Last year was a major year for Borrowell. The fintech company managed to raise $25 million to support their acquisition of Refresh Financial. The two have been working together for the last three years to help Canadians manage their finances.
Much more than just a free credit report, Borrowell was launched in 2014 to help aid Canadians with financial literacy.
At the centre of Borrowell is Harvard-educated Eva Wong, who along with her co-founder, saw the problems inherent in the credit card industry, and just how ill-equipped regular citizens were to deal with them.
The Edge caught up with Wong to discuss Borrowell, as well as some of the personal struggles she’s had to face, though there’s little about which she’s not optimistic.
Before launching Borrowell, what was the most important factor in schooling, mentorship, or elsewhere that set you on this path?
I think for me, having an impact is really important, and having a positive social impact is really important, so that’s what I was trying to find.
I find our mission really compelling. I think a lot of people today […] have a lot of stress about their finances. We know that people’s finances impact their relationships, they impact how you feel about yourself as a person, [and] impacts what you feel you can pursue in terms of your career, so I think it’s very meaningful to work towards something and to make a difference.
Your app feels like something that was born out of necessity as people just don’t have a grasp on financial literacy. Can you talk to me about the origins of Borrowell?
It was my co-founder, Andrew Graham, who came up with the idea. For him, he had been working at a financial services company, and saw how profitable the credit card business was. I think what we wanted to do was to have that same level of convenience but offer a better product. The first product that we offered was an installment loan where we would have customized interests based on people’s credit scores. The idea was [to] help people pay off credit card debt at a lower interest rate, and be on an installment loan plan where you would know the day you get free rather than be on this sort of revolving wheel of credit card debt.
What do you think accounts for so many people being afraid, or at least having a lack of understanding, of their own finances? Are there areas you feel the financial world is failing to educate ordinary citizens?
We’ve done some surveys into this. People feel a lot of shame about their finances.
I’d love for people to talk openly about their finances. There’s no shame in not knowing. There’s lots of tools out there—and Borrowell is one of them—centered around how it can be really easy and empowering.
And we try to be very encouraging to people and not have finances be about shame and graphs and lots of angry red text.
If the past few years have done anything, they’ve certainly opened the eyes of people with privilege who may have been ignorant to some of the problems that others deal with daily. What were some of the challenges you’ve experienced as an Asian female leader in tech?
I think there’s definitely a lack of representation in, I would say, the business world, more broadly for women and people of colour. One of the things I’ve been encouraged about is just seeing more women and people of colour in leadership roles, running their own businesses.
Do you think Borrowell can help in any way?
In the past, if you had a lot of money, you could get great financial advice. What we’re doing with Borrowell is democratizing that and using the data and technology to make personalized recommendations and give personalized advice and, again, democratizing that so it is free.
Our hope is that people feel a lot more in control, and to make it super easy, because I don’t think people want to spend hours of their week thinking about their finances.
Your app uses a lot of AI to interface with your clients. Are there any concerns with that going forward in the future?
With any technology, it can be used for good or for evil, so we have to make sure our AI works and the data we’re using isn’t biased in one way or another.
We have almost two million members across Canada, so we have a very wide member base. We’re using AI to help people understand the likelihood of being approved, and I think that can be very helpful. A lot of people don’t want to apply for a product and be declined for it, so just understanding your chances and odds of approval, I think, is a great application of AI.
Kenny Hedges | Contributing Writer