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FIGFIG People and Markets

Obituary: Fanny Borgström, revered funding chief

Fanny Borgstrom — GC Lifetime Achievement Award

Borgström was a FIG market treasure who steered Nordea through turbulent times

Fanny Borgström, a leading figure in FIG debt capital markets for decades, has died aged 71.

She had a formidable reputation as a demanding client who would not tolerate mistakes from her bankers. But she also fostered exceptionally close relationships with the people she trusted, which proved a valuable skill in her long and celebrated stewardship of Nordea Bank’s funding team.

Those who worked closely with Borgström praised her for her consistently sage advice, and said she had a remarkable ability to drive innovation.

“She was an institution by herself in the FIG market,” said Sandeep Agarwal, a senior investment banker who worked alongside Borgström while in DCM roles at Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse.

Damian Chunilal, who came to know Borgström very well during a 20 year spell at Merrill Lynch, said she was “one of the greatest bank funding officers of her generation”.

Best in class

Finance underwent frantic changes in the 1980s and 1990s, which was a formative period in Borgström’s career. Crisis swept through the Nordic region, forcing many banks to link up with other firms as part of an effort to stem losses and avoid failure.

In retrospect, it almost seems as though the sector reorganised around Borgström, who always remained a central figure.

She joined the treasury team at Union Bank of Finland in 1974 and stayed on as head of funding in 1995, when the firm merged with Kansallis-Osake-Pankki to form Merita Bank. Borgström also remained in position when Merita partnered with Nordbanken two years later, paving the way for the creation of Nordea Bank.

She served as Nordea’s head of funding for a further 16 years until her retirement in 2013.

Chunilal remembers how challenging it was for borrowers to access markets during the Nordic banking crisis of the early 1990s, when he had just started covering FIG clients within the region for Merrill Lynch.

The key to bringing investors on board, he said, was to explain clearly how things would improve. “Fanny Borgström did this better than anyone. She was direct, focused and always very insistent that she tell the story to investors wherever they might be.”

Championing innovation

During her career, Borgström played an important role in the creation and development of numerous bank funding markets.

In 2007, she was appointed to represent Nordea on the European Covered Bond Council’s first market makers and issuers committee, which was set up to consider how the industry should respond to challenging market conditions.

She also helped drive the international expansion of the covered bond market in Sweden, where she served as chair of the Association of Swedish Covered Bond Issuers.

At the opposite end of the liability structure, Borgström is celebrated for having embraced new approaches in the market for hybrid capital instruments.

While head of funding at Merita Bank, she presided over the issuance of its inaugural non-dilutive tier one transaction. The preferred capital offering was targeted at the US market, where it was met with great enthusiasm.

The deal “was arguably the simplest and most investor friendly non-dilutive tier one instrument ever issued”, said Chunilal, who was head of DCM, EMEA for Merrill Lynch at the time.

“Fanny developed this instrument and ran the entire transaction in her customary hands-on style.”

Though always a champion of innovation, Borgström never lost sight of the fundamental responsibilities that underpinned her role as a funding chief.

Agarwal remembers her sending him flowers and offering him some advice when he took over as head of FIG at Credit Suisse in 2006. She told him: “Sandeep, never forget that banks run on liquidity! When you pitch me the next fancy FIG subordinated capital mandate, I will always ask you what you have done for me on the CP market!”

“2007-2008 taught us how right and prescient she really was,” Agarwal said.

A force to be reckoned with

It wasn’t easy to gain Borgström’s confidence, but none of her peers regretted the hard work this required.

She was known for being direct and forthright with her bankers, who sometimes found her challenging.

“When she asked a question, she wanted to know your thoughts then and there on the spot,” said Tim Skeet, a senior investment banker who had known Borgström since 1992.

“Whenever I had a new person working with me, I would always brief them about Fanny. I would tell them: ‘Don’t regurgitate other people’s thoughts and make sure your pitch is cogent, because you only have one shot at passing muster’.”

Despite her reputation for being tough, Borgström was a kind and warm character who built very close ties with many senior figures across the capital markets.

When she retired in 2013, her peers flocked to celebrate her career at an extremely well attended dinner event in London.

“Once you had her trust, she was a wonderful client — but always demanding,” Skeet said. “An incoming call from Fanny made you sit up. She tested everyone’s form.”

Waleed El-Amir, a senior banker who worked at Merrill Lynch between 1996 and 2012, said: “I had the honour and privilege of working with Fanny for many years. She was a remarkable professional who had a wonderful human side and a fantastic sense of humour that always brought a smile to people’s faces. She will be sorely missed.”

Borgström had so great a standing in the markets that it was often difficult to tell whether credit investors were following her or Nordea.

She left a legacy of credibility at the bank, which remains one of the most sought-after FIG clients to this day.

“Fanny was a tremendous professional and a defining force in capital markets,” said Ola Littorin, the bank's current head of long term funding. “Her experience and knowledge in the area of bank funding was legendary. We remember a colleague and friend full of empathy and respect and always offering good company.”

Borgström passed away this week following a short illness. GlobalCapital offers its deepest condolences to her family, friends and former colleagues.

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