In Canada, Alternative Business Finance Industry Similar, Yet Different

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CanadaDavid Gens believes the top 3 alternative small business finance players in Canada are funding between $15 million and $20 million to small businesses a month combined. That’s a small market compared to the US, where the top 3 companies are funding close to a half billion dollars per month. Gens, who has a background in private equity, is the founder, president and CEO of Merchant Advance Capital, a company with around 40 employees in offices in Toronto and Vancouver.

“We don’t view ourselves as directly competing with banks,” Gens says, suggesting that his target market is less than prime. It’s a point that his counterparts in the US have made often. But there’s a slight difference with that approach in their market, he adds. “Most Canadian consumers are prime.” And unlike the US, the banks are not necessarily portrayed as the enemy in Canada where five major ones dominate the market.

“It’s exceptionally difficult for an alternative small business lender to build a brand,” said Jeff Mitelman, CEO of Montreal-based Thinking Capital, on a panel at the LendIt Conference. Despite that, his company has funded half a billion dollars to 15,000 unique businesses over the last 10 years. A panelist besides him half-joked however, that there is such an inherent conservatism with Canadian small business owners that some don’t even want to grow and are content with running lifestyle businesses.

But of the deals that are getting done, they’re often acquired through direct marketing. “The ISO market is not like it is in the US,” Gens says. “There’s just a handful of them.” Where there are ISOs though, competitive pressures usually follow. He says that they’re competing on at least 50% of the deals they work on, in part because of these ISOs. Stacking is happening in Canada too, he admits. “It’s not as crazy as it is in the states,” he contends. “Philosophically, it doesn’t align with our business.”

Some deals in Canada are actually being facilitated by US ISOs, he acknowledges, before clarifying that they should be aware that they will get paid in Canadian dollars, which at present are worth about a three quarters of an American dollar. They are in a different country after all.

Gens and others like Bruce Marshall, vice president of British Columbia-based Company Capital, agree that OnDeck’s push into Canada has been good for the entire industry. Six months ago, Marshall said, “We are happy that some of the bigger US players are coming up here and they are spending millions of dollars on advertising. These companies raise awareness of the industry to a higher level and with us being a smaller company, we can ride on their coattails.”

Over time, they believe alternatives will become more mainstream. For Gens, part of that is about doing right by the customer. “We pride ourselves on being very transparent,” he says. There are no hidden fees with their products and they can make things easy like use APIs to access a merchant’s bank statement history, provided an applicant wants to do it that way. “More than 50% of merchants are still submitting bank statements,” he says. That trend is still pretty much true in the US as well. “There’s a much lower incidence of fraud in Canada,” he asserts. It’s a nation of small businesses he’s content to serve.

Last modified: April 20, 2019
Sean Murray


Category: Business Lending

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