Kristjan Haavik: the mission of our team is to shape the future of the fintech
After 20 years of different IT roles and hundreds of thousands of flight miles between Germany, Portugal, Nigeria, and Estonia, Kristjan Haavik has returned home in many ways. He is back in his birth country Estonia and as the technology manager and member of management board of Arvato Financial Solutions Tech Centre he can focus on what is closest to his heart. He is responsible for updating and managing the technology of Arvato Financial Solutions platforms with an annual turnover of 800 million euros and a transaction volume of billions per quarter.
Kristjan is from Saaremaa (an island on the west coast of Estonia) and the geographical limitation of his home island has never prevented him from striving for outstanding achievements. “After graduating from high school, I took a bus to Tallinn and instead of the Faculty of Economics I gave the papers to IT instead, although, at that time, no one could yet predict how successful this field would be in just a few years. I am still very grateful for this change of plan because I have been able to help build many solutions in the last 20 years and it seems that the journey is going on and on,” said Haavik.
Many large-scale success stories illustrate this journey as well as large-scale failures. “Some of my work experiences have been quite insane – for example, the fact that I traveled by plane from Estonia to Frankfurt every week for two and a half years. But I have been guided by the principle that the bar must constantly be set higher and the fear of failure must not become an obstacle,” he said.
Experiences on the Black Continent
The idea of working in Africa may also seem crazy to many. When a team from an IT company known today as Nortal called Kristjan to develop a Nigerian public finance management system the temptation to experience it was too great to be afraid of the unknown.
“Nigeria is not a culturally comfortable place for Estonians – for us as a representative of a nation with a more afflicted character, the slow bureaucracy of this great power is hard to bear. But we had a fierce team of very bright heads and the scale and impact of the project encouraged everyone to work hard. We created a system that made it possible to plan the state budget, monitor its execution, and organize accounting and reporting. That has been undoubtedly one of the biggest achievements of my career so far and I am glad that I took part in this project,” he says.
After an adventurous period in Africa, Kristjan decided to spend a year of vacation with his family in Spain but once again, exciting work challenges came. The man and his family moved to Portugal to lead the team that developed Jumia, Africa’s largest online store. This experience was also a success – the platform called Jumia reached the list of 50 most innovative brands of MIT Technology Review in 2017, along with Apple, SpaceX, Facebook, Tesla and many other world’s leading technology brands.
The e-shopping festival went offline
At the same time the biggest failure of Kristjan’s life comes from developing this project. “We organized Africa’s first Black Friday and the business team had calculated how much traffic is going to be on the website. Of course, this prediction turned out to be many times smaller than reality and on Black Friday at 10 a.m. the servers crashed under the load. The entire 200-member team at our Porto development center worked in panic for the next six hours to get the systems up and running again. When it succeeded at 4 in the afternoon, Black Friday was already over,” Haavik recalls.
Interestingly, the sales goals of the shopping festival were all met but the lesson was undoubtedly painful. “The following year, with the same campaign, we started working on load tests a month and a half before the Black Friday. We banned any major changes to the systems, hired performance experts to the team and were significantly better prepared in terms of both hardware and crisis management,” he smiled.
Kristjan’s family, however, longed to return home so he left Jumia’s team only half a year before the company´s IPO. “The management was well-gilded at this stage but fortunately I don’t feel sorry for it today – I have always been inspired by new technological opportunities more than the numbers of money that can be earned,” he adds.
A favorable landscape for innovation
The last ten years show that there is a lot to be achieved and earned in the IT field in Estonia. “We have a lot of ambitious people who want to change the world and do it fast. That is a good basis for IT innovation as is the fact that many who have created innovative solutions have had dizzying success. Bolt, Pipedrive, Wise are just some of the success stories that inspire others to act. Fortunately, the leaders of these companies have also considered it important to support other promising initiatives as an investor,” says Kristjan Haavik.
