when I was at university and before that I learnt Russian when I was in the Swedish army in 1997 and ’98. I also went on language courses in Russia and Spain, though my Spanish is pretty rusty today,” he explains. 

Bridgepoint Development Capital invested in Trustly in 2014 and Berglund has closely worked with it over recent years, particularly as it has an office in Stockholm. 

“It’s really useful bouncing ideas off them. I talk to them a lot and they have introduced us to a number of great contacts in retail, banking and elsewhere. Their international reach and network is really helpful too and their knowledge of the retail sector,” Berglund explains. 

Berglund believes that his time at Goldman Sachs and asset manager Alpcot Capital have also helped him in his current role.“At Goldmans, I learnt a lot about teamwork and data-driven analysis, as well as the importance of putting the client first. Alpcot was pretty much a start-up. It was very entrepreneurial and innovative so that has helped me a lot here,” he says. 

Having joined Trustly full-time following the birth of his first child, Berglund now has three daughters, aged five, three and seven months. Life is busy.

“I travel quite a lot, meeting merchants, driving new business and going to our other offices, although I am here in the Stockholm office the majority of the time. Most of my free time is spent with my family though I like to do a bit of exercise and read a book, when I can.”

For exercise, read basketball, a natural sport for Berglund, who measures 1.98m (6’6”). 

“I was a natural. It was always my sport. My height compensates for my lack of ability,” he says, with typical Swedish humility 

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Bridgepoint  |  The Point  |  November 2017  |  Issue 32