In 2012, the Canadian financial services industry invested a staggering $8.7 billion dollars on information technology.
A recent banking industry report by consultancy Deloitte shows that financial institutions are focused on revenue growth, customer experience, and security.
Customer experience and trust is the new competitive differentiator, requiring the unification of online, branch, and mobile delivery channels.
Two financial technology companies from Greater Toronto Area’s York Region excel at creating consumer trust on their system platforms: Newmarket-based XE.com is the most popular currency exchange site in the world, and Whitchurch–Stouffville headquartered Strategic Information Technology is a leader in banking software, with five of the top six Canadian banks as clients. It may come as a surprise that these success stories emerged from York Region, rather than from downtown Toronto’s financial hub.
York Region is Canada’s largest information and communications technology industry hub relative to population size. What is less known is that it is also Ontario’s second largest financial, insurance and real estate services cluster after the City of Toronto, with 1,600 related firms including names such as TD Waterhouse, Bank of China (Canada), Allstate Insurance, State Farm and HSBC. UK insurance giant Aviva also recently announced it will be relocating its Canadian headquarters to the region’s City of Markham.
“York Region is home to dozens of Canadian and foreign-owned Financial IT companies, from software development and systems integration to payment solutions hardware,” says Robert Unterman, investment and marketing manager with the Regional Municipality of York’s Economic Strategy Branch. "The combination of a central GTA location, our large enterprise-scale ICT cluster and high concentration of talent in technology, business and financial services, creates an ideal environment for FinTech companies to succeed in both larger and smaller communities across the region.”
XE.COM, THE WORLD’S MOST POPULAR CURRENCY EXCHANGE SITE
Based in Newmarket, XE.com is an online foreign exchange tools and services provider, offering exchange rate information, online money transfers, and other currency-related services.
The company describes itself as the world's favourite currency site: over 20 million unique visitors land on XE.com’s digital properties each month. Mobile services have grown tremendously, reaching four million unique users each month, and the XE.com currency app has generated 23 million downloads to date.
“Mobile has that exponential growth curve for us, like the web was in the 90’s,” says XE.com’s CEO and cofounder, Steven Dengler. “The uptake of the mobile app is incredible.”
The majority of XE.com’s 40 employees are focused on software development, which is considered to be a “core competency” by Dengler. “When you start outsourcing development, you lose a grip on your core value proposition,” says Dengler. “By separating [development] out and compartmentalizing, you lose the benefit of having all the parts working together.”
Beric Farmer, XE.com’s president and cofounder, adds “there is a level of respect we have for our customers that leads to trust.” The same applies to the company’s esteem for its employees, for which XE.com continues to win recognition, including the prestigious Canada’s Top Employers 2014 award.
SIT HELPS BANKS BUILD DIFFERENTIATON
Based in Whitchurch–Stouffville, Strategic Information Technology began by offering both loan and term deposit software, upon which Portfolio Plus was built: a complete core banking solution, including loans, term deposits, investments, web banking, and other services.
“These form core banking and are the heart and soul of any bank in Canada,” says SIT’s VP marketing, Patrick Lannigan. “[Portfolio Plus] is ready-to-use software and is less costly than maintaining your own programmers,” says Lannigan, “and distracting yourself by being a development shop instead of doing what you should be doing: satisfying your customers.”
All software development takes place in SIT’s Whitchurch–Stouffville facility. “That is what we consider to be our competitive advantage,” says Lannigan. There is great depth of knowledge at SIT: the majority of the approximately 160 employees are programmers and business analysts. For instance, SIT hires “people who speak the language of someone who knows loans inside and out, and the bank-speak for loans,” he says.
SIT is a key employer in Whitchurch–Stouffville and has had no problem tapping into York Region’s talent pool. SIT’s employees are attracted to the lifestyle of what Lannigan describes as “Main Street"—literally, with the company headquarters’ building located on Main Street in Stouffville. “We attract employees who no longer want to commute,” says Lannigan, “and it’s helpful to be just outside the city, yet close enough to our downtown Toronto customer base.”