Eytan Bensoussan on redefining the purpose of a bank

Phil Siarri talks to Eytan Bensoussan, co-founder and CEO of Ferst Digital, a Montreal-based fintech startup building a fully mobile API-based banking platform that helps startups and small businesses bank, manage their finances and integrate all of their financial products and services in a simple and intuitive way.

Hi, Eytan. Could you please tell me about your background?

I come from a family of entrepreneurs and academics. My grandparents all built their own companies from scratch. My dad is a professor and my mom is an elementary school teacher. As a result, I’ve always been academically inclined, but deeply excited about business building. After school, I spent five wonderful years with McKinsey & Company, where I focused on digital customer experience work at financial service institutions. It was through many of my projects that I learned about the inner workings of the financial sector.

Ferst Digital is the culmination of many of these experiences. I have an intimate understanding of startups and small businesses, as well as the pain they feel when they interact with banks or any form of financial management. Ferst Digital is being built to eliminate the source of that pain. We’re in the process of partnering up with a fully licensed Canadian deposit-taking institution, and together are redefining the purpose of a bank from the customer’s perspective. For us, a modern bank should be the first line of defence against the pain of financial management — not the cause of it.

What is Ferst Digital?

My co-founders, Jay and Dominique Ferst, and I are in the process of partnering up with a licensed Canadian deposit-taking partner and building a fully mobile API-based banking platform for startups and small businesses. Everything, from our design to our business model, is built around their needs and interests. We believe that’s the way it should be.

We are building a banking platform for the world we know will emerge over the next decade. The writing is already on the wall. This modern startup or small business wants a fully branchless experience. It wants access to any financial service or product, whenever it pleases, and doesn’t expect to have its choice limited by any single provider. Finally, it wants value out of every interaction. We live these values and we want banking to do so as well.

Jay and Dom Ferst are well known figures in the Canadian fintech community. How did you connect with them and become business partners?

When the universe is trying to tell you something, sometimes you should listen. When I was in the brainstorming stage around my idea, I would speak to everybody and anybody who would talk to me about how they got started. At the end of every conversation, I’d ask folks, “Who else would you suggest I talk to?”. Over the course of a few months, a few very intelligent people told me to get in touch with Jay and Dom. Little did I know that they were passionate about so many of the same things I am. We spent a few months working together to see if the fit was good. It ended up being great. We decided to found Ferst Digital and the rest has been history.

What makes small and medium businesses attractive for a fintech company? What is the impact of fintech on the lives of everyday people?

We reverse engineer all of our strategy, economics and product features from our clients backwards. We’ve interviewed nearly a hundred entrepreneurs across North America to test our hypotheses around where their greatest sources of pain comes from. Not surprisingly, a lot comes from their banks and the many financial management tasks that emerge in their day-to-day lives. That pain can be fatal. We’ve seen studies that show that over 80% of small businesses fail because of poor cash management. In that spirit, we see fintech as a bold movement we’ve joined that’s asking hard questions about how the financial system should be working.

By making it easier to build and sustain a business in Canada, our country can make important social progress. Small businesses nurture the next generation of female and minority business leaders. They provide opportunities for immigrants to start over. They are one of our best shots at reversing the widening the income inequality gap that has emerged over the past few decades. Our innovation empowers them to be more successful and less vulnerable when interacting with the financial system.

Read the rest of the interview on BankNXT

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