Today Wealthsimple announced it is selling it’s block of US accounts to US-based robo-advisor Betterment, and will no longer support US accounts. While there’s not a lot of commentary to read around the strategic rationale, it exemplifies a core design principle that we see among fintech winners: it’s better to focus on someone than everyone. 

Doubling down on the Canadian consumer will allow Wealthsimple to tailor their experience to Canadians without the complications of serving the needs of two very different countries in terms of regulatory bodies, legislation, products and tax implications. Their recent move into tax planning software (through the acquisition Canadian software company SimpleTax) is consistent with a strategy of building a diverse product platform aimed at a specific geography. 

Tackling new countries is likely best served with a dedicated focus, and the financial services sector happens to be one of the toughest ones in which to break new geographic ground. Revolut’s lengthy approach to expanding to Canada illustrates this.

The withdrawal of Wealthsimple from the US market is also not entirely surprising given their ownership: Power Corporation of Canada (owner of Canada Life, among many others) has a huge 77.4% ownership stake. Power Corp. is also an investor in neobank Koho Financial, which we’ve included in our upcoming LARI Report: Digital Banking – Opening an account digitally ranges from easy to egregious.

The Toronto-based FinTech company, which provides robo-advice as well as access to financial advisors, has been rapidly expanding the product line, adding new capabilities for savings and spending, crypto investing, and now peer-to-peer payments. According to The Globe and Mail, Wealthsimple accounted for 43 percent of new trading accounts opened in January, more than any other Canadian brokerage.

Vancouver-based MyMarble.ca has announced a partnership with lender Canadian Financial. The deal provides a white label version of MyMarble’s credit management tools to the lenders and merchants in Canadian Financial’s network. 

Canadian Financial, founded in 2015, is an Ottawa-based fintech platform for Canadians that offers access to over 200 lenders. Think of it as access to a wide range of alternative lending sources. The firm handles both consumer lending as well as commercial accounts (things like accounts receivable factoring).

MyMarble.ca has a suite of tools designed to help Canadians better understand and improve their credit score. Users connect their banking info through the platform, which in turn leads to AI-powered recommendations from MyMarble to help with debt management and credit score quality. Through another tool, Maestro, you can access courses aimed at the core concepts of financial literacy. Another company active with a similar approach is Borrowwell, which offers a free credit report from Equifax as well as AI-driven recommendations for improvement.

The deal reflects a common need/tension among fintech’s offering a financial management platform to Canadians – the challenge of reach. Despite the innovation and strength of the product, it’s hard to make noise in a crowded market and the big banks still dominate share of mind and wallet. We’re increasingly seeing fintech’s turn to white label solutions to grow their user base by leveraging partner networks.

 

Longueuil, Quebec-based fintech Hardbacon obtained it’s latest round of financing through public crowdfunding platform FrontFundr. With a funding target of $500k, the platform is open for funding for another 11 days and has already reached $574k.  With interest rates at historic lows, it’s generally not hard for start-ups to find financing these days, but we applaud the approach of taking this to the public rather than venture capitalists. 

For one, the financial app/platform capitalizes on an opportunity to turn existing users into investors. Those who love the app experience will be among the pool of finaciers. When your most loyal users have skin in the game as investors, that drives product loyalty to new levels.

We plan to review Hardbacon in an upcoming LARI report where we specifically explore financial planning and comparison tools. For now, if you’re unfamiliar with the platform, a commonly known comparison would be Intuit’s Mint. Hardbacon engages Canadians with their finances, budgets and planning, and then allows them to compare and connect with providers in a number of categories: robo-advisors, chequing accounts, online brokers, savings accounts, credit cards, mortgages, and personal loans.  

This week Toronto-based KOHO launched a new service, KOHO Credit Building, reports all activity to TransUnion, one of the two major reporting bureaus in Canada. The service costs $7/month, and is aimed at helping clients improve their credit scores. By issuing a small line of credit and reporting on it monthly, clients can generate a positive credit history. 

“Historically, the options for building credit are expensive, murky or both, especially for middle-class Canadians,” explains CEO of KOHO, Daniel Eberhard. “We think our approach to credit building is a new form factor. It’s simple, affordable and transparent. We’re really proud of it.”

The service complements KOHO’s existing product shelf, which is based on a full-service banking or savings account with no fees. The account includes a prepaid Visa card that earns cash back. 

The startup is backed by industry giant Power Corp., and it’s growth trends are impressive. With over 350k users, and $2 billion a year in transactions, it’s one to watch (but certainly not the only one, with a nod to MotusBank, Mogo, NeoFinancial and Revolut). 

Our insights team at LARI particularly likes their publicly accessible product roadmap. It allows anyone to see what’s in their development timeline for the year ahead, and provides virtual collaboration options for visitors to submit feature requests. We applaud this approach for a few reasons:

  • Engaging heavily with clients in product development is the surest path to a winning product
  • Transparency ranks highly on the list of what Canadian clients value from a financial services provider
  • Collecting client feedback during ALL cycles of product development will hands-down result in better products than a gated approach with “windows” for feedback and refinement

 

Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin… today’s sophisticated investors are increasingly asking about these digital asset alternatives to traditional wealth holdings. So it’s not surprising to see an investment pairing of minds and equity in the form of Mogo’s strategic investment in Coinsquare. 

Through the deal, Mogo acquires nearly 20% of Toronto-based Coinsquare, digital asset trading platform. The deal includes an option to expand to 40%. This deal expands an existing relationship – Coinsquare is the trading platform today for MogoCrypto, which allows Mogo members to buy and sell bitcoin. The current investment by Mogo brings their digital wallet capabilities closer to the digital trading platform operated by Coinsquare.

While bigger industry players may be inclined to write off digital asset alternatives as a niche market (Coinsquare saw trading volume of $525 million in Jan, 2021), it’s undoubtedly a growing need. Speaking of the investment in Coinsquare, Greg Feller, President of Mogo, said: “This major strategic transaction with Coinsquare gives us a significant stake in a highly valuable platform in one of the most exciting and fastest growing sectors of fintech. We believe there are significant opportunities to drive value for both Mogo and Coinsquare by bringing together Mogo’s leading digital wallet capabilities and Coinsquare’s leading digital trading platform.”

Mogo is undoubtedly an exciting Canadian FinTech to watch. With over one million members it’s user base growth is impressive. Through the Mogo app, consumers can access a digital spending account with Mogo Visa* Platinum Prepaid Card featuring automatic carbon offsetting, easily buy and sell bitcoin, and get free monthly credit score monitoring, ID fraud protection, and personal loans.

How will Canada’s big banks and brokerages address the new variety of digital assets some investors are looking for? Will they too pair up with FinTech players through strategic investments? Will they build-in house or license from a third party? From an experience perspective, what would happen today if I walked into a branch and asked to invest in Ethereum?