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Q & A with Chandra Blouin of Studiothink

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Chandra Blouin is Director of Strategy and co-founder of Studiothink, a web design and branding agency located in Surrey, BC which serves companies throughout Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. They are a team of designers, strategists and developers who create tailor-made websites, logos and brand experiences for companies who want to elevate their marketing and reinvent their online presence.

Click the questions below to reveal Chandra’s answers!

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I love watching (and helping) brands grow and flourish and I feel that’s what’s happened to the community of Surrey. We’ve worked with clients in Surrey for 20 years now and I’m proud to see how it’s grown though purposeful efforts to support and encourage business. I love the diversity of people, shopping, businesses, and activities. When I was a kid growing up in Langley you would have never wanted to say you’re from Surrey and I feel like Surrey’s brand image has done a full 360 since then. People are now proud to be from Surrey. And I am proud to be part of the Surrey business community.

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I’m a BCIT Marketing Communications grad.

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20 years this year 🙂 Started in 1997.

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My job is to come up with ideas. Ideas that solve problems and get results.

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Sherry and I started Studiothink in 1997. I was a passionate, young marketing professional who was always looking for a challenge. We knew that businesses needed more than just an outsourced designer or an outsourced marketing consultant, they needed a combination of both that would deliver something that looked good and worked. So Sherry, the designer, and myself, the marketer, joined forces. Without a client list and barely a portfolio, we had to get creative to get business. We started a full colour business magazine for the Fraser Valley and published that 10 times a year for 2 years. We ended up losing money on the magazine but did net ourselves a small client list that we were able to build on.

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My favourite, and most challenging, part of my day is coming up with ideas. In addition to listening to clients business goals and challenges and thinking of ideas that get them results, I’m also often immersed in idea storming with team members to help better our company, brand and client experience. Somedays I feel like I haven’t got a anything done, yet leave the studio with an exhausted brain. I wouldn’t want it any other way though, I’ve been an idea person since I was a child and Studiothink is the perfect outlet to exercise my passion.

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One sign that my work/life is definitely off is when I’m having to take my work home at night. When I first started our company I thought that’s what we needed to do to survive and I got used to working late every night. Transitioning and training myself to better manage my days so I didn’t need to take work home took a lot of years and practice, and sometimes I still fall back into taking work home. I have to really question myself as to why I’m taking this work home? Is it because I didn’t properly manage my day, allowing for constant interruptions, or is it truly that I have that much work. And if I have ‘that much work’ too often then I need to solve that resource problem.

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Our five year plan for Studiothink is to continue growing the team and brands that we service. In 5 years my goal is to be spending less time working in the business and more time on the business to further develop our team, processes and help build our own brand and marketing.

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I’m not sure it was a challenge, as I most certainly didn’t see it that way, but being young and female definitely forced me to think differently and get creative, especially when it came to getting financing for our magazine, selling, and managing other (sometimes older) people. My way to overcome every obstacle has been to weigh the pros and cons and if I could live with the worst case scenario…then go for it. I’ve learned the hard way many times, but if I hadn’t been willing to take a risk here and there, I wouldn’t be where I am now.

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Success is loving what you do and getting paid to do it. My heart aches for people who hate their job and only continue to do it for the pay cheque because I know it doesn’t have to be that way.

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Starting my own company has definitely been the most memorable milestone and has resulted in many more milestones and happy memories.

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Absolutely!! Anytime you think or hear the word ‘No’, swap it for ‘How?’. If I had stopped every time I heard the word ‘no’ I wouldn’t have a company. The path to success isn’t a straight line so when you hit a roadblock look in every other direction because there’s always a way around. Then, believe in yourself, know that you deserve to love what you do and never give up. My path to success definitely looked just like the lower diagram!

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There are many, but my current fave is TAP restaurant. I love the locally sourced ingredients, small but spectacular French inspired menu, exceptional service and great wine (especially those recommended by the owner/chef/sommelier Alistair Veen). taprestaurant.ca

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My family loves the recreation centres in Surrey (and we live in Blaine, WA). We have a family pass and love to go swimming and to the gym in South Surrey. There are so many options and love being able to go get some exercise in such beautiful facilities, especially when it’s raining outside.

