15 years strong and $1 billion lent: Thinking Capital has become the go-to lender for small Canadian business, and is not slowing down

Thinking Capital, one of Canada’s oldest non-bank lenders and the largest such lender to small businesses, celebrates 15 years this year.

The Montreal-based company, which has revolutionized how Canadian small businesses access credit, recently reached a major milestone: $1 billion in funding provided to more than 16,000 of the country’s small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs). This is far from a trivial feat in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, squeezing many of their clients and their livelihoods. A January 2021 survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business found that one in six (roughly 181,000) small business owners are seriously considering shuttering, endangering more than 2.4 million jobs. Alternative lenders like Thinking Capital have helped many of these businesses not only weather the COVID-19 storm, but survive its cataclysmic effects.

The pandemic, which has upended business models and thrust SMBs into unfamiliar realities, has also accelerated Thinking Capital’s transformation into an “end-to-end digital lender,” according to Chief Growth Officer Mario Bottone.

Thinking Capital: An End-to-End Digital Lender

Despite being a digital lender pre-pandemic, Thinking Capital’s back-end operations were not fully digitized, Bottone explained. While the team had a plan to evolve the organization to become a more digitally-focused one in lockstep with market realities, COVID-19 precipitated the company’s schedule to transform operationally. After all, businesses with a digital footprint and e-commerce solutions have persevered under the pressure of government stay-at-home orders.

“When COVID hit, obviously, we were concerned for the survival of our small business customer base,” Bottone said. “Given the circumstances, we embarked on some very aggressive technology transformation projects starting last spring, to better position ourselves to serve the small business community.”

As a result, Thinking Capital “re-emerged as a technology company, using machine learning and automation to offer instant decisions to our customers” he added.

Introducing Cash Flow Advisor: Free Business Tool That Identifies Cash Flow Trends

“Lending in the past has always been reactionary. You tell us what you need, and we’ll give it to you. Now, we’re moving towards a direction where we are more insightful, and providing more added value. We now see ourselves as an advisor to businesses,” Bottone continued. “Yes, if lending is helpful, we’ll provide that to you. But we can also give you a bunch of other tools and free business insights as well.”

One of those tools is the Cash Flow Advisor, launched at the end of 2020.

What is Cash Flow Advisor?

It’s a free tool built upon Thinking Capital’s customer database, it identifies cash flow trends in a business and offers valuable insights using this data and its banking profile to help keep the business on track for success.

“Businesses already consider Thinking Capital as a lending agent to help fuel their business’s growth operations. Going forward, we will also do some benchmarking for you, providing you with valuable insights relating to cash flow predictions and overall performance,” Bottone described, adding that while Cash Flow Advisor is at its “embryonic stage,” it will be a “key component of [Thinking Capital’s] solutions moving forward.”

Accessible Line of Credit

Another big development for the company was the launch of a Line of Credit product that is more accessible. Business owners can apply online 24/7 and get an instant decision, removing the need to provide onerous paperwork or wait for an advisor to review an application. This allows businesses far more flexibility, control and convenience, he noted.

“It gives businesses the ability to get access to capital, on their own terms, wherever and whenever they need it,” Bottone described.

“Clients can choose to borrow anything from $500 all the way up to $300,000. Businesses can now sign up in minutes and find out how much they are eligible to borrow without any impact on their credit score.”

Thinking Capital Future Goals

AP Automation 

Future goalposts for Thinking Capital include expanding their value-added services, such as integrating AP Automation to help streamline and automate manual accounts payable processes for clients.

Strong Partnerships 

A key ingredient in the FinTech leader’s recipe for success over 15 years has been strong partnerships with some of North America’s largest banks, payment processors and technology providers, including:

  • CIBC
  • Moneris
  • National Bank
  • Alterna
  • Meridian

“Thinking Capital’s deep knowledge in serving Canadian SMBs is a boon to big banks and credit unions,” Bottone said.

“Most people don’t realize that the funds we lend are actually provided to us by banks like Scotiabank, CIBC, etc. Banks have turned at us and said, ‘Here’s some money. Lend it to small and medium-sized business — this is your strength.’ We also nurture these clients to become return customers for them,” he added, explaining the symbiotic relationship between Thinking Capital and more ‘traditional’ credit unions and banks.

Beyond digital marketing as a strategic means to attract new customers, well-targeted partnerships have also promoted lead generation for Thinking Capital and their partners, according to Bottone. Beyond providing referral leads, he envisions a future where the parties work together to consolidate and cross-collaborate their products to create product-rich ecosystems for small business customers.

A rich ecosystem of small business financing options will be exactly what the doctor ordered for the business community in a post-COVID-19 economy. Bottone is hopeful as the community weathers the current storm.

The Future of Small Businesses

“Many businesses that suffered during COVID are going to come back in a new form and rebuild a new type of company. This transformation that is taking place will be about renewal, with new types of organizations driven by the learnings of the past. That is why our relationships with our clients are so important to us,” he said. “We want to be there with them as they re-emerge and recover.”

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Mashoka Maimona

Mashoka is a journalist for the London Press and the National Post, currently specializing in finance, business and technology.