Moderator Rick Huijbregts (centre), vice president of digital transformation and innovation with Cisco Canada, interviews Borrowell co-founder and CEO Andrew Graham (left) and CIBC vice president of digital strategy and user experience Kevin Paget during ITWC's Digital Transformation Awards conference on June 14.

Published: June 15th, 2017

A fruitful relationship between the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and Toronto fintech startup Borrowell Inc. highlights the benefits that startups and enterprises stand to gain by collaborating with each other.

During a panel discussion at ITBusiness.ca parent company ITWC’s Digital Transformation Awards conference on June 14, CIBC vice president of digital strategy and user experience Kevin Paget and Borrowell co-founder and CEO Andrew Graham subverted the rivalry attendees might have expected – and that moderator Rick Huijbregts, Cisco Canada’s vice president of digital transformation and innovation, alluded to – between one of Canada’s largest banks and a three-year-old startup whose mission, according to its website, is “to make financial services fast, fair, and friendly,” by emphasizing the lessons each has been able to learn from the other during their eight-month old partnership.

“We don’t look at it as disruption that hurts the business,” Paget told the audience. “We know we have great people inside CIBC, but we also know that… partners are important.”

The 150-year-old Toronto-based banking giant, whose predecessors opened in 1867 and 1875 before merging in 1961, received the Large Private Sector award of ITWC’s Digital Transformation Awards on June 14 for pursuing a digital agenda illustrated by projects such as the Borrowell partnership and last year’s launch of Live Labs, a digital innovation hub designed to operate like, well, a startup.

“Not every match out there is going to work perfectly, but when you find one that works… you grow it,” Paget said during his discussion with Huijbregts and Graham, expressing confidence that CIBC would continue collaborating with Borrowell on far more than the “one-click” online loan service announced in October and free mobile credit score check service announced this month.

“We need these partners that help us bring something unique to the table,” Paget continued, noting that a credit score reporting service wasn’t on CIBC’s agenda when the partnership began.

Benefits run both ways

Graham, meanwhile, said his company’s partnership with CIBC has been equally beneficial for Borrowell, emphasizing that collaborating with the larger firm has presented the startup with an opportunity to scale up and improve the security of its services that it wouldn’t have had otherwise.

“Scale matters a lot for early-stage businesses, because hard as it is to develop a good product, it’s equally hard to get it in front of customers,” Graham said. “You can have a great product, but if no one’s using it, who cares? You’re not going to last very long as a company.”

Not only has collaborating with CIBC brought Borrowell’s signature services – including free credit scores and loans of between $1000 and $35,000 – in front of thousands or even millions of potential consumers that it would not have reached otherwise, Graham’s company has been able to take advantage of CIBC’s expertise in developing further innovations.

“We’ve learned a lot from CIBC,” he said. “We’ve had to implement many new procedures, including third-party security audits, to meet its standards, and that’s made us stronger as a company.”

That both companies feel they have gained equally from the partnership hardly surprised CIBC’s Paget, who told ITBusiness.ca after the fintech panel discussion that he believes CIBC has learned a great deal from Borrowell.

“They’ve been great partners, taught us a lot about working with a company that doesn’t have size, but intelligence. It’s been phenomenal,” he said.

Much as Borrowell’s Graham praised CIBC’s ability to help his company, which has fewer than 50 employees, scale up, Paget praised its ability to help CIBC, which employs more than 40,000, scale down.

“We don’t look at them as vendors. They’re partners,” Paget said. “We once held our management offsite in one of their meeting rooms because it allowed us to get outside our own walls, immerse ourselves in a different environment, and see how a smaller, smarter company thinks.”

“Hanging around in that type of environment helped us realize what matters,” he continued. “They taught us to prioritize what’s important, stay focused on the original task, and enhance it after.”

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