Margeir Pétursson has certainly lived an extraordinary life. A chess grandmaster, Icelandic Chess Champion, trainer of the Icelandic national chess team and an accomplished financier, his bank, MP Bank, became the only commercial bank in Iceland that survived the financial crisis of 2007-2008. In 2004, Margeir’s interest in underdeveloped financial markets brought him to Ukraine, where he acquired a bank and resides until now. “I’m no stranger to crises,” admits Margeir.
Jack of all trades
“By education, I’m a lawyer. My first job was in a state bank in Iceland,” he shares. “I left the bank to become a professional chess player. When I was travelling around, I met some bankers, and I got the idea that when I would go out of chess, I would create my own financial company. And I did that in 1995.”
Following his successful banking career in Iceland and the Baltics, Margeir purchased a small bank in Ukraine—Bank Lviv. “For the last 10 years, I’ve been mostly in Ukraine,” Margeir says.
Despite the ongoing war in Ukraine, Margeir admits that the bank is not doing too badly, primarily due to its location in the west of Ukraine. “We have a branch in Kyiv. But in 2006, I made the decision that we would not cross the Dnipro river. And that was an excellent decision,” says Margeir.
“We are providing full services during the war, supporting our clients and the local economy. I think that’s our contribution in the resistance to this terrible aggression by Russians,” he says. He remains in Ukraine most of the time to support the staff: “I couldn’t really expect them to work full force while I’m in a quiet place far away.”
Living between Ukraine and Iceland
“I like Lviv. It’s a beautiful historic city,” says Margeir. “History is written on the walls here. Just taking a walk, looking at the houses is very interesting. In Iceland, we don’t have such old buildings.”
“Before COVID, I was going to Iceland almost every month, now it’s less often. There are basically two things I miss while being away: the swimming pools and the fish,” he shares, adding that, of course, it’s also friends and family.
Despite being located at the opposite ends of Europe, Margeir says Icelanders and Ukrainians are not so different. “Life has been much easier in Iceland for a couple of generations. For Ukraine, the 20th century was just horrible. Now, when things were finally improving, we have this attack by Russia. It’s unbelievable.”
His banking career didn’t stop Margeir from being involved in chess. “Many of my friends in Lviv are chess grandmasters or chess players,” he says. “Ten years ago, together with my grandmaster friends here we created our own club—Lviv Grandmaster Chess Club.” Before Covid-19, the club would gather at least every month.
“I’ve been the captain of the Icelandic national team now for two years,” Margeir continues. “As a chess player, I’m no longer professional. But I really enjoy studying chess and following things. That was a bit ideal for me to be the coach, and, in general, we have reasonable results.”
Unclarity of the future
“Before the war, the bank was developing extremely well. Now everything is on hold, we can’t get funds to develop the bank at this time. Everybody’s holding back, they say—‘talk to us at the end of the war,’” says Margeir. “I think when this war is finally over, there will be a good time ahead for Ukraine. It depends on how the bank is developing, but I think I will be coming here at least.”
The Islanders is our series where we interview interesting people in Iceland about their unique lives. Know someone we should speak to? Email email@example.com
Buy subscriptions, t-shirts and more from our shop right here!