21 Mar. 2017 - OP Financial Group hosted 4th Unico International Learning Expedition

This year’s Unico Learning Expedition met at the Helsinki offices of OP, the Finnish co-operative bank, to exchange  views and experiences on the key banking themes of the future. A full programme focused on innovation & digitalisation, compliance, and strategic renewal & business models. A total of 39 participants from seven European co-operative banks took part in the event.


This unique formula enables the banks to learn from the wealth of experience of their European cooperative colleagues and to foster future business via the Unico network.

Jouko Pölönen, Member of the Unico Board and Executive Vice President, Banking of OP Financial Group welcomed the guests. He explained the way in which the cooperative financial group is developing a diversified services approach to respond to the ever changing market conditions.

Jouko Pölönen asked all participants to listen and learn, to share their experience and ideas and to be active and work together. After the event, they were called to share their key learnings and look for future ‘go-operation’.

Ari Loukkola, Head of Human Resources and Organisation Development at OP Financial Group, together with Virpi Karhulahti, the main organiser of the event,  emphasised that the Learning Expedition offers a unique platform to exchange knowledge and experience in a non-competitive environment. Ari Loukkola represents OP in the Unico Committee on Learning and Development which is responsible for the development and execution of the exchange programme. 

The Innovation and Digitalisation Stream of the Learning Expedition, consisting of colleagues responsible for innovation, new business and digital transformation programs, discussed and shared perspectives on what innovation and digitalisation mean for each of the banks. They also discussed what the banks are currently doing in these fields and explored ways to work with startup partners. The stream visited the OP innovation lab in Oulu where these discussions were put into practice. They learned how to build and validate innovations in practice using Lean Start-Up, Google Design Product Sprint and Service Design. “I experienced a well-organised learning expedition. Via group effort we have gained interesting design thinking insights that I can take home to Rabobank”, said Pieter Mensink, Online Sales Manager at Rabobank.

In the Compliance Stream, Heads of Compliance and Compliance officers of the Unico banks discussed the main challenges financial institutions are facing as new regulation is being implemented. More specifically they covered the fourth Anti-Money Laundering Directive, MiFID II, the Market Abuse Directive and Market Abuse Regulation, along with shared general compliance issues.

Heads of Strategy, Business Development and New Business / Innovation discussed the nature and implications of the ongoing disruption in financial services in the Strategic Renewal and New Business Models Stream. They focused on how strategies can be adapted to the new business landscape in order to equip participants with tools to devise new disruptive business models. Martin Michalky, senior Director Group Strategy at RBI, was  impressed by the openness and discussion quality in this stream and found it an excellent platform for gaining insights from other view points and for challenging his own ideas: “OP Financial Group operates in an admirable culture of cooperation, transparency and customer focus from which we can learn a lot and derive directions for our own necessary transformation.”

His RBI colleague Severin Mayer-Heinisch found it fascinating to see the similarities to the  challenges across co-operative banks are facing in different market environments.“The Learning Expedition gave me the unique opportunity to get very detailed and tangible insights into strategic ideas, plans and target pictures across seven very diverse banks”, he said.

Tom Dahlstrom, streamleader of this stream and Chief Strategy Officer at OP, concluded: “We face a common challenge that is immense but not impossible. There is a lot we can do together as Unico banks".

The first steps to follow up on some interesting ideas that were presented during the Learning Expedition have already been taken. Jouko Pölonen used the Unico slogan ‘together we are stronger’ to emphasise the importance of co-operation in his closing speech.



The UNICO Banking Group, which has its headquarters in Brussels, was founded in 1977 by six cooperative banking organisations, including OP Financial Group (formerly called Osuuspankkien Keskuspankki Oy). Today the group consists of eight members. The goal of Unico Banking Group  is to create business opportunities between the members, exchange best practices and expertise and combine forces.