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I spend my “Me” time with my girls and husband. We love travelling to tropical beaches and exploring in our trailer closer to home. My girls are in Girl Scouts and I’m a leader so I spend a lot of spare time doing those activities and planning.

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I am really looking forward to returning to Europe in the next few years. We did a whirlwind tour in 2006 before we had kids—6 countries in 2 weeks. I would love to go back to France and Italy when we have more than just a few days to explore an entire country. Being able to experience completely different culture, traditions, people and food within only a few hours of travel is amazing. The wine is great too 🙂

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Follow Your Arrow by Kacey Musgraves

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I have no shortage of ideas…so if I wasn’t focused on injecting new ideas into growing Studiothink then I’d be bringing other business and product ideas to life. Probably something to do with aromatherapy or natural skincare and beauty products.

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I’m a Girl Scout leader for a troop of 12 girls Grades 2-4 in Blaine, WA. I want all girls to have the confidence I had as a young person to know they can accomplish anything they set their mind to and there’s no limit to whatever they dream. Girl Scouts is founded on these principles and I try my best to instill this confidence in our group of 12 girls, 2 of which are my own.

Studiothink also has a favourite charity we support in every way we can. It’s called SALI (Semiahmoo Animal League) and is based in South Surrey. They bring together children-at-risk in Surrey with animals that have been neglected or abused, so that together they can help each other heal. We are so proud of how SALI has grown over the past 9 years and for all of the kids and animals they’ve been able to bring joy and happiness to. sali.ca

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Surrey has made huge strides and done an incredible job rebranding this community as the hotpot for business and lifestyle over the past decade. Big companies and people are moving to Surrey in groves. I feel like Surrey saw and opportunity and jumped on it. They’ve worked hard to accommodate and demonstrate the value of this community around the world and they’ve benefitted as a result. The community feels progressive and always changing, which creates anticipation, excitement and pride. Being part of city that behaves and believes in moving forward to create a better life for all definitely makes me Surrey Proud.

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The creator of Surrey604.com, Daman Beatty (AKA 'Beatler') is originally from Sackville, New Brunswick. A longtime media producer, visual designer, marketing and communications specialist, Daman loves travel, technology and being a Daddy.

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City of Surrey Among Canada’s Top Employers for Young People

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The City of Surrey has been selected as one of Canada’s Top Employers for Young People, which recognizes the nation’s best workplaces and programs for young people starting their careers.

“This award is a testament to the great work our City does to invest in young people and ensure a bright future for Surrey,” said Mayor Doug McCallum. “Programs like our summer hiring initiative, internships and co-op placements have helped more than 400 young people build and advance their careers each year.”

This is the ninth consecutive year that the City of Surrey has received this distinction and is the only municipality in British Columbia to be recognized with this award in 2020. Some of the programs and initiatives the City is being recognized for include:

  • Providing post-secondary students between the ages of 15 and 30 opportunities to gain work experience in a variety of positions in the City of Surrey’s summer student program
  • Offering a 2-year Emerging Leaders program to provide new and emerging leaders with training, education, work experience and self-development opportunities
  • Helping students gain career-level experience through co-op placements and a technical student program, offering opportunities in a variety of fields, including engineering, water and sewer planning, media design and information systems

With 16 percent of the City of Surrey’s full-time employees under the age of 30, supporting our young workers is an important step to cultivating a desirable and engaging workplace.

More information on a career with the City can be found here.

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CSR for SMEs: Small businesses making a big difference

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CSR for SMEs: Small businesses making a big difference

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is often seen as the preserve of large enterprises. From the outside, the CSR practices of large business often appear to be thinly veiled attempts to bolster brand image and resonate with their key demographics. However, CSR doesn’t have to be a cynical affair – or exclusive to enterprises.

Those who view CSR negatively should consider whether it’s better for companies to give with personal gain in mind, or not give at all. While businesses’ images absolutely benefit from effective CSR, this is rarely immediately reflected in their bottom lines. Jaded consumers are typically unswayed by one-off demonstrations of “altruism”. Over time, however, companies which prove themselves to be ethical, environmentally friendly or socially supportive, enjoy greater longevity and brand loyalty. Businesses which do not take causes seriously, or which hope to gain from “flash in the pan” shows of charity, rarely see meaningful gains from their CSR campaigns.

