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Launching Neo Financial: Co-building Canada’s most rewarding fintech company

October 21, 2020
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8 Minutes

When we think about outdated systems, the banking industry is one that could use an immediate refresh. The Big Five banks in Canada have monopolized the financial market for decades, and few innovations have come out of it that truly meet Canadians’ expectations in a digital age.

Even though most of us manage our day-to-day banking activities online, we still face the problem of needing to visit physical branches. We end up losing our valuable time for things as basic as opening a new account, or trying to get in touch with customer support over the phone.

If this isn’t frustrating enough, we have to pay fees for our multiple accounts and cards when all we really want to do is meet our daily needs and save up our hard-earned cash. This lack of integration from our banks clearly doesn’t match the seamless experiences we expect today.

Fortunately, fintech is picking up steam in Canada with several startups and seasoned companies (with many launching from Alberta), rapidly driving towards innovative solutions to fill these holes. Thanks to innovations like payment and budgeting apps, our adoption of fintech has more than doubled since 2017, making money management more accessible for both consumers and businesses.

Adding thrust to the industry’s momentum, our team at Harvest Builders has been working hard to further disrupt Canada’s traditional banking landscape. We’ve spent the past year co-building a new fintech company, Neo Financial, which will become the first new consumer-focused banking solution to launch in Canada in over two decades since ING Direct in 1997. Neo’s mission is to make everyday spending and saving the most rewarding experience possible for Canadians.

Launching with a no-annual-fee MasterCard, Neo instantly unlocks exclusive offers and personalized rewards from thousands of national brands and local stores we love. Plus, Neo members will gain access to a high-interest savings account, which includes all the features of a checking account, but with no monthly fees. By bringing together spending, savings and rewards into one app (and card), we’ve reimagined how Canadians can manage and grow their money from anywhere in the most rewarding way possible.

Neo will be launching first in Calgary, before expanding to more cities, giving Canadians the much-needed innovation and technology-forward solution missing from their everyday financial lives.

When two paths cross (again)

Neo’s CEO & Co-Founder, Andrew Chau, and our very own Managing Director at Harvest, Chris Simair, share a history of building companies together. Both are co-founders of Canada’s largest food delivery platform, SkipTheDishes. They’ve joined forces once again to create even more value for millions of Canadians, as well as small businesses across the country, through the frictionless experiences we expect from our phones. Only this time, they’ve traded food for finance.

As a mobile-first solution for everyday spending and saving, Neo’s starting lineup of products, including their no-annual-fee credit card, high-interest savings account, and instant rewards, create one seamless customer experience to rival the big banks at their own game.

“We simplify what it means to manage your money,” says Andrew. “Neo provides the tech you’d expect today–our app looks and feels like a tech company and has the safety and security of a bank with our bank partners. Keeping everything in one place is just the start, but getting rewarded when you use Neo is where the value really kicks in.” Where banks traditionally miss the opportunity to connect deeper with their customers, Neo makes every effort to understand them through their unique spending habits and daily routines, and then offers personalization to their rewards. It erases the need to manually redeem points or carry dozens of useless loyalty cards.

The connections Neo forges with its consumers is also met with the same dedication in their relationships with local communities; they partner with thousands of local and national merchants to provide consumers with more rewarding experiences they enjoy, all the while improving business for these brands. The need to support local is greater now more than ever, especially for smaller businesses and brick and mortar stores, given how the world has quickly changed in recent months.

“Everything that you love about your city and what makes it vibrant–the people, the places, the experiences–is what we roll into Neo,” says Andrew. “We work closely with your favourite stores all around town (and online) to make your visits and spending even more worth your while.”

Co-building Neo from the ground up

Building a company from scratch and offering second-to-none products require major preparation and construction. Along with time, money and resources, a defined roadmap needs to be carefully crafted and well-executed.

From the get-go, Chris played an active role in the conception stage with Neo’s Co-Founders. Banding together, the Harvest team helped shape Neo’s ideas and validated market opportunities, so that when the time came to build out a team, they were convinced in their mission, business goals, and the values they could generate for Canadians.

“Co-building early on with a company like Neo is crucial,” says Chris. “It sets the tone and pace for the company’s growth, and we can help get in front of immediate challenges that block them from getting to A to B and onwards, eventually to market launch. By co-building together, Neo has another team of experienced eyes to power purposeful areas of the company to drive better customer experiences.”

What’s unique about this co-build is that it isn’t a one and done kind of deal. Andrew and Chris’ vision for Neo plays out using the same city by city growth approach that they leveraged from their Skip days. Their launch in Canada will be the result of a nationwide domino effect, where Neo creates as much value as possible for consumers and businesses, starting from individual communities.

