Startups are making banking better for consumers

Eva Wong, Co-founder and COO, Borrowell Inc.

By Bryan Borzykowski and Barry Chong

Banking, an industry once dominated by convention, has been reborn thanks to Canada’s innovation boom. New and emerging technologies are making banks more profitable and efficient, as well as engaging employees and customers more than ever before. In short: personal finance has actually become more personal. And consumers are better off for it.

Better credit

Like many fintechs, Borrowell Inc. was born out of a desire to make banking better for consumers. But it took a couple of tries with different products before cofounders Andrew Graham, a former director at President’s Choice Financial, and Eva Wong, a business development specialist, found the right hook.

Graham had seen firsthand people carrying large balances on their credit cards without realizing how it could hurt their credit rating. So, Borrowell began in 2014 by offering low-cost loans online. It still does that, but the duo hit it big once they also began offering free credit reports. They now have 700,000 users and sign up 2,000 more credit-curious Canadians every day, says Graham, Borrowell’s CEO (Wong is chief operating officer).

While the business also makes recommendations, based on one’s credit score, for things like fixed-rate loans, credit cards and mortgage rates, it’s the score-checking itself that’s key. “The most important thing we do is provide a better picture of one’s credit situation,” says Graham. “We provide broader context and education: What does it mean if my score is 700? What would I be able to do if my score was higher? People need that context.”

Borrowell has benefitted by partnering with established brands, such as Equifax and CIBC, says Carmi Levy, a London, Ont. technology analyst. Offering credit reports also creates a path for growth. It’s an easy first step for consumers; once they’re in, Borrowell can offer them other products. “They’re opening the door to building a customized relationship with customers,” says Levy.

Graham is mum on specifics, but more features are on the way. “We can create scale because of artificial intelligence and data, and that’s exciting,” he says. “We want to help people at all stages of the credit journey.”

Helping clients help themselves

There’s an old saying: “Build it and they will come.” Janice Diner isn’t having any of it.

“That’s a myth,” says the founding partner and CEO of startup Horizn. “It’s not just about bringing a product to market. It’s about getting your clients, and clients’ clients, to use it well.”

Horizn’s software helps some of the world’s largest banks (RBC, BMO, US Bank and more) accelerate digital and mobile adoption of new products and services. It empowers both employees and customers to become fluent product experts by teaching them through gamification, fast-paced learning modules and advanced analytics.

The software also promotes real-time customer engagement, a strategy Diner picked up in a previous life when she designed early
apps for Facebook, BlackBerry and Motorola. “You have to love your customers and they have to love you back,” she says. “There’s no better success than having your clients do your marketing for you.”

And Horizn is indeed successful. The company’s product, on average, increases adoption by 25 per cent, decreases call centre conversation times by 45 seconds, and converts 20 per cent of non-digital customers to digital banking. Most notably, Horizn now serves clients in 40 different countries, and counting.

Still, for Janice, it’s about more than numbers: “When you have great clients, they start using your product in ways you never imagined. It’s about learning together.”