News / Vancouver

Vancouver fintech startup helps immigrants land on their feet

The global financial technology or ‘fintech’ market is worth about $13 trillion, according to the think tank, Digital Finance Institute

Cindy Chen immigrated to Vancouver from the U.S. four years ago and started a fintech company called Amber Financial Services, which helps people who are new to Canada access loans.

Amber Financial Services/Contributed

Cindy Chen immigrated to Vancouver from the U.S. four years ago and started a fintech company called Amber Financial Services, which helps people who are new to Canada access loans.

A Vancouver entrepreneur is helping other newcomers to Canada by starting a financial technology company that help immigrants land on their feet when they arrive – immigrants like Fares Toumi.

Toumi, a marketing consultant from Jordan, moved to Vancouver with his young family one year ago and decided to work for himself rather than find a salaried job. 

“I started doing my own thing, connecting with people, networking, getting to know a lot of the people in the community,” said Toumi.

His business steadily grew but when his mother fell ill in Jordan in May, Toumi didn’t have enough cash on hand to send back home for her emergency surgery.

He said banks would not lend him the money because he had no credit history and few assets in Canada – he had been living in the country for less than a year.

“Banks were a hopeless case,” he said.

Fintech

Financial technology or ‘fintech’ companies are filling this service gap and others, creating a $13 trillion global market, according to the Digital Finance Institute, a Canadian think tank.  Out of 515 fintech companies in Canada, about 100 are based in B.C. and many have an edge in the industry thanks to the province’s strong tech sector, said Christine Dunhaime, executive director at DFI.

Cindy Chen, CEO of Richmond-based Amber Financial Services, calls fintech the ‘Uber’ of the banking industry.

Helping others

She was inspired to launch her business, which offers unsecured loans, after her own experience immigrating to Vancouver from the U.S. four years ago.

“I didn’t have enough money to pay for rent and utilities. I borrowed money from friends but not everyone is as lucky as me,” said the 30-year old entrepreneur.

“I know the pain so I want my company to help people.”

There is a group of people that should qualify for loans but don’t because traditional banks only consider certain types of documentation, explained Chen.

Amber Financial Services uses other methods like considering old bank statements from the country an immigrant came from to assess whether they qualify for a loan. Students who need loans to pay for tuition can also qualify if they have a part-time job. No clients have defaulted on their loans so far, according to Chen.

Chen launched her startup four months ago and has already served about 1,000 people, including Toumi.

He was able to pay for his mother’s surgery, which cost more than $10,000, and is paying back the loan in monthly instalments at a “quite reasonable” interest rate of about 10 per cent, he said.

Chen hopes to expand her business to offer commercial loans as well in the future.

“We hope we can offer small business loans to immigrants and the younger generation to create job opportunities.”

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