The Growth of Financial Technology in BC

At the Fintech Conference in Vancouver earlier this month, three FinTech founders sat on a panel together to discuss their philosophies and experiences of creating prominent FinTech companies in Canada.

On the panel were Hamed Shahbazi, founder of Tio Networks, Kevin Sandhu, co-founder and CEO of Grow, and Ian Crosby, co-founder and CEO of Bench Accounting.

They discussed what it’s been like to develop a FinTech company in Canada, and Vancouver specifically.

“We actually moved here,” said Crosby. “We started at Techstars in New York and moved here, making a choice to be here, and we’re not going anywhere soon. I think there’s a huge advantage to being in a jurisdiction that’s one of the most business-friendly in the world. I think it’s great that we’re just fifty kilometers from the biggest economy in the world, facilitated by the free trade agreement that allows us to do 99% of our revenue in the US.”

There are business advantages to being in Canada, he says, that founders often don’t think off when they start and run companies here. For instance, health care for a three-person startup in New York is a real pain. Of course, not a moment of thought is redirected to this when you run a company in Canada.

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Sandhu answered a question as to whether it had hurt or helped to be in Vancouver.

“I would say equal parts of both,” Sandhu said. “It has its pros and cons. Starting with the ‘glass is half empty’ piece, I think the challenge is that a lot of our competitors are in Toronto. Being away from them is difficult, our regulators, etcetera. That creates some challenges, but at the same time, everyone is a phone call away. The plus is that there is a different culture in Vancouver from Toronto, and different approaches to finance and banking.”

Shahbazi discussed how critical culture has been in creating a Fintech company in Vancouver.

He said, “I think that it’s clearly a challenging labour market finding the talent that you want and probably more important holding on to the talent that you have, and I think culture is the key. There’s a saying that strategy is very important, but culture eats strategy for breakfast. I believe the overarching product of your company is your culture, and that’s what drives everything. What we’ve tried to do is create a culture in such a way that people don’t want to leave. And also they’ll be very willing to recommend it as a place to work.”

With regard to where they see FinTech going in ten years, Sandhu said: “Ten years is a long time. One key piece of learning that grow knows that it didn’t two years ago is that Canadians are incredibly sticky to their financial institutions, their bank brands, credit union brands. What’s the problem we’re solving? I think of banking as a product and service provision is broken, has a lot of room to improve, needs to be more consumer centric. I don’t know that bank brands are broken. We sort of have a love-hate relationship with bank brands. We love to complain but at the same time, cycle after cycle, we tend to be sticky to the big bank brands.”

“I think that traditional bank brands are forward-thinking enough, some subset of those, are responsive enough to consumers, to work with companies like us, to work with internal initiatives, around these issues, they will be able to offer the best of FinTech, while still being able to offer the best of what they do.”