Fintech for All: How fintech can address Canada’s financial health problem one segment at a time

Are you building technology that improves the financial lives of Canadians? Applications are now open for IFH Lab’s second cohort, a six-month program that helps scale mission-driven fintechs by providing them access to partners, industry experts, capital, education, and more. Apply here by March 26th at 2pm EST.

Canada has a financial health problem. 

  • Over half of Canadians spend more than or equal to their income each month. 
  • 32% of Canadians have a liquid savings buffer of less than 3 weeks. 
  • In a study from Q1 2020, 43% agreed they have increased borrowing to help pay for things in the past year, up from 26% in 2017. 
  • 65% of Canadians say that money worries cause them emotional stress, while 51% say they lose sleep at night.

While the full impacts of the pandemic and the public health measures taken over the past year remain to be seen, the data to date suggests that the negative economic impact of the pandemic has been incredibly unequal, concentrated amongst those already most vulnerable – women, low-income, temporary and part-time workers, the less educated, and recent immigrants have all born the brunt of job and income losses. 

At Fintech Cadence, we believe that financial technology and innovation have a critical role to play in addressing this financial health problem. When we look at the issue as a whole, however, it can seem both daunting and insurmountable. Instead, we recommend tackling the issue from the ground up and addressing financial health segment by segment. 

As Alex Johnson argues in his piece Unicorns Are Boring, “when you strip financial services back to its most fundamental and important jobs, it’s difficult to make the case that smaller companies intently focused on the needs of specific customer segments aren’t vitally important.” His call to action is for fintech to take up the needs of “massive niches” (and not-so-massive ones too). In our opinion, this is exactly the beauty of technology and entrepreneurship – that there are opportunities to solve specific problems for specific demographics that incumbents are currently ignoring. 

Globally, we are seeing incredible solutions approaching fintech in this way. Daylight is a neobank specifically designed by and for members of the LGBTQ2+ community, ensuring issued cards are aligned with preferred names and providing access to financial coaches familiar with the needs of the LGBTQ2+ community. StorkCard specifically focuses on helping new parents budget. Propel helps individuals using food stamps in the US. Freefrom provides survivors of intimate partner violence tools to achieve the financial security needed for individuals to leave their abusers and not return, including a tech-based platform that helps individuals walk through legal rights to financial compensation and a survivor safety fund. 

At Fintech Cadence, we are looking for ways to support startups like the ones mentioned above to ensure a steady flow of solutions that are more needed now than ever. Our IFH Lab program seeks to fill this role as a six-month program specifically designed to support mission-driven fintechs focused on addressing the financial needs of Canadians. The program will provide selected startups with access to capital, software credits, 80+ industry experts representing fintechs, financial institutions, investors, and nonprofits, and bi-weekly programming that covers topics specific to the needs of financial health founders from financial institution partnerships to impact measurement to inclusive user testing. Applications are now open for our second cohort beginning in May 2021. 

Specifically, we are looking for five to six startups that are intently focused on the needs of specific customer segments and have validated their solutions with these segments. Fintech Cadence has identified the following segments as potential areas of interest (note they are in no particular order):

Tools that make it easier for gig workers and the self-employed to build financial stability. 

Effective budgeting and saving can feel impossible for non-standard employees faced with significant fluctuations in both income and expenses month-over-month. The need for solid financial management is heightened by lack of job security or access to benefits making emergency savings buffers even more critical. COVID-19 has been particularly tough on non-standard workers, with half of the job losses in 2020 being people in temporary positions, and 31% of unemployment among people who were self-employed. To put these statistics in perspective, in 2019 self-employed workers made up around 8% of the Canadian workforce and temporary workers made up close to 11%.

Solutions that provide small business owners the tools and resources they need to sustain and grow.

Small businesses employ over 70% of Canadians and are the backbones of neighbourhoods and communities. But as the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted, they often operate with narrow margins and little room for unexpected emergencies. For many, seemingly small reductions in cash flow, uncertainty and operating costs can be the difference between surviving a storm and permanently shuttering their windows. As Laura Cummings from the Financial Health Network aptly states here “It is imperative to invest in the financial health of the entrepreneur. […] Small business owners that have strong personal financial health are better positioned to weather financial shocks and serve as a source of stability for the owner, their household, and their community.” 

Financial tools and services designed for women.

The pandemic and the uneven economic impacts of the lockdowns and job losses have brought to light some of the ongoing gender-based disparities in how the economy is structured. According to this recent RBC Economics report, in April of 2020, women’s participation in the Canadian workforce (the share of working-age women who are working or looking for work) fell to 55%, levels last seen in May 1986. This reflects that women are overrepresented in service-sector jobs hit hardest by lockdowns and public health measures, and that the brunt of care work (for children, elderly parents or other dependents) still falls on women. COVID has only highlighted a reality that has always been true, women’s financial lives are significantly different from men’s. Many financial products, however, are designed with men in mind and do not take into account these differences. We need more solutions by and for women.   

Products and services helping seniors protect and manage their assets to increase financial independence. 

