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A better way to do business

From left: Marjo Kukkonen, development manager Malta and Kati Leppänen, talent acquisition partner Malta. Photos: Mark Zammit Cordina

From left: Marjo Kukkonen, development manager Malta and Kati Leppänen, talent acquisition partner Malta. Photos: Mark Zammit Cordina

Our success is based on a strong company culture centred around trust and friendship, say Marjo Kukkonen, development manager Kindred Malta and Kati Leppänen, talent acquisition partner Kindred Malta.

Kindred has been a leading operator in the online gambling business for 21 years. What have been the highlights along the way?

What started as Unibet in 1997 is today Kindred Group, one of Europe’s leading online gambling operators with 1,400 employees serving over 21 million customers across 15 offices in Europe and Australia.

Our founder Anders Ström had a vision to offer gamblers a significantly better experience through the internet, which had just started to gain momentum. Satellite TV was growing across Europe, giving people access to a much bigger sports offering and thereby a greater interest to gamble on new sports or leagues. The combination of access to sport on TV and digitalisation through the internet was the start of a new era within gambling.

For Kindred, the past two decades have seen the company grow into a £2.5bn company listed on Nasdaq Stockholm since 2004 with 11 strong consumer brands in its portfolio. Unibet, Storspelare and VladCazino are all organic brands, while the rest have been added through acquisitions with 32Red being the most recent addition in 2017.

One of the key reasons Kindred has been fairly successful in building the business through acquisitions is the very strong company culture, which has been centred around trust and friendship since the very beginning. This unique culture has helped us weld the business into one strong company while maintaining a high degree of autonomy and agility.

Our continued growth has been enabled through our corporate culture and superior technology knowhow, illustrated through a proprietary technology platform that allows us to seamlessly scale our business across markets, jurisdictions and brands. It gives the ability to build our business with total control in every aspect, while ensuring sustainable growth.

How has the gambling sector and Kindred’s operations evolved during this time?

From the start we have focused on finding a better way to do business, improve our way of working or solve a problem. This has driven our company forward and is deeply embedded in our culture – to always question the ordinary and challenge the status quo.

As a company, we have helped shape and change the way we gamble and we continue to transform gambling from an industry in the shadows to a truly tech-driven and entertainment-focused business of the 21st century. The gambling industry is moving from the casino floor and sports betting shop to the digital arena bringing with it a range of opportunities in customer experience, technological innovations and sustainable enhancements within areas such as responsible gambling and integrity.

A major evolvement in recent years is the regulatory change in Europe and the US, with local markets opening up for licences. This is the only way forward in an ever more digitalised society where customers choose where and how they want to consume products and services regardless of national borders. This has also increased the compliance burden on operators to ensure fundamental practices are taken into account, such as consumer protection, anti-money laundering processes, tax payments and reporting structures to name a few. For instance, during 2017 Kindred conducted 27 external audits to ensure we remained compliant in a range of areas.

Today, Kindred holds local licences in 13 jurisdictions with new markets such as Sweden and the Netherlands on the verge of re-regulating their gambling markets. This is the only sustainable way forward to maintain control in a regulated digital industry. Kindred’s strategic objective is to derive as much of our gross winnings revenue (GWR) from locally licensed markets as possible. As of Q1 2018, 42 per cent of GWR came from locally licensed markets.

The new Kindred offices at The Centre, Tigné Point.The new Kindred offices at The Centre, Tigné Point.

What added value does Malta give you as a location for your headquarters?

Malta very early on saw the opportunity from the digitalisation of the gambling market and was the first EU country to re-regulate its gambling market offering licences to operators. This has given Malta an advantage over other markets and today a majority of the European gambling operators and suppliers are based here.

Kindred has been present in Malta since 2004, employing around 350 people within a range of professions. One of the fastest growing departments is tech and we are constantly looking for new talent in this area, especially frontend web developers.

