Interview with Jin Han, General Counsel and Secretary, Klarna North America

By Iman Boussaada

Can you share a little about Klarna and what services you provide?

We are a ten-year old payment and consumer credit company in Europe, and we recently launched in the US with major merchants such as Overstock and Shoes.com.

The services we provide are multi-faceted. We provide checkout services that offer all major credit cards, as well as our own pay after delivery option. Merchants see an increase in checkout conversion across all payment methods we offer, but our pay after delivery method has been a particularly great tool for merchants.  It allows qualifying customers to order goods with one click from any connected device.  The customer will have 14 days to pay after the product ships, allowing them to receive and review the products before actually having to pay for them.

What are some of the changes that have occurred within the company in the past year?

It really has been an incredible growth story. We went from 5 people to around 70 full time employees, handled Black Friday and Cyber Monday volumes without a hitch, and processed nearly $100 million worth of transactions, all within the first 12 months of operation. As we look ahead this year, we believe the rate of growth will continue or may even accelerate.

So all changes have been positive and mainly due to our growth.  We had to get a new office, bigger customer service team, bigger operations team, and even bigger commitment to keep our culture of inclusion no matter how big we get.  We haven’t really changed our product in any material way, although we always make tweaks to make further improvements. We of course have new products that are in development, but we can’t talk about that yet.

What made you want to work with the Klarna team?

I always wanted to join a company where the core business is in payments and consumer credit because I wanted my legal specialty to line up with the business goals as much as possible. Klarna was an amazing opportunity from that perspective, but also it has the benefit of being a start-up in the U.S. with the backing of a mature parent company.  You get to build something from the ground up and get to experience the excitement of growth, but with the level of security most start-ups don’t have. Headquarters has 1200 people in Stockholm and it has offices in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Tel Aviv.

Last but not least, I’ve never worked with a more wonderful group of people.  Leaving Apple and the Bay Area was not an easy decision and it indeed took me a while to decide.  A go-kart trip in Stockholm with the product group sealed the deal; there’s a comfort in knowing that you can have fun with the people you will be working with.

You started your career in Securities and M&A, was moving into payments a natural transition?

The transition was entirely accidental. I left private practice as a securities lawyer, but the companies I subsequently joined, MobiTV and Apple, both had needs for legal support in payments and I provided it. But now I love being a payment lawyer because it is an endless learning experience.  You can’t provide effective legal advice without thoroughly understanding the business side of things.  Every time you swipe your credit card there are four or five entities working together to authorize and process that payment.  Depending on which partners you select and what payment flow you want to achieve, your regulatory considerations can be completely different.  These considerations get even more challenging in the online environment because transactions do not happen in front of a loan officer who can hand you disclosures and talk through your concerns real time.  Anybody who loves challenges and learning new things would love what I do.

Growing up, did you always want to become a lawyer?

No, not at all.  Until I started practicing I had no idea that was what I wanted to do or suited for.

I was a philosophy major in college and seriously considered doing graduate work in that area. Then I decided to go to law school as a hedge.  The thinking was I could still do legal philosophy, but if necessary, could become a lawyer. After paying off most of my credit card balances with income from just one summer internship at a law firm, the financial side of things won out and I took the bar exam.

But after a couple of years of practicing it was pretty clear that this was my calling. I like advising clients and helping them meet their goals, but also learning from them.  To advise people well, you have to learn the business as well as anybody else. I like that aspect of it. The practice of law turned out to be a lot more interactive than I imagined.

If you had to change careers and would be guaranteed to succeed, what would you choose to do?

There is definitely a philosopher inside of me so this would be a close call. Probably academia or a lawyer. I would be happy doing either.

Wow, that is awesome! What a testament to how much you love your career.

What three words would you use to describe your life?

Fortunate, unexpected and happy

I grew up in Korea until I was 15 and then my family moved to the U.S. During the immigration process, my family sent me to Australia to learn English. At that point I had the desire to become a concert pianist. I had been trained classically but when I was 16 I broke my finger and lost some control and had to give it up. So, coming to the U.S. I had no idea what I wanted to do but I found that I could apply myself to reading and philosophy. I never expected to be lawyer! I was playing piano and reading philosophy which aren’t really a practical way to lead a life.

But life takes you in a certain direction and you try to make the most of it. It has really worked out for the best.

What trophy would you want to win for Klarna’s mantle?

Best Consumer Experience. Klarna really has a laser sharp focus on that.

Who has been your biggest inspiration in life (business or personal)?

That is a tough one because there are so many great people that I admire in this world. Rather than naming a person I can give you the personality type that I am inspired by.

The people that I am really inspired by are those who are able to retain their human touch and put people first in an environment where it is really tough to do. Brilliance, hard work, knowledge or experience alone is impressive, but not inspiring to me. Putting people first is not only the right way to live, but also the only way to assure productivity within your organization long term.  And it takes an incredible feat of inner strength to treat people as ends, not means, when you face daily pressure to do otherwise.

When I was in private practice negotiating M&A deals, I didn’t need to be nice [laughing].  It’s a little different in the corporate environment, but the focus is definitely on getting things done fast.

With the pressure to produce, it is easy to fall into the trap of management by edicts, rather than by partnership. And you may get some short term production out of that. In the mid to long term, your organization is a lot more productive when you treat people as partners and make sure they are happy doing their job.

I’ve been very lucky to have so many great friends, current and past coworkers who set this example for me. I hope I can replicate that as best I can.

This interview has been edited and condensed.


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