Seniors living on fixed incomes often struggle to afford rising costs of living and health care costs associated with aging, and over half (56%) of seniors carry at least one form of debt. Not being able to afford long-term care and running out of money before they pass are both identified as major financial concerns by 25% of seniors. One in five seniors continue to work, with 35% of working seniors saying they have delayed retirement because they cannot afford it and 13% saying they will never be able to retire. Lower levels of digital literacy as well as increased physical and cognitive capacity barriers may limit their ability to access appropriate financial services and increase their vulnerability to financial exploitation or fraud. 

Companies addressing systemic barriers to financial well-being and access to financial services for Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples.

Ongoing colonialism and its economic impacts on Indigenous communities are compounded by issues of access to financial institutions and culturally appropriate products and services. Access may be a geographic issue for those living in rural and remote communities. Or it may be a matter of practices and experiences with incumbent financial institutions that result in not feeling welcome. 4.2% of Indigenous peoples are unbanked with some studies suggesting that it may be as high as 15%. This is significantly higher than the 2.2% unbanked for low net-worth Canadians.

Platforms that help provide a financial safety net for people escaping intimate partner violence.

Intimate partner violence is almost always accompanied by economic abuse and exploitation, and forced financial dependence on the abuser. According to US based non-profit FreeFrom, 96% of survivors report experiencing economic abuse and 77% report being prevented from earning income. For victims of intimate partner violence, economic abuse includes having money stolen from them, being forced to take on debt on the other person’s behalf, being prevented from spending their own money, and the incurrence of costs such as property damage associated with their abuse. COVID has compounded issues experienced by survivors as lockdowns have led to increased isolation and escalations in violence, fewer financial resources, and even theft of stimulus cheques. Financial insecurity leaves many survivors unable to leave abusive situations or results in involuntary returns. Disrupting cycles of financial dependence, and providing tools to build financial security, lets survivors stay safe and rebuild their lives. 

Tools that help scale up the impact of financial empowerment organizations serving vulnerable communities.

Across Canada, there are many nonprofit and community organizations that offer low-and-modest income Canadians with financial empowerment services such as financial coaching, income-tax filing, and government benefit screening and uptake. These services, for example, directly help families boost income through tax refunds and benefits which are often critical for helping low-income households make big-ticket purchases, save, and smooth finances during periods of financial shock. Unfortunately, many of these benefits remain unclaimed with an estimated $1 billion in income benefits and tax credits left on the table every year. The services that financial empowerment organizations provide are often high-touch and resource-intensive. Technology providers have the potential of working closely with these financial empowerment organizations to scale their impact to even more Canadians. 

The above are just some of the areas that we’re looking for solutions. Other areas could include tools specifically designed for hospitality and retail workers, for LGBTQ2+ communities, and for people with disabilities. We welcome applications from all founders that are seeking to improve the financial lives of Canadians in their own, unique ways. Would you like to scale your solution and work with Fintech Cadence to make a difference for Canadians? Please consider applying to join the IFH Lab by March 26th 2021 by 2pm EST. Apply here.

Are you passionate about what Fintech Cadence and the IFH Lab are doing and want to support us as a partner or industry expert? Please feel free to reach out at info[@]fintechcadence.com and help as we build a coalition of fintechs, financial institutions, investors, non-profits, and more that are all passionate about innovation and financial health.


References

  1. Seymour Management Consulting inc. “Already Challenged Before Covid-19: Q1 2020 Financial Health Index studies report,” March 22, 2020, Toronto, ON, For access email eloise@seymourconsulting.ca
  2. Alex Johnson, “Unicorns are Boring,” Dec. 14, 2020
  3. Statistics Canada, “COVID-19 in Canada: A Six-month Update on Social and Economic Impacts,” Oct. 20, 2020
  4. Josh Rubin, “‘The most asymmetrical recession in Canadian history’: New analysis shows low-income workers were hammered by COVID-19 – while high-earners flourished,” The Toronto Star, Jan 19, 2021
  5. Library of Parliament Press Publication, “Understanding Precarious Employment in Canada,” HillNotes, Dec. 1, 2020, 
  6. Laura Cummings, “Risky Business: Pandemic Underscores How Strong Personal Financial Health Can Build Small Business Resilience,” Medium, Sept. 8, 2020, 
  7. RBC Economic, “Pandemic Threatens Decades of Women’s Labour Force Gains,” July 16, 2020
  8.  Leger, “Omni Report: Seniors and Money,” Report for the Financial Planning Standards Council and Credit Canada, May 25, 2018, 
  9.  Simon Little, “‘The damage is already done’: Indigenous man arrested with his granddaughter rejects BMO apology,” Global News, Jan. 20, 2020 
  10.   Prosper Canada,”Financial Literacy and Aboriginal Peoples,” Nov. 2015 
  11.  FreeFrom, “Survivors Know Best: How to disrupt intimate partner violence during COVID-19 and beyond,” 2020
  12.  Natasha Bulowski, “Economic Abuse: Hard to spot, harder to recover from,” Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, June 30, 2020, 
  13.  Prosper Canada, “If they had a billion dollars…” Feb. 7, 2017
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