Because the world is not flat.

Category: Project

Finnish Multinational Corporations, global competition and the role of FINNVERA

We recently completed an exploratory study to understand how FINNVERA in particular, and Export Credit Agencies in general, affect the survival and growth of international firms. One major conclusion was that, for some industries, and major Finnish firms, the work of FINNVERA is an essential part to sustain in global competition. FINNVERA’s traditional role is to assume certain risks, such as country risks and commercial risks, to moderate Finnish firms’ internationalization. However, over the past few years the global business environment has changed and to some extent redefined the role of FINNVERA. Here are a few reflections on what has changed that makes FINNVERA, more than ever, strategically important for some Finnish Multinationals:

# A changing world. From the late 1980s to recently – we see diminishing abilities of MNCs in general to: (a) Use institutional ‘deficiencies’ across the globe to their advantage (e.g. transition and developing economies closing institutional gaps; international cooperation to reduce spaces to allow this kind of opportunism, etc.). (b) Utilize arbitration advantages – in a model in which MNCs optimize internal division and integration of work internationally – many previously important location advantages have been changing (e.g. China). For instance, instead of cheap labor we see that now technology is gaining importance. Arguably, in the longer run, when technology takes over to define competitiveness, then costs are likely to fall in general, while labor cost are generally likely to rise when economies grow. That means also that for many production locations the competitiveness might be more critically determined by other factors, e.g. infrastructure, market seeking or resource seeking motivations – shifting bases of location advantages.

# Business models. In many industries, we see post 2008 a change in the business models which generate greater value. Until then it was challenging for local firms (especially in smaller economies) to overcome traditional MNCs’ (a) monopolistic advantages (e.g. in form of immaterial rights, IPR, brands, etc.) and even harder for local firms to develop (b) scale and scope economies to match MNCs in a liberalizing global trade landscape. Comparing the largest firms (by market capitalization as the shared understanding of future promise and growth) 10 years ago and now – the top 10 list of most appreciated firms looks rather different. What do these firms do differently? They shifted the game from economies of scale to network economies. That requires an ecosystem, where firms’ immaterial rights are entered into a larger system of value creation and the more actors enter that ecosystem the higher the potential (and thus the realized) value these ecosystem drivers can produce.

This has started to have implications also for the typical Finnish firm (industrial markets, global tech leaders in their niches). Business models are also shifting for them and for their typical linear value chains. To stay in the lead, firms need to build cooperative networks attracting partners who enter their capacities into a larger pool and these ecosystems might subsequently compete with other networks of firms on global scale. These new business models run under many labels, focusing on slightly different perspectives, including ecosystems, networks, solution business approaches, service innovation approaches, open innovation arrangements, etc. But they have some core items in common that relate to the question of how value is generated, and given the trend to converging industry approaches through technological advance (i.e. the industry 4.0 catch phrase), – it is a cooperative effort within ecosystems of specialized partners who need to bring in their specific capabilities and mechanisms.

# FINNVERA’s role. In many important industries, for Finland, FINNVERA has de-facto been an ecosystem partner. There is no subscription to a membership, it evolves through adaptations to dynamic environments and is largely defined by actions rather than ex-ante designed structures. FV is the partner firm needed to compete in certain global markets. Without their contributions to some ecosystems it would be rather impossible to build high tech (or any) large ships in Finland; it would be difficult to develop and commercialize state of the art power plants for onshore energy generation; difficult to sell 4G, 5G networks  (even to some Western partners); or to build major state of the art pulp mills, to name some examples.

# Concluding. This sheds an interesting light on the issue of international finance and how Export Credit Agencies, like FINNVERA, are performing strategic functions with Finnish MNCs, in some industries. Their function is to help Finnish Multinationals’ customers to manage enormous international risks; they provide the enabling mechanisms by which Finnish firms’ customers and their banks can put together long-term financing, on the back of Finland’s appreciated credit ratings. At the same time, FINNVERA, as a necessary competitive factor to enable international finance of large projects, is in ‘regulated competition’ with other Export Credit Agencies around the world, without which major Finnish firms would have fewer options ‘to play’. For our discipline of International Business, this implies that we need to review our frameworks and models and widen the scope. The ‘international success and failure of the firm’ is not only determined by necessary conditions found inside the firm and based on firms’ choices (e.g. locations and governance), but by a functioning ecosystem, that includes strategic partners like FINNVERA. They enable many major firms to enter into international competition to start with.

[Exploratory impact studies have been undertaken in cooperation with FINNVERA in two stages, between 2016 and 2018. Project members have been Prof. Beth Rose from Leeds University, UK; Prof. Stephané Lhuillery from Université de Lorraine, France, and researchers at the University of Turku, International Business – Mr. Majid Aleem, Dr. Johanna Raitis and Dr. Peter Zettinig]


A link to the study:


Peter Zettinig

University Research Fellow

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