Kari Kukka, bond market legend
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Kari Kukka, bond market legend

Kukka, Kari (ex NIB) to use 14Mar24 575x375.jpg

Finnish banker raised the funding profile of Nordic Investment Bank

Kari Kukka, former head of funding and investor relations at the Nordic Investment Bank, has died. He was one of the best known figures in the European bond market in the 1990s and 2000s.

During his time at NIB from 1999 to 2010, Kukka was a key client for banks active in the supranational, sovereign and agency bond market, and an active participant in the public and social life of the market.

Kukka, who retired from NIB at the age of 60 in January 2010, had been suffering from cancer and died at the end of February. His funeral will be held in Helsinki on Tuesday March 19.

“He was one of his kind, and they don’t make people like him anymore,” said Eirik Winter, CEO of BNP Paribas in the Nordic region.

Having studied economics at the University of Helsinki, Kukka began his career in 1973 as a manager in the loan department at the City of Helsinki.

From 1976 to 1981 he worked at Postipankki, one of the leading Finnish banks, covering bonds, syndicated loans and export finance.

He was then a board member of Chase Manhattan Bank in Finland and spent a year in London. For a year he was assistant general manager at Bank of Helsinki.

Kukka came to fame in the bond market after moving to Okobank in 1985. He became its director of international funding and spent 14 years at the firm.

Then in March 1999 NIB recruited him to run its funding programme.

“NIB was relatively small at that time,” says a former colleague at the supranational bank. “He managed to get NIB to be seen as one of the proper supranationals, alongside our big friends. He achieved that with the strategies and benchmarks he managed, and set the groundwork we have worked on since.”

Kukka, Kari (ex NIB) with fish to use 14Mar24 crop.jpg

The official said Kukka “was an amazing person to work with. He was good fun and said this market was a people business. That was super-important for him and he was very good at it.”

Kukka’s personality made him far more widely known than his post on its own would have required.

“There was a quote by Marcus Wallenberg, the Swedish industrialist,” said Winter. “He said ‘you should never build a business on friendship, but you can build friendship on business’. Kari was a very tough negotiator, it took time to break through with him. But when you started delivering and did business with him he became a true friend.”

Emblematic of this approach was the legendary crayfish parties Kukka threw for NIB’s market contacts in the first week of August every year. Guests would board a yacht in Helsinki, equipped with a sauna, that would sail out to sea for swimming, dinner, schnapps and singing.

“It was a big test for many international bankers with no Nordic heritage how they handled some of the refreshments,” said Winter.

Other parties involved skiing, sledging with huskies and reindeer herding.

“He was a hugely popular figure in the market, with personality and a sense of humour," said Winter. "An old school treasury character but with a big heart and enormous ability to build relationships. I think because of his personality and skill he quite often managed to get better funding than the various issuers actually deserved.”

Kukka won an award for Service to the Market in EuroWeek's (now GlobalCapital) second Bond Awards in 2009.

After retiring, Kukka set up a consultancy called Finacon, advising banks and fintech companies. He also enjoyed golf and spent time at his holiday home in Spain.

Kukka is survived by his wife Eija, two sons and a daughter.

GlobalCapital extends its condolences to Kukka's family, friends and colleagues.

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