Therefore, in his opinion, it is not too surprising that several companies, including Arvato Financial Solutions, have made significant investments to establish their development centers in Estonia.
“Our company belongs to the German media group Bertelsmann, and no doubt, the location of the development center was chosen not only keeping in mind the technical capacity that is needed for the innovation but also the working culture closeness to the Germans.” Indeed, Estonia has a very small IT workforce but we recruit worldwide and people come here to live with the whole family. As long as the state supports bringing high-paid top talent to Estonia we will be able to grow and meet the goals set for us,” he says.
Although Arvato’s name is not as well known in the Estonian IT landscape today as the aforementioned local IT wonders, Haavik confirms that the company is ideal for people looking for an opportunity to work with enormous impact. What does enormous mean? In 2020, Arvato’s turnover amounted to more than four billion euros of which Arvato Financial Solutions had a turnover of 800 million. But how can Arvato’s name be unfamiliar to IT people with such numbers?
“We work with the world’s largest online stores, and the average consumer will never notice the moment when our solutions take them on a shopping journey. Behind every online purchase, many developments move money, protect credit card information, evaluate risks, and do everything else to ensure a fast and convenient shopping experience. On average, every consumer is exposed to the solutions of Arvato Financial Solutions twice a day – 50,000 inquiries are made every hour through the systems we develop,” Kristjan Haavik describes the field of work of the Tech Center Tallinn.
Creating new growth opportunities
Many of these solutions were created, according to him, almost 20 years ago and this is where the primary goal of the Tech Center Tallinn is hidden. “We need to find a way to replace all this legacy software with new innovative technological solutions to create even greater scale effect. Thus, although we do not develop our own “Estonian product” we have unlimited freedom to shape the future of the fintech world,” says Haavik. This opportunity and the role offered to Kristjan as the technology manager of the development center spoke to him very strongly when choosing a new position.
“I had a lot of exciting offers on the table and I felt like I didn’t want to start building something from scratch anymore. I wanted to do something big, focus on what is closest to my heart as a software engineer – technology. Arvato Financial Solutions Tech Center offered me precisely the proper role at the right time – I lead the development team’s technology team, the people. Still, our shared goal is to find ways to increase server performance, expand scalability and improve process speed and security. Our A-team is inventing something new every day and it is so challenging for me that it never gets boring. I’m over 40 years old already and I’m still learning new platforms and new approaches to prevent rusting. There is no comfort zone yet and I hope it doesn’t happen either,” said Haavik.
Haavik believes that personal development is something that inspires most Estonian IT specialists today. “Wage rallies play a big role but people also move because they prefer not to have routine work but are looking for opportunities to acquire new skills and knowledge.” He adds: “If a person feels he is a valuable part of the team, sees growth opportunities steadily and can constantly develop himself in the course of work, he is also more committed and has no need to consider every job offer promising a golden future.”
Opportunities in Estonia and at the group level
According to him, at Arvato Financial Solutions Tech Center, it is possible to progress both horizontally and vertically – those who have a passion for working with people will have the opportunity to develop in a leadership role. Those who enjoy technological challenges like Kristjan can take the lead in developing systems developed by the company.
“Everyone has different ambitions and I believe that a perfect employment relationship is the one that in addition to motivating pay offers the opportunity to implement a long-term strategy. Our large company offers the flexibility to develop a suitable career either here in the AFS Tech Center at Tallinn or by moving to the group level – our group operates in 15 European countries. Hence, there are exciting opportunities for everyone,” he confirmed.
However, what unites all members of the A-Team is a strong focus on teamwork. “Good communication skills, respect and consideration for other team members and willingness to solve problems together and share the joy of achievement are something we expect from everyone. In the cultural space of our company these qualities are even more important than technological perfection – if the latter can be learned and expanded in the course of work then soft skills is something that comes from the nursery,” said Haavik.
You can read more about Kristjan from here.
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