The benefits of ongoing, committed CSR practices are increasingly apparent to smaller businesses, too. The beauty of charitable or socially-minded programmes is that they are incredibly scalable and versatile. Businesses of all sizes can offset the more negative effects of their daily operations in a manner which is meaningful to them – and manageable for them. Just as long term CSR projects can earn large enterprises a positive reputation (while achieving positive outcomes for charities and communities), smaller businesses can also benefit from this “win-win” situation.

CSR Case Study: Fruitful Office

To illustrate the positive impacts of CSR in a SME (Small-to-Medium sized Enterprise), we’ve stepped into the world of Fruitful Office; an office fruit delivery company, currently running a successful programme Planting Fruit Trees in Africa.

For every fruit basket sold, the company has planted one fruit tree in Malawi. This location and this project were chosen for their productivity and potential benefits. Fruit trees grow quickly in this region, maturing in 3-5 years and producing reliably abundant harvests of fruit such as guava and papaya.

Working in association with RIPPLE Africa (a UK charity focussed on projects which engage local communities in Malawi), Fruitful Office provided seedlings, instructions and training for householders, schools, community groups and farmers. In some cases, equipment was provided, empowering Malawians to grow productive trees which would help generate sustenance and potential income.

Extending the project

In 2016, Fruitful Office took its CSR project further, working to combat deforestation in Muzuzu by planting fast-growing guava, papaya and senna siamea trees (the latter is an excellent source of firewood). The project was shaped by local government forestry staff – and through consultation with the local community. By working with communities directly, the fruit delivery business has been able to develop initiatives which generate real benefits, matching the needs of local people and dovetailing neatly with the company’s offering.

With customers in Europe and the UK becoming ever more environmentally responsible (especially in the wake of global movements such as the Extinction Rebellion), companies which use natural produce stand to win custom if they can negate their use of natural resources – and evidence this. Planting fruit trees to both support Malawian communities and reduce the effects of deforestation neatly demonstrates this SME’s understanding of shrewd CSR which simultaneously benefits society and supports business growth.

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Essential Agreements for Your Business

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Athiviraham-Anand

By Anand Athiviraham, Senior Associate
Watson Goepel LLP

What agreements do I need for my business?

A significant part of my practice involves advising clients on which agreements best suit their business needs and goals. Whether it’s two partners looking to start a new venture, a growing business looking to fundraise, or a more established entity negotiating an acquisition, they all need agreements that will protect them from risk and allow their businesses to flourish.

A bootstrapping business may not be in a financial position to put all necessary agreements in place before they launch their business, but it is still important that they understand that investing at least some money now can protect them from potentially incurring thousands in litigation costs later.

Following is an overview of some common agreements, why they are important, and how having the right agreements in place at the right time will benefit your business regardless of the stage of growth you’re at.

Shareholders’ Agreement

Any business involving two or more owners should get legal advice on drafting a shareholders’ agreement as early in the process as possible, ideally at the time of incorporation. Starting a new venture often involves a ‘honeymoon’ period during which the owners are getting along very well and are fully engaged and bringing new ideas to the table. It is not uncommon during this stage for owners to take their good relationship for granted, not anticipating the challenges that may follow.

Business partners, especially friends and family, can sometimes get into disagreements over seemingly trivial issues which, if left to fester, can cause anxiety and further confrontations as the business grows and becomes profitable. Therefore, the key consideration for any business involving multiple owners is to ensure that the expectations, responsibilities, rights and restrictions of each owner are clearly defined in a properly drafted shareholders’ agreement.

Critical discussion points may include:

  • what happens when one partner wants out of the business
  • whether each shareholder will need to provide a proportional amount of investment funds when the company needs cash
  • what happens to the shares on death or disability of one of the owners
  • non-competition/non-solicitation clauses to protect employees and customers
  • key-man insurance, which protects an owner’s family in the event of disability or death

The agreement can be designed to be as simple or as complex as necessary to minimize disputes, ensure clarity, and avoid misunderstandings between the parties, even if all parties are not in full agreement on all points at the outset. The agreement can always be tweaked in future, as the business evolves.

The absence of a shareholders’ agreement covering the most essential aspects of the relationship between the parties can allow a business to ultimately suffer from deadlock due to unresolved disagreements, and lead to costly litigation.

