Working and celebrating at Näktergal!
Näktergal CMO Sarah Kok gives us an insight into what life (and Christmas) is like at the company.
After living in Stockholm and working in FinTech for the last five years, Näktergal Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Sarah Kok shares her journey in FinTech, what it’s like to experience Swedish Christmas traditions for the first time, and what makes the celebrations at Näktergal different.
Interviewer: Hi Sarah, lovely to meet you. You moved to Sweden some years ago and have been with Näktergal for over three years, can you tell us a little about your career journey?
Sarah: I’ve always been passionate about FinTech and curious about its ability to have a direct impact on society, so it felt like a natural move for me to work in the industry. Having studied and worked in the UK and China, I moved to Sweden to study and liked it so much that I stayed! I loved the progressive culture, the great people, and the wealth of opportunities on offer. Four years ago, I was privileged to be part of the launch of the Women in Fintech Network (WIFTN), a global non-profit network for women accelerating growth within FinTech. As part of our podcast series, I got to interview female FinTech movers and shakers from around the world. Not only was it a fantastic learning experience to be able to listen to, and learn from, so many incredibly impressive women, but it also inspired me personally. As a woman, the most important lesson that I learned was that if you have passion and drive, there is space for you in the right organization!
I knew of Näktergal and loved that they were passionate about making mortgages and lending easier, fairer, more efficient, and sustainable. The idea of being part of a business that could have a direct impact on society and make a difference really resonated with me, and so, when the opportunity came up to become CMO and help take Näktergal to the next level, I took it. Today, it feels like an exciting time to be part of such a dynamic and progressive industry. For example, at Näktergal we’re working with both challenger lenders and traditional banks to digitalize the mortgage lending process, helping to make the process more efficient and reduce costs. The hope is that this will have an impact on the cost of mortgages for consumers, contributing to a more inclusive society through increased access to affordable housing.
Interviewer: Having lived in multiple countries you must have experienced lots of different cultural traditions over the years. How did you find your first Christmas living in Sweden?
Sarah: I love seeing how everyone has their own ways of celebrating important times of the year. But for me, experiencing Swedish Christmas traditions for the first time was an eye-opening experience! I knew that like a lot of European countries, Christmas was celebrated on Christmas Eve (the 24th of December), and that gingerbread was popular, but I didn’t know about some of the other traditions, like watching the same collection of Donald Duck episodes every year! I also remember not being prepared for the long dark days, and for the sheer amount of snow that can appear any time between November and May. It sounds tough, but in reality, it makes for breathtakingly beautiful scenes. Everywhere you go is illuminated with Christmas lights, which seem to appear in everyone’s windows! Like some unspoken rule, communities come together to light up the streets and buildings. It’s spectacular.
I distinctly remember my first experience of Santa Lucia; it was almost surreal! I was at a dinner when a choir came in singing, dressed in white and wearing crowns containing candles. Given the increasingly secular nature of Swedish society, I wasn’t expecting to see such a religious tradition on display. However, with hindsight, and now knowing how progressive and open Sweden is, I just enjoy the inclusive experience each year. I love the way that everyone is welcome to be part of the celebrations regardless of their religious disposition.
Interviewer: How do you celebrate Christmas at Näktergal and what makes it different?
Sarah: At Näktergal, we’re a close-knit team with a very strong culture, and for me, that is what makes the difference. As a group, we’re very diverse and inclusive. So, even though I didn’t grow up in Sweden and I don’t necessarily understand the traditions or the rituals, I’m still included and invited to take part in everything. This has made for some very interesting new experiences, which is a novelty after living in Sweden for years! For example, this year, I was persuaded to try risgrynsgröt (rice pudding) for the first time. For a long time, I thought it sounded strange to eat rice pudding for breakfast, but it was tasty and very comforting! My favorite Christmas tradition at Näktergal has to be our annual Julbord session! Trying foods that I have rarely (if ever) eaten, (for example fish like lutfisk), and singing hej tomtegubbar (a Swedish Christmas song) with everyone at the top of our voices. Such fun!
At Näktergal we want everyone to feel heard, valued, and informed, and that extends to everything that we do, including celebrating Christmas. Last year, when making our Christmas gingerbread house we forgot to buy the special sugar glue to hold it together. But, being a group of engineers, we decided to problem-solve! We didn’t let the missing glue get in the way of our progress and instead ended up using a hot glue gun, and later super glue when that ran out. It may have been less than ideal, but we got there in the end! I’m proud of the fact that we listen to everyone’s voice, even if it’s about which glue to use. In some ways, working and celebrating this year seems the same as previous years, but then I sit back and realize how much we’ve grown, becoming closer as a team, and developing our proposition as we look for new ways to solve potential problems of the future.
Interviewer: Thank you for joining us today, Sarah. Where can readers find out more about Näktergal and view the latest roles?
Sarah: For anyone who’s reading and thinking that Näktergal could be the right fit for them, I’d invite them to take a look at the Näktergal careers page, where they can find out more about Näktergal and see what it’s like to work for us. They can also connect with me on LinkedIn if they’d prefer a confidential chat.
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