Is ‘Free’ Broker Really Benefiting You? Hidden Trade-Offs in Retail Investment [Chills 173 ft Saxo Bank CEO]

Saxo Bank CEO: Kim Fournais Shares His Relentless Drive

In an unfiltered interview, Kim Fournais, CEO and Founder of Saxo Bank, got candid about what fuels his boundless energy and intense focus even after over 30 years leading the online investment bank. The Danish entrepreneur welcomes competition but argues that few rivals can match Saxo’s quality, transparency and diversified offerings across asset classes.

His start and motivation

Fournais, a civil engineer by training, found his passion in the world of finance, attracted by the industry’s potential for continuous improvement. “I’m a person that sees a lot of room for improvement in pretty much any aspect,” he explained. “And this particular industry of finance, I actually started studying as an engineer, civil engineering. And so I’ve always been very technically interested.”

 

Taking the financial world global was no small feat, but for Saxo Bank’s Founder and CEO, Kim Fournais, it was a vision that could empower individuals. His three decades of experience building Saxo into a leader in international investment platforms and services.

The conversation kicks off with Fournais explaining his personal motivation for staying extremely physically active: “If I don’t use my body on a very regular basis, it clunks. I’m just better and more relaxed and I feel much better when I’m using my body every day.”

But physical fitness is just part of the equation for this busy CEO. Fournais attributes his stamina to genuinely enjoying what he does. As he states: “If you don’t have fun, if you don’t feel you have meaningful work and relations…then of course it’s not going to work. I’m very passionate about what I do and either I’m turned on 100% or I’m not there at all. So far I’ve been turned on for 31 and a half years, pretty much all the time.”

What Keeps the Saxo Bank CEO “Turned On”?

So what exactly keeps the fire burning so bright for Kim Fournais after over three decades? He cites his mindset of constantly seeing opportunities for improvement:

“I’m a person that sees a lot of room for improvement in pretty much any aspect…I really enjoy figuring out how you can improve things and do things better.”

Fournais’ engineering background nurtures his analytical, process-oriented approach to driving innovation in the finance industry. As he explains: “I love talking to engineers because there’s always a step-by-step methodical process. Having some structure is probably not a bad idea.”

Beyond process improvements, Fournais deeply believes in the value and importance of money and the broader financial system, which he argues is widely misunderstood:

“Many people believe that money is the root of all evil and the financial industry is evil…But really money is what makes things go around. We could not sit here and have coffee or have electric light if there was not a means of exchange.”

His appreciation for money’s role is rooted in his view that poverty and lack of financial means is the primary driver of unhappiness and depression globally. As he passionately states:

“If you don’t have enough money, it’s actually the root cause number one of depression in the world. It’s not wars, divorce, illness…In pretty much all dimensions of human life, money has a very, very important component.”

Making Finance More Accessible

For Fournais, making financial services more accessible, transparent and enabling more people to invest is both a business opportunity and an important societal mission:

“I think everyone knows there’s been more than one or two bubbles in history where greed, fear, people not doing things well…led to problems. But in the end, it’s about the human mind and how people create win-wins or not, which leads to issues.”

He argues that current investment offerings are often opaque, costly and overly complex, shutting out many individual investors:

“Very few financial institutions offer true diversification. And if they do, it’s very difficult, opaque and super expensive.”

In contrast, Saxo aims to democratize investing by combining an intuitive multi-asset platform with diversification, transparency and competitive pricing:

“The combination of easy to use platforms with broad product diversification and very low competitive prices – it’s a precondition for people to invest properly.”

The Paradox of Making Money Seem Evil

He acknowledged the perception of the finance industry as “evil,” with many people believing that “money is the root of all evil.” However, he countered this notion, explaining that the value of money is determined by how it is earned, spent, and invested. “Money is what makes things go around,” he stated, emphasizing the need for a better understanding of the financial system.

To address this, Fournais’s company, Saxo Bank, has produced educational animated movies titled “Money Matters,” aimed at improving financial literacy and dispelling misconceptions about the industry. “We did some pretty nice animated movies called Money Matters that are trying to explain actually the value of money because it’s really how you make them, how you spend them, how you invest them, that determines the value of money,” he said. Educate and shift perceptions around finance. “It’s all about how you make money, how you spend it, and how you invest it. If you want to win when others win, then money can be a tremendous force for good.”

When asked why finance still carries a stigma of being evil or negative, Fournais argues it’s a paradox of human nature and lack of education:

“There are lots of bad examples of people using money as a tool to do bad stuff. But it’s not the money that’s evil, it’s the people.”

He cites examples like drug dealing or child labour, arguing “it’s you that’s evil, not the money itself.” For Fournais, the immorality lies not in profiting but in how that profit is made:

“If you create unique solutions for climate change and make money, is that evil? Of course not! It’s moving the world in a better direction.”

The CEO believes much of the negativity stems from jealousy, lack of financial literacy, and sometimes political agendas. But he argues having an “ecosystem of win-win transactions” where success is tied to creating value for others is the ideal. 

Saxo’s Vision: Transparent, Diverse and Disruptive

So how does Saxo Bank aim to exemplify this positive, value-creating vision of finance? Fournais cites several key principles:

1. Always striving to create “win-wins” by providing services better than competitors
2. Extreme pricing transparency with no hidden fees
3. A massive diversified range of products and asset classes
4. Leveraging AI and technology to optimize the client experience
5. Prioritising quality over cheapest pricing alone

“There are only many cars in the world, but they’re not equally good,” argues Fournais, implying Saxo offers a premium product.

He acknowledges that while bargain-basement pricing and “free” services proliferate, common sense must prevail: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Practices like payment for order flow create conflicts of interest.

Fournais believes too many incumbents still rely on outdated technology, lack transparency and gouge clients on prices and execution quality. Meanwhile, many fintechs have struggled to find profitability.

In contrast, Saxo’s massive scale ($110 billion in client assets from 1.2 million clients) allows it to offer quality diversified pricing and infrastructure. And unlike most fintechs, it is a regulated bank and “SIFI” (Significantly Important Financial Institution) with prudent risk management.

The Mindset of a Perpetual Innovator

When reflecting on Saxo’s longevity and success, Fournais is pleased to see more competition emerging but thinks few players measure up overall:

“I don’t think there are a ton of people out there doing very well. I don’t think a lot out there have a great offering, but competition is good for consumers.”

So what does the Saxo CEO view as the hallmarks of a truly “good quality” investment product?

According to Fournais, it must have: transparency, 24/7 availability, an intuitive user experience, efficient pricing, robust diversification, great research/reporting and excellent trade execution with no conflicts.

Underneath it all, he argues trust and authenticity are paramount: “If we don’t trust each other as humans, we cannot create win-wins.”

After more than 30 years continuously dissecting flaws and inefficiencies, one might expect Fournais to have finally quenched his thirst for improvement. Yet, he doesn’t see it that way at all:

“I’m very fortunate in what I do and with who I do it. But there’s a lot of room to make the financial system and investing experience even better.”

It’s this relentless hunger to innovate and optimize that seems to be Fournais’ true fuel. When you deeply enjoy solving problems and view your work as an important mission, being “turned on” never gets old.

You can check their full interview on Chills with TFC, Episode 173 on Spotify, YouTube, Apple podcast for a candid at why being an active investor makes you a better global citizen. 

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