by Phil Siarri
Speaking to Yves-Gabriel Leboeuf, Cofounder and CEO at Flinks, a Montreal-based startup offering the only financial data aggregator dedicated to the Canadian market.
Hi Yves-Gabriel, nice to finally connect with you. Can you tell our audience a little bit about your professional background? What opportunities did you see in the market prior to launching Flinks?
I’ve been involved in a multitude of different businesses/startups since I was 17 years old, along with pursuing undergrad studies at University of Ottawa and University du Québec en Outaouais, which I did not finish. Instead, I decided to focus on solving real-world problems.
From one venture to another, I got my hands involved in the fintech world, and eventually decided to reach out to a few businesses that were using financial data from US vendors to see if they’d be interested in moving to a faster, more-reliable, and Canadian-based solution if I’d built one. I received a number of letters of intent from several businesses and that gave me the validation to start Flinks.
The booming and most innovative Fintech companies all had one problem in common: no easy and reliable access to financial data. As an entrepreneur, I had plenty of ideas to innovate in finance that did not consist of building a financial aggregation API. I was facing the same problem with each idea: how could I build it without reliable access to financial data?
So far, you have secured a number of impressive clients notably Transferwise and Wealthsimple. How does your team approach relationship building?
The best feedback we’ve received so far from a client captures exactly what we want to accomplish: “working with Flinks during the integration felt as if we were part of the same team, or two teams within the same company.” I think we developed quite a unique approach to how we build relationships with our clients.
From the very beginning, we decided that everybody at Flinks would be part of the sales team. Regardless of your role, you have to consider how your actions are going to provide value to our clients. If we had one key element that I could say have helped us going from zero to over a hundred companies using our API: everybody at Flinks does everything either to satisfy an existing client, or a new one. And I have to say that the Flinks team is doing very well in that regard. However, having a look at our results from a 14-month old company perspective, we’re really proud of these 100 companies using our API, including Wealthsimple and Transferwise as you mentioned, but also much larger organizations that we should be able to announce in the next months, including one of the top 10 financial institutions in Canada.
Do you see a lot of potential in the blockchain / cryptocurrency space for Flinks in terms of customer acquisition?
Yes, do! We’re currently powering some cryptocurrency exchanges and we’re in discussion with the larger players in that market segment, based in both in the US and Canada. The fact that we’re a big facilitator for AML/KYC, along with account authentication features, makes us a natural fit for any company that needs to get or move funds from an individual or business. So yes, pretty much every cryptocurrency marketplace or blockchain technology company would benefit from working with us.
What is your opinion on open banking legislation such as PSD2 in Europe? Do you think Canadian regulators and other stakeholders in the financial space would ever try to go that far? How would this impact your product offering?
One month ago, I came back from a trade mission in Paris where I got the chance to exchange and learn a lot from many stakeholders involved with PSD2, including BNP Paribas, Société Général but also regulators, on top of having very good conversations with the rest of the Canadian delegation and the AMF team. From there, I’m pretty sure we’ll end up seeing something similar happening in Canada with the Competition Bureau referring to Open Banking APIs in their market study published in December and the Federal Budget proposing to study the merits of open banking in the 2018 budget announcement last week.
That being said, I am of the school of thought that technology enables organizations to detect opportunities and adjust, before regulators have to act, all to the benefit of consumers. In the United States, some of the largest banks launched open banking initiatives without being constrained by a piece of legislation. Wells Fargo is a good example of that: they turned what other banks perceived as a threat and leveraged open banking into a competitive advantage. From discussions we’ve had with some Canadian financial institutions, I would not be surprised to see some open API initiatives appear in Canada well before regulators act on it. And I think that is positive because regulators should, from my perspective, put their energy on consumer protection with projects similar to GDPR where they can actually make sure they understand why the data is being accessed and how they can stop someone from accessing their data.
As for the impact on our product: we see ourselves as an open banking initiator and pioneer. We are a single gateway enabling connections towards all financial institutions. This creates a unique dynamic because we are leading financial institutions into adopting and enabling open banking practices instead of building out their own API frameworks. In the meantime, we are supporting software companies with access to financial data all in one place from any source.
What’s next for Flinks in 2018?
Many things! First of all, we’re currently planning to triple in size by the end of May to reach around 60 team members. Internally, we like to say that we don’t scale in an attempt at growth, but we scale as a result of growth – we grow to sustain the demand for our products in the Canadian market.
We have three big projects in 2018: increased coverage, distributing a Flinks Risk Score (as a new open banking-enabled scoring model), pushing a new product, and launching our international expansion.
Coverage: we want to expand our coverage to all financial data sources that a Canadian company could want, under one API. We’re pretty much working on integration of all different sources that one could want.
Flinks Score: An AI scoring system based on the behaviour of a customer in their bank account. I can’t say more for now, but this is a very exciting product that should launch in May 2018.
Talking about international: We are expanding into 3 targeted countries.
There is plenty more to come at Flinks.