Rid­ing the ‘fin­tech’ wave in Van­cou­ver

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS CANADA - By HATTY LIU in Van­cou­ver for China Daily

For­get Toronto: fi­nan­cial en­tre­pre­neur Cindy Chen, founder and CEO of Van­cou­ver’s Am­ber Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices, be­lieves Van­cou­ver is gear­ing up to be Canada’s new hub of en­ter­prise and in­no­va­tion. All it needs is a bit of lo­cal sup­port ser­vices to seal the deal.

Hav­ing set up her com­pany last year, Chen, 29, who has experience liv­ing in three coun­tries, seems ready to lead the way in the trans­for­ma­tion.

“Van­cou­ver has al­ways been known for ‘ liv­ing’ and Toronto for ‘work­ing,’ but it’s in­cred­i­bly clear to those who live here that this has started to change in the last cou­ple of years,” she told China Daily. “The city at­tracts peo­ple from around the world with deep in­dus­try experience and energy to burn, and all they need is some help over­com­ing the language and a few other bar­ri­ers.”

Am­ber Fi­nan­cial makes two claims to unique­ness: it is one of the first Cana­dian com­pa­nies in­volved in the bud­ding fi­nan­cial tech­nol­ogy — or “fin­tech” — in­dus­try; and it is tai­lor­ing its ser­vices to over­seas Chi­nese clients.

The com­pany’s fin­tech fo­cus is mostly in pi­o­neer­ing meth­ods to ag­gre­gate data to as­sess loan ap­pli­cants whose credit or in­come his­tory may be based in an­other coun­try or who may come from a coun­try with­out a well-es­tab­lished credit-rat­ing sys­tem.

“In Europe, in the US and even in China, the fin­tech in­dus­try has seen a lot of growth, while Cana­dian fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions on the whole are con­ser­va­tive and op­er­ate with tra­di­tional mod­els,” Chen said. “Fi­nan­cial ser­vices are mo­nop­o­lized by five ma­jor banks and their prac­tices don’t meet the needs of atyp­i­cal, global clients.”

As an ex­am­ple, Chen brought up the fact that women are sta­tis­ti­cally less likely to de­fault on loans, and this can be a fac­tor in the model built of a po­ten­tial loan client.

“We are care­ful about qual­ity con­trol,” she said. “There are com­pa­nies in the fin­tech in­dus­try, in China for ex­am­ple, for whom mak­ing fi­nan­cial ser­vices more ac­ces­si­ble means giv­ing out loans to low­erqual­ity clients.”

“Our goal is to find tech­no­log­i­cal and big data so­lu­tions that com­bine qual­ity with ac­ces­si­bil­ity,” she added.

The fo­cus on over­seas Chi­nese clients is in di­rect re­sponse to the con­straints that Chen saw in the tra­di­tional bank­ing sys­tem. She be­lieves it is atyp­i­cal clients like th­ese who will in­creas­ingly be­come the norm in a global econ­omy and in cos­mopoli­tan cities like Van­cou­ver.

Young ap­pli­cants, in­clud­ing stu­dents, are an­other atyp­i­cal client cat­e­gory served by Am­ber Fi­nan­cial.

“I’ve found that stu­dents typ­i­cally have good fam­ily re­sources back home and they may be very good stu­dents on schol­ar­ship, but there isn’t an ef­fi­cient way to as­sess that, and those are the things we look at,” Chen said.

“In China, there are al­ready fi­nan­cial ser­vices for over­seas stu­dents but they are un­sys­tem­atic and there’s a lot of bad credit, it’s far be­low the level of ser­vice of­fered by tra­di­tional fi­nan­cial ser­vices.”

Chen has also heard from par­ents in Chi­nese- Cana­dian as well as Filipinoim­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties who “want their chil­dren to build up a good credit score as soon as pos­si­ble when they come to study or live [in Canada], and that’s some­thing else we can do, start­ing with small loans.”

“It’s our ul­ti­mate goal to con­nect the credit sys­tems of dif­fer­ent coun­tries and al­low ev­ery­one to live as global cit­i­zens,” Chen said. “I was once an in­ter­na­tional stu­dent from China, deal­ing with an un­fa­mil­iar sys­tem in a new coun­try. On our team we have peo­ple who’ve had, or know those who’ve had, chal­lenges with tra­di­tional fi­nan­cial ser­vices in Canada. Th­ese are the peo­ple who make up to­day’s world.”

Ed­u­cated at Fu­dan Univer­sity in Shang­hai and later at Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity in St Louis, where she worked as a lab man­ager mar­ket­ing and or­ga­ni­za­tional be­hav­ior research, Chen briefly con­sid­ered a ca­reer in research be­fore fam­ily cir­cum­stances brought her to Van­cou­ver.

Though she came to it al­most by ac­ci­dent, she said she has been struck not only by Van­cou­ver’s beau­ti­ful nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment and in­ter­na­tional con­nec­tions, but also by its un­tapped po­ten­tial.

“I’ve met so many hard­work­ing, ex­pe­ri­enced, in­cred­i­bly en­er­getic peo­ple,” she said. “Th­ese peo­ple may be lead­ers in their home coun­try and have a pas­sion for work, but be­cause of their un­fa­mil­iar­ity with the language or cus­toms in Canada, they’re not find­ing the best chan­nels for their abil­i­ties. This is go­ing to change.”

Chen her­self is no stranger to the chal­lenges of do­ing busi­ness in a new city. One of the strug­gles she con­tin­u­ally meets as an en­tre­pre­neur is as­sem­bling a qual­i­fied team to carry out the com­pany’s vi­sion.

“Work­ing in the fin­tech fron­tier and in any kind of start-up, you face new chal­lenges, and you need to be able to learn and ap­ply what you’ve learned be­fore,” she said.

Over the past year, Chen has as­sem­bled a di­verse team of 18, in­clud­ing en­gi­neers from IBM, ex­pe­ri­enced bankers from BMO and CIBC, and other en­trepreneurs.

“There is still room to grow: some­times we have ideas that our tech­ni­cal re­sources haven’t caught up to yet, so we need to find so­lu­tions over time,” she said.

Apart from be­ing a young en­tre­pre­neur, Chen also is a new mother and con­sid­ers her­self “ex­traor­di­nar­ily lucky to have fam­ily sup­port.”

“It lets me do the work I do, and I’m al­ways find­ing new things to do, new im­prove­ments to de­vote my­self to,” she said. “But I don’t feel like I’m liv­ing un­der pres­sure — my team is ex­cel­lent, ev­ery one of us is try­ing some­thing new and learn­ing about our­selves, and it’s a happy process.”

“Van­cou­ver has a unique place in North Amer­ica: a won­der­ful en­vi­ron­ment and global con­nec­tions at­tract­ing the best peo­ple from around the world. Young peo­ple, as well as older im­mi­grants who have been here for years, have an en­er­getic and hands-on ap­proach to life — and each of them cer­tainly has spe­cial skills and qual­i­ties to con­trib­ute.

“Hope­fully our fi­nance and in­fras­truc­ture can keep up with them,” she said.

Yuji Zhang con­trib­uted to this re­port.

RYAN CHE­UNG / FOR CHINA DAILY

Van­cou­ver en­tre­pre­neur Cindy Chen, who founded Am­ber Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices at age 29, says she wants to glob­al­ize her ser­vices for the com­ing “fin­tech” boom. Cindy Chen

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