The Perception of Country-Specific Risk in the Marine Industry Related to Finland has Changed – But What is the Reality? | Dr Jouko Huju, DBA, GMBA Finland

As we went to sleep on February 23rd 2022, the overall international perception of the country specific geopolitical risk affecting Finland was zero, or at best negligible.

As we woke up to the bleak morning of February 24th, all this changed, literally overnight. Whilst not discounting or belittling the complete and utter humanitarian catastrophe and the plight the Ukrainian people currently face, we still remain as an industry directly responsible for some 3,500 jobs in Finland generating almost a billion € in revenue. However, while doing our best to help the Ukrainians, we simultaneously need to focus on matters closer to home. To paraphrase our President, Mr. Sauli Niinisto in a recent CNN interview reflecting upon the situation specifically for Finland, “Finns are not scared, but surely we are fully awake.” Despite this, we have to accept the fact that the country specific geopolitical risk affecting Finland has changed in terms of perceptions, and also potential outcomes – even if military outcomes still seem less than likely. In this story we will try to reason around why we feel there is certainly no need to panic, despite recent global events.

Over 60% of the Finnish population now supports a NATO membership (61%, Helsingin Sanomat, March 30th 2022 – survey done by Kantar) whilst in the decades prior to the Ukrainian crisis support was on a stable level hovering around 25% (continuous survey 1998-2021 as done by EVA) – a significant increase. In other words, joining NATO now seems closer than ever.

A description of the constitutional, parliamentary process would be good (i.e. favourable vote in the Finnish parliament required PRIOR to sending membership application) and the application still needs to be unanimously ratified by ALL existing NATO countries. Also, the Kremlin already considers Finland to be very much a part of the Western sphere of influence, despite the optical “sovereign, neutral nation” moniker.

The real risk here is less the ending of exporting goods to Russia or lack of Russian customers buying boats to be kept outside Russia, and more the lack of belief in a stable future operating environment. Further, rather than geopolitical, the risks are: inflation and the increasing price of raw materials; both leading to challenges of remaining competitive. This combined with “decision anguish” on behalf of customers and dealers (often related to economic or geopolitical instability) can have detrimental effects on short term revenue.

Recent events have brought into focus the importance of democracy, transparency and real facts rather than alternative facts or outright lies. Therefore we need to keep a level head also within our industry, and make sure that customers and partners have access to REAL facts to support their decisions. Some of the conclusions may be that, while the optics are definitely leaning towards an increased geopolitical country risk concerning Finland, the fact is that:

  • we do not have strong signals that military aggression from Russia to Finland is viable in the short term.
  • The Kremlin may have underestimated the disastrous effects on Russia that the current aggression has caused, as the full impact of international sanctions is yet to hit the Russian economy.
  • There is significant pressure; both political and economic to resolve the Ukrainian crisis, and President Zelensky understands that a peace treaty allowing Putin to save face with a “graceful exit” is necessary- hopefully increasing the odds for ending the current war sooner rather than later – giving way for a period of relative stability.

So, there is really no reason to believe that Finnish industries by and large, and even to a lesser extent the leisure marine industry should be adversely affected by the above. We expect the impact to be of a more long term nature possibly concerning big strategic, non-mobile investments such as large scale manufacturing plants, infrastructure related projects and such.

Dr Jouko Huju DBA, GMBA-Finland
+358 40 5509310

David Lewin, GMBA-UK
+44 7767 687 987

Disclaimer: Global Marine Business Advisors and its associated website are not registered legal entities. GMBA is a network of independent marine industry advisors. In all articles the opinions expressed are those of the author and does not necessarily reflect those of GMBA