Non-Disclosure Agreement

Also known as an NDA or a confidentiality agreement, this type of agreement is important to have in place before you communicate with any suppliers or investors who may be privy to the core secrets and data that underlie your business. Without an NDA in place, third parties are under no inherent obligation to protect or maintain confidentiality around the information received, leaving little recourse for your business in the case of a privacy breach.

This agreement should be drafted prior to engaging in any substantive discussions with such third parties. Another option to a standalone NDA may include inserting tailored confidentiality clauses into other existing agreements. Your lawyer can help you decide which approach is best for your business.

Terms of Service/Privacy Policy

Terms of service and privacy policies have grown in importance as many businesses have incorporated an online presence where they may sell their products or services, and/or collect personal information about visitors to their website. These agreements are often paired together as the terms of service identifies any key sales terms and general use of the business’ website, while the privacy policy informs the visitor on how their information, whether through the use of forms or cookies placed on the end-user’s browser, is collected, maintained, and handled.

Strong terms of service and privacy policy agreements are especially important for a business engaging in online commerce, as privacy and use of data is subject to a variety of jurisdictional laws, such as ensuring international compliance with GDPR.

Employment / Independent Contractor Agreement

Any business hiring an employee or engaging the services of an independent contractor (also known as a freelancer) should require that the party being hired sign an appropriate employment agreement document. This protects the business not only from potentially incurring thousands in unforeseen severance obligations should the employee be terminated in future, but also protects any intellectual property developed through the course of the employee’s duties to the business.

Businesses will also want to ensure that independent contractors are responsible for self-reporting any tax liabilities to the Canada Revenue Agency, are adequately protecting confidential information from falling into the wrong hands, and that any out-of-pocket expenses are pre-approved by the business.

These agreements should be drafted and adopted prior to the hiring of the third-party, as it is very difficult to implement once the relationship has commenced.

Subscription Agreement

If a business in the growth phase is looking to fundraise, either from third-party investors, friends, or family, a subscription agreement is essential to ensure appropriate compliance with securities laws.

Many private businesses are unaware of the strict securities laws governing how non-founders can invest in the business. The broad eligibility categories for any person looking to invest in your company include:

  • accredited investors
  • friends/family/business associates
  • minimum investment threshold by an individual

If a business decides to raise money from third parties without carefully obtaining legal advice, they risk severe penalties and potentially even jail time. Before considering or accepting any external funds, ensure your lawyer is qualified to advise you of the necessary requirements under securities law that govern your business.

Tips for Good Agreements

A poorly drafted agreement can cause more headaches than it’s worth, not to mention potential litigation should interpretation of the agreement come into question. Non-lawyers should avoid drafting their own agreements, even if it may seem convenient or expedient to do so, as a variety of laws and case precedents may be applicable to the agreement and can undermine its enforceability and legality.

Having an agreement drafted by a lawyer does not automatically ensure that it is a “good” agreement. A lawyer who is not fluent in business law may provide a document that is substandard. A good agreement should demonstrate a deep and nuanced understanding of the relevant laws, be formatted clearly, and use concise language when possible without the need for extraneous legalese. It should contain a section that defines terms, which should then be used consistently throughout the agreement. For example, we often encounter capitalized terms used in agreements that lack any proper definition and for which the context remains ambiguous.

Where applicable, commercial agreements should include:

  • details on the length of the term of the agreement
  • renewal provisions
  • clear pricing and payment provisions
  • termination clauses (and identify the effect of any termination)
  • data ownership/intellectual property aspects relating to the business
  • appropriate indemnities to help prevent the need to go to court for enforcement

Alternative dispute resolution and jurisdiction are also important considerations that should be discussed, since they also have the potential to avoid costly litigation.

Conclusion

Businesses may be hesitant to incur legal fees, especially at the outset, for obvious reasons. While certain agreements can be appropriately postponed until they are truly necessary for the business, some of the essential agreements covered here are important to discuss and implement sooner rather than later to ensure your business avoids potentially costly litigation and is well-protected for the future.

Anand Athiviraham is a Senior Associate in the Business Group at Watson Goepel LLP and focuses on advising entrepreneurs at all stages of their business. He works from both the firm’s downtown Vancouver office and its Surrey location.

