“Trying my best to be the nightmare of the bank establishment worldwide!” — Sebastian Siemiątkowski, co-founder and CEO of Swedish fintech company Klarna, is pretty outspoken about his goals in his Twitter bio. He’s making progress: In its last funding round, Klarna was valued at $45.6 billion — rivaling some of Europe’s biggest banks. While Klarna is yet another Swedish tech success, following Spotify and Ericsson, it also has a Polish pedigree: Siemiątkowski’s parents moved from Poland to Uppsala in the 1980s.
Siemiątkowski was flipping burgers in Uppsala’s Burger King when he met his fellow co-founder Niklas Adalberth. Klarna launched in 2005, but at first based too much of its business model on banks’ own digital offerings. It pivoted in 2016, and really accelerated thanks to e-commerce — which reached new heights during the coronavirus pandemic. Klarna’s magic can be explained in four letters: BNPL, or “buy now, pay later.” People shopping online can use Klarna to split the payment into four installments or delay payment by a month. “Smoooth shopping!” says Siemiątkowski’s Twitter bio.
EU policymakers, however, have expressed concern that while products like Klarna are interest-free, it’s still a form of credit — and they claim these products should be regulated as such. The company has beefed up its presence in Brussels as lawmakers are mulling an update to the Consumer Credit Directive. The new rules might extend some of the obligations that credit card companies face to companies like Klarna. It’s a balancing act for Siemiątkowski: Instead of being the nightmare for banks, he might end up in the same regulatory corner as them.
What to watch out for this year: Siemiątkowski faces more regulatory burdens, as EU lawmakers mull more obligations for the BNPL market.
What’s their superpower: Harnessing consumer power — Klarna has seen a stellar rise thanks to the boom in e-commerce during the pandemic
Influence score: 21/30