Our growth has also forced us to look for a new home in Malta, which we have found at Tigné Point. We will move into a state-of-the-art office spread over three floors overlooking the Mediterranean, allowing us to co-locate our current two offices. This new home is where we will build our future in Malta.

In terms of finding the right talent, what are the main challenges?

The most prominent challenge is probably competition for talent, especially in the field of tech. The fact that Malta is an online gambling cluster means we are all looking for broadly the same talent. In this environment, we firmly believe that offering a place where you can grow, develop and progress is crucial to attract and retain talent.

We also ensure our offering to potential employees are competitive today and over a long period of time. For instance, all employees are given shares in the company so that we can all take part of Kindred’s future success.

Kindred has always put great pride in creating a great place to work and as we become larger we ensure to keep this at the very heart of our culture and values. We empower our employees to take responsibility for their work, giving them the freedom to explore and develop their ideas, promoting them early on to take on more responsibilities if they want and giving teams the ability to impact their own future. This is articulated in our core value – we build on trust.

Our platform handles 25 million transactions per day on average

A sense of purpose is important to people today, which is why a strong vision and corporate purpose have to be clear and central. Kindred’s strategic intent is to become the number one operator across all our markets, which is a vision we strive towards in every decision we make. We have also set out a very clear purpose to continue to transform gambling to ensure fair play, a great experience and the best deal for our customers.

Do you see a challenge in attracting women to the often male-dominated gambling industry?

Historically this has been the case but we see this trend turning slowly, which is great. If the gambling industry is to continue to prosper, it has to be able to attract all talent regardless of gender, ethnic background or nationality. At Kindred Malta we are quite exceptional in tech with 50 per cent in the team being women with senior status. However, even though the trend is moving in the right direction, both the industry and Kindred has a way to go.

Kindred is working hard to build an even more inclusive and open company, making gambling exciting and relevant for everyone. A strong culture that fits a modern business is key to achieving this, along with a working environment that offers a healthy work-life balance. This is why we have put diversity and equality at the very top of our sustainability agenda and engage in projects such as the All-in Diversity Project. Our efforts in this field were recently recognised by the Women in Gaming Awards, where our legal team won the ‘Team of the Year’ award.

How much of your technology knowhow is derived internally and how much do you rely on third parties?

Kindred is a truly tech-driven company and we base virtually every business decision on data analysis and technology knowhow. This has allowed us to be so successful over two decades. We have also put great efforts into building internal capabilities to ensure we are not dependent on external knowhow. Almost everything we do is developed internally by our skilled tech teams and our proprietary platform is a complete in-house product built on over 150 micro-services. Our platform handles 25 million transactions per day on average and last year we managed 4,600 releases. These numbers may not mean a lot to everyone, but they are indeed impressive numbers.

With some 350 employees from 25 nationalities in Malta, cultural understanding is key – how do you encourage this?

When you grow a business at the pace we are and acquire companies fairly regularly in a highly regulated market, a strong culture becomes the defining component if you remain successful or not. This becomes even more evident when you run a business with employees from 25 different countries with cultural influences of their own. Kindred has always prided itself in a strong corporate culture, which is derived from the very start through our founder and chairman. The culture is also mirrored in our five corporate values and inspire us every day.

You operate in a regulated business that is sometimes questioned. What is your view on this?

Gambling has a legacy that is not all positive. We have to acknowledge this if we are to change the perception of the industry and become relevant to a broader stakeholder group. Transforming gambling is what Kindred had done for over two decades and it is what we continue to do.

Technological developments and transparent operations are ways forward, together with more collaboration with partners in a range of fields both within and outside of gambling. For Kindred, sustainable consumption of our products is a key focus area. Gambling has been around for thousands of years and the industry has a fantastic future if we play our cards right. This involves becoming relevant to a broader stakeholder group and ensuring our customers can enjoy gambling in a safe and secure way today and tomorrow.

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