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Business

Three Compelling Reasons to Outsource Your Bookkeeping Work

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If you’re a small business owner, you would have very likely contemplated the idea of outsourcing your bookkeeping work.

Hiring your own bookkeeping and administrative team to handle year-round bookkeeping takes A LOT of work. And this can be incredibly costly.

For example, the average hourly wage in BC to hire a bookkeeper is roughly $21 an hour. according to Payscale. As a full-time employee at 40 hours per week, you’re looking at $3,300 per month, or $40,000 a year.

On the most conservative level, this is at least 50% more expensive than outsourcing it to a bookkeeping firm – and that’s only from a cost perspective.

Below, we lay out three compelling reasons for you should outsource your bookkeeping to a bookkeeping firm:

1. Outsourcing your bookkeeping does the job at a cheaper price

As we mentioned above, outsourcing your bookkeeping can still help you accomplish what needs to be accomplished, albeit at a lower cost.

Hiring one in-house bookkeeper would cost a business roughly $40,000 per year, and that’s before any employee benefits and payroll costs like CPP & EI.

If we compare this cost to outsourcing it to an online bookkeeping firm like Rooks, you’ll see the huge difference in cost savings:

Looking at Rook’s tiered pricing model, we can see that the ‘Essential’s’ tier goes for $199 USD/month, while the highest pricing tier costs only $899 USD/month, making out to be $2,400 USD and $10,800 per annum respectively.

That means the average small business owner saves between $19,000 – $30,000 per year by outsourcing their bookkeeping!

The reason as to why bookkeeping firms are so much cheaper is simple.

As bookkeeping firms are doing the same work for hundreds of clients, they are able to build a streamlined work-flow and process that allows the bookkeeping firm to work at a much more efficient rate, an advantage called the economies of scale.

Furthermore, an in-house bookkeeper’s work is often redundant: their job often entails reconciling the books once per day, while most bookkeeping firms do it once a month (although it can be shorter depending on what the scope of work is).

This drastically increases the inefficiency rate for an in-house bookkeeper, as they have to go through the same reconciliation process thirty times more often than a bookkeeping firm that would otherwise do it once per month.

Obviously, the benefit for the small business owner here for hiring an in-house bookkeeper is that it’d then be possible to get financial data that is updated daily – but the argument is whether the additional $19K-$30K cost is worth having the daily financial data. The answer, generally, is that it’s not worth the cost for a small business owner because daily financial data is a LOT less actionable for a small business than it’d be for an enterprise.

As a small business, your opportunity cost with money is too high. The $19K-$30K cost savings could instead go into other aspects of expanding your business operations, which is probably a much better use of your money!

2. Advisory and Peace of Mind

One of the biggest advantages of outsourcing your bookkeeping work is that you’ve essentially hired a whole firm of financial experts who oftentimes know more about the numbers than you do!

Personally, at our own firm, we offer a free half-hour meeting each month, where we sit down with our clients to go over their financial statements and KPIs, as well as areas for improvement.

Our clients often bring their own financial questions which we would provide advice for, such as, “What can I do to improve my net income”, or “Why does the income statement say I have a net income for June, but my bank account has less money this month?”.

If you had to hire a financial consultant to answer these questions for you at $50-$100/hour, you would’ve already got your $200/mo money’s worth by having us answer those questions instead!

I probably don’t have to tell you why it’s important to have an advisory board for your business, but if you don’t already have one, reaching out to a bookkeeping firm for advice is already a good start. They’ll have the experience and financial expertise in different business matters that your in-house bookkeeper often wouldn’t have.

3. Scaleability

As your business grows, your bookkeeping team will need to grow along with it.

Having one in-house bookkeeper may be sufficient for now when you’re handling $10,000 in monthly revenues, but what about at $100,000 monthly revenues or $1,000,000?

Imagine the work it’d take to manage a team of in-house bookkeepers, and the risk you entail by doing so.

And not only that – but what if your bookkeeper suddenly decides to quit one day?

As you can see, there are a lot of risks and headaches involved with having an in-house bookkeeper, especially as your business scales.

By hiring a bookkeeping firm, you’re essentially letting them handle all that hassle and responsibility.

Conclusion

More often than not, it just doesn’t make sense for a small business owner to hire their own bookkeeper.