Harvest minimizes Neo’s risks and accelerates its value

Breaking into the financial industry as a new player comes with a whole slew of challenges. These problems double when a company like Neo takes on Canada’s Big Five banks, who have historically governed the industry and remain unyielding today.

Many startups are often ill-equipped to handle every working cog of the business on their own. Because Neo is competing in a mature industry, they have to begin by adopting the existing technology before developing their own. This takes time away from other areas of the company that require scaling. And that’s where Harvest steps in.

Co-building with Neo is necessary for building a consumer fintech company that directly competes against the Big Five banks. Here’s why:

1. Fierce competition activates survival of the fittest

Going up against industry giants, Neo immediately needs an aggressive strategy to earn recognition and there is no margin for error. Harvest lays down the foundation for Neo’s roadmap, beginning with product validation. The Neo Card, Neo Savings, and Neo Rewards are distinguished by their added value to consumers that the market currently has a void in.

“What we’re building at Neo goes beyond convenience,” says Andrew. “Sure, part of it is performing everyday activities in one fell swoop, but it’s also about connectivity and most importantly, feeling empowered with your money to make smarter decisions. Canadians deserve to have the right financial tools that not only speak to their needs, but give them more opportunities for a rewarding life.”

After analyzing product-market opportunities and how best to equip Neo with the competitive edge it needs, Harvest helps define and execute measurable performance goals.

“Few things are worse than rushing into an idea that isn’t quite ready to take off,” says Chris. “Companies need to understand the requirements of success and the financial viability of the opportunity. Harvest uncovers these answers and provides the structure to move forward.”

2. Piping down on unrealistic expectations

What can’t be done needs to be moved out of the equation, and the earlier, the better. For companies to succeed, they need to think about sustaining their business over the long haul, and not just over the first major hurdle. Harvest helps Neo build a strong culture with clear, viable business goals. This way they can keep their expectations high, but controlled.

3. Recruiting world-class talent

The synergy of a team is arguably one of the most important pieces to the puzzle. After all, it’s people who create culture. From finding the right tech talent to develop world-class products, to owning marketing and brand direction, Harvest provides Neo with a full suite of domain expertise and mentorship that prepares them to build an MVP and go to market.

What started out as a trio with Neo’s Co-Founders has now multiplied to a team of 90+ passionate employees in their Calgary office. Harvest has recruited Neo’s talent from all over the world, including Germany, Brazil, the United States and across Canada, making it a diverse and powerful collective.

4. Securing partnerships

While Neo focuses on evolving their products to fit customer needs, Harvest makes connections with trustworthy partners, investors and community stakeholders to collaborate with Neo in the same ecosystem.

Strategic partnerships propel businesses forward. To grow Neo’s brand, Harvest seeks out other like-minded businesses and builds the foundation for long-lasting relationships. Partners can easily become early-adopters, increase brand awareness before entering the market, and provide value in their shared networks.

Forming a strategic direction and cultivating strong rapport makes it easier for partners to buy into Neo’s vision, which can ultimately determine just how far they’ll go. With Harvest as a co-building partner, Neo accelerates its growth and hits funding milestones at a more rapid rate.

5. Gaining the trust of customers

Trust is the difference between buying a product or not. Winning customers over with technology that’s seamless and earns them more from their daily interactions puts Neo in a position to build loyalty fast. It’s especially important for them to earn trust early on, as customers expect their money to be kept safe.

Co-building together heightens this trust. With Harvest’s mission to zero in on creating globally competitive companies in the Prairies, Neo’s brand is backed with credibility and a stronger reputation from their counterpart’s extensive network. Momentum is picked up through word of mouth, warm referrals, media coverage and more, all better priming Neo for its upcoming launch.

Revitalizing the financial industry

Technology awakens us to do things better, faster, and smarter. Finally, Canadians will see a revitalization of the financial industry it so desperately needs, but not from a bank, but rather, a fintech company. We’re creating value for small businesses and communities all across the country.

Neo Financial refuses to let Canadians settle for less. It reimagines everyday spending and saving through technology that’s seamlessly integrated with our personal lives. Where you spend your money and how you earn rewards are now one cohesive experience. With far less steps involved, Neo makes us rethink how we make our financial decisions in a smarter way that’s more rewarding than ever before.

Neo is launching first in Calgary, where it’s headquartered with co-builder, Harvest. It’ll soon be rolling out to other cities all across the country.

Join the Neo waitlist to know exactly when they’ll be coming to you.

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