Bank Shot

Kevin Sandhu's fin­tech startup, Grow Fi­nan­cial, works be­hind the scenes to raise the bank­ing in­dus­try's dig­i­tal game

BC Business Magazine - - Celebrating 45 Years - — N.R.

anks and credit unions look to 33-year-old Kevin Sandhu to help them keep pace with chang­ing con­sumer de­mands. “We're re­ally the tech in fin­tech—that's the prob­lem, at the end of the day, I think we're solv­ing,” says the boy­ish founder and CEO of Grow Fi­nan­cial Inc. at his com­pany's bright, sparsely fur­nished of­fices in Van­cou­ver.

Grow, which spe­cial­izes in white-la­bel dig­i­tal bank­ing ser­vices, be­longs to a clus­ter of lo­cal fi­nan­cial tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies that Sandhu puts at more than 20. Last year it was the only B.C. name to make the Fin­tech 100, an an­nual global rank­ing compiled by Aus­tralian in­vest­ment firm H2 Ven­tures and KPMG LLP.

A life­long en­tre­pre­neur who started his first busi­ness at age 12, Van­cou­ver na­tive Sandhu knows the fi­nan­cial in­dus­try well. Be­fore found­ing Grow as Grou­plend in 2014, he spent sev­eral years on Bay Street, work­ing in

pri­vate eq­uity for Con­nor, Clark & Lunn Fi­nan­cial Group and in merg­ers and ac­qui­si­tions ad­vi­sory at Royal Bank of Canada.

Sandhu says Grow was different be­cause it didn't force peo­ple to choose be­tween a fin­tech startup and a bank­ing brand they trusted. “We looked at it and said, `That's the piece that's fun­da­men­tally bro­ken,'” he re­calls. “We think that con­sumers want a bet­ter ex­pe­ri­ence—a more af­ford­able, per­son­al­ized, dig­i­tal ex­pe­ri­ence—but they don't nec­es­sar­ily want to be forced out of their in­cum­bent re­la­tion­ships with old, es­tab­lished brands.”

Grow, which has al­most 30 staff, now works with most of the Big Five banks; its clients also in­clude many credit unions. The firm's of­fer­ings range from con­sumer lend­ing and fraud preven­tion to anal­y­sis of cus­tomer data, which banks can use to im­prove their prod­ucts and ser­vices. Grow's li­cens­ing fees are typ­i­cally lower than those charged by big en­ter­prise soft­ware providers, Sandhu says. The com­pany uses a model that he com­pares to rev­enue shar­ing: the bulk of fees only kick in when clients start mak­ing money.

So far, Grow—whose top in­vestor is Markus Frind, founder of dat­ing web­site Plenty of Fish—has raised about $10 mil­lion in fund­ing. It has a road map to move be­yond re­tail bank­ing, into ar­eas such as in­sur­ance, re­tire­ment plan­ning and wealth man­age­ment. The firm, which has a Toronto of­fice, also plans to ex­pand out­side Canada next year. Al­though the U.S. may not be a prime tar­get thanks to its web of fed­eral and state reg­u­la­tors, Sandhu ad­mits, Grow is eye­ing the U.K. and Aus­tralia. At home, his com­pany faces scru­tiny from clients for be­ing a mostly cloud-based ser­vice provider. As part of its ef­fort to ease se­cu­rity con­cerns, Grow hires third par­ties to try to hack its sys­tems, Sandhu says. “Build­ing con­fi­dence from a se­cu­rity per­spec­tive is prob­a­bly our big­gest hur­dle to date.”

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