There’s too much work involved, too much responsibility, and too expensive.

While there are some benefits to hiring your own bookkeeper, such as daily financials, the costs and efforts of doing so are simply too high.

At Rooks, we have a team of expert bookkeepers who are able to handle your books in Quickbooks Online. We’ll take away the headache of managing your books, at a lower cost! Try Rooks now.

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Business

Top 5 Fintech Companies in Canada

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After years of slow growth, the Canadian fintech sector is getting bigger and livelier. It defied expectations as half of the nation’s population is now digitally active, according to Ernst & Young’s Global Fintech Adoption Index 2019.

Furthermore, our friends at Fortunly attest that Canada is among the first nations to embrace Bitcoin. The legalization of the pioneering digital coin in the country has emboldened homegrown innovators to explore the potential of blockchain and cryptocurrency in order to achieve strategic business goals.

The best example is Kik, Canada’s only unicorn. In 2017, the chat platform launched an initial coin offering and successfully raised about $100 million from the token sale.

Dozens of startups currently populate the growing fintech ecosystem of Canada. Although most of them position themselves as alternatives to traditional financial institutions, there are some that provide innovative solutions directly to bankers.

Below are the top 5 fintech companies that actively collaborate with banks.

1:  Mobi724

Mobi724 facilitates credit card payments on all devices or point of sale systems. It empowers banks to deploy traditional and mobile payment terminals anywhere.

The company also specializes in Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard compliance, customer engagement and retention, and data monetization.

Mobi724’s turnkey business intelligence solutions help financial institutions understand their customers by analyzing purchase patterns and online behaviours.

Moreover, the Montréal-based company assists credit card issuers in launching measurable marketing campaigns and implementing painless online-to-offline loyalty point redemption programs to delight shoppers.

2:  Salt Edge

Salt Edge is one of country’s leaders in open banking. The company’s financial API (application programming interface) platform builds bridges between banks both in and outside of Canada.

Using Salt Edge’s products, traditional bankers can be on par with the world’s most innovative financial institutions, expand their international footprints, and stay competitive in the ever-evolving digital landscape.

Apart from granting customers access to their accounts, no matter where they are, Salt Edge–affiliated banks can also extend financial management tools to induce loyalty among their customers.

The company’s white label retail banking solution makes it easier for ordinary consumers to consolidate all bank accounts, set budgeting and saving goals, seek expert advice, and receive auto-debit warnings and other useful notifications through one app.

3:  NamSys

NamSys strives to keep cash alive and relevant in the digital age. Its software solutions render cash processing super-efficient to help physical currencies remain competitive despite the growing pervasiveness of electronic payments.

Hailed as one of the promising Canadian fintech stocks in 2019, this publicly traded company offers fintech-driven cash vault management and deposit tracking solutions to give traditional banks a 360-degree view of their cash flow 24/7.

Connected to the cloud, its cutting-edge monitoring solution creates a frictionless process to manage extensive networks of smart safes more easily.

The company’s platform rationalizes interfaces and reports while giving banks the convenience of real-time activity tracking. It also provides remote configuration of software and firmware, and scheduling of safe updates.

4:  Sensibill

Headquartered in Toronto, Sensibill simplifies receipt management to help banks serve their commercial customers better. Through the company’s app, small business owners as well as freelancers can track expenses and comply with tax regulations, with little stress.

The company uses optical character recognition to distinguish printed and handwritten characters in photographed paper receipts. It utilizes deep learning artificial intelligence to structure more than 150 unique pieces of data found on receipts virtually in an instant.

Sensibill also helps self-employed professionals separate personal and business financial matters in one account more easily to save a ton of time on administrative work.

5:  Quandl

Another pride of Toronto, Quandl serves as a one-stop shop for financial data from conventional and alternative sources.

It shortens the path toward information monetization for businesses. The company utilizes advanced analytics and brings the datasets closer to interested parties through an API and custom libraries.

Its platform is being used by more than 400,000 professionals, including asset managers and investment bankers, worldwide.

After fueling historic auto sales, tech companies are poised to help financial institutions in the country to innovate and increase their revenues. Considering how quickly average Canadians have been adopting mobile and online banking solutions, it is only a matter of time before all traditional bankers join the fintech revolution on this side of the world.

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