Ottawa startup Fentury's global expansion strategy on the money

An Ottawa fintech startup wants to gain an edge on its competitors with a bold and challenging strategy – start by operating globally in order to reach underserved markets.

Currently a division of Ottawa account data aggregation firm Salt Edge, Fenturyhas developed a personal finance adviser app that “makes you understand your money and prepare your future planning,” explains Lisa Terziman, who co-founded the firm in 2015 with Dmitrii Barbasura.

The software-as-a-service app connects all users’ financial accounts and helps them build budgets, plan bill payments and handle other money management tasks. The firm is also working on a feature that would make specifically tailored suggestions based on a user’s particular habits. For example, it might recommend someone cut back on that daily latte at the coffee shop to help save for a new car.

“We all keep up with money because we want to do something,” says Ms. Terziman. “We want to get out of debt, save for an awesome vacation, buy some really cool thing or whatever. If you really want to achieve your goal and you don’t want to spend a lot of time on your money … then you should use Fentury – because in one minute you’ll know everything about your money.”

The startup exists alongside well-established competitors like Mint, a leader in the field that offers similar personal finance services. Two years after launching, that company was acquired by Intuit for $170 million in 2009 and reported having 20 million users this year. 

Fentury says one of the biggest differences is its approach. 

While many existing personal finance apps are free to use, with the companies making money through lead generation or by selling non-identifying data on things like spending habits, Fentury has done the opposite: the company will generate revenue directly from subscriptions ($5 a month or $50 for the year, after a 30-day trial), rather than by indirect means.

“Either it’s free and you partner with third-party companies who you’ll sell the data so that you can monetize, or you go with a subscription and make sure the data stays private,” says Ms. Terziman. “We chose the second one because we believe that finances should stay personal.”

The company also emphasizes a global presence above all. While many apps are available only in Canada and the United States, Ms. Terziman says there’s a demand for such an app worldwide that isn’t being met. 

Fentury is currently compatible with 2,500 banks in at least 50 countries. The company has begun focusing on German-speaking countries – Germany, Austria and Switzerland in particular – where there seems to be unfulfilled demand and the firm thinks it can make major gains, she says.

The company’s 11 employees are split into two offices: the main headquarters in Ottawa, led by Mr. Barbasura, and a European office in Moldova, led by Ms. Terziman. Basing their marketing team in Europe opens a door to what the firm sees as a lucrative overseas market, she says.

Broadening their reach has been no easy task, says Ms. Terziman. 

“It’s really hard to achieve, and we worked like hell to get to it,” she says. “I’d say we probably have the biggest connection (to banks) so far.”

Fentury landed an initial $500,000 seed round in late 2014, and will be seeking another $1.5 million in its next round of private equity financing. The firm projects 100,000 users in 2017 for monthly recurring revenues of $250,000, and expects to triple its user base the following year.

Ms. Terziman says that aside from seeing Fentury as a business opportunity, she also sees it as a chance to make a positive difference in people’s lives, adding she would have loved to have had access to an app like it earlier in her life.

“We don’t want to be just a usual personal finance manager,” she says. “We actually want to change the financial behaviour of people and really help them to get better with their money.”