According to Statistics Canada, the average Canadian currently carries $30,000 in debt outside of a home mortgage. And a recent survey, conducted by MNP, an accounting firm, showed that 46 per cent regularly find themselves $200 or less away from financial insolvency at end of every month. For a large segment of the population, financial stress is part of everyday life and securing a loan — whether it be to clear debt, buy a car, or start a new business — is no easy feat.

Several years ago, Montreal businessman and entrepreneur Scott Satov saw a need and created a startup company that offered loan, mortgage, debt and credit solutions, for Canadians of any credit level, as well as business financing. In short, clients were offered different options based on their personal needs and then paired with the right lender. Today, in a relatively small but growing field, Satov’s Loans Canada is probably the biggest personal loan referral company in the country.

The clients are on the prime to subprime scale, or people with regular to poor credit scores caused by a variety of factors, including a recent bankruptcy, repossession, divorce, judgements or maxed out credit cards. Until companies like Satov’s came along, there were few alternatives out there, apart from small brick-and-mortar stores, payday lenders that offer relatively small amounts at relatively high interest rates, or, worse yet, no credit or loan at all.

“We really want to help the subprime person find the best product that’s going to help see him or her achieve their financial goals,” said Satov. “So these people, a lot of them got into this situation because their child had a problem, or they lost their job, or their credit was stolen — which happens a lot. They were scammed. They are not bad people and we try to see through the hardcore numbers and try to find a product that fits their needs that will allow them to grow into a more responsible financial person in the long term.”

Loans Canada is Satov’s second successful startup. In 2006, the chartered accountant was one of the co-founders of VersaPay, a payment processing company. When it went public four years later, Satov looked to begin a new adventure. It was the early days of financial technology and in 2010 he decided to start a mortgage website that would seamlessly match mortgage applicants with lenders. It seemed like such a good idea at the time that he even set up a mortgage broker office in Toronto. “The problem was, people would come to our site and take our rates and go to their bank. Or if they even applied for a mortgage they would often get rejected because they were not credit worthy,” Satov explained.

So in 2012 he decided to change the brand to Loans Canada, which offered personal loans. The new venture took off right away. “I was actually issuing loans initially until lenders started coming into the marketplace and then we had so much volume that we realized the real business was to focus on marketing these personal loans.”

Within a couple of years, the fledgling company got the attention of Capital One, which offered a secured Visa card that was ideal for people with no credit. “They liked us, they liked what we were doing and we became a publisher for Capital One, meaning we were able to sell their products on our website. That was a big win for us.”

From that point on, the company focused solely on the marketing of personal loans and business financing products. And because Loans Canada has not only the volume, but a good online presence, when new lenders come into the market one of the first things they do is seek out a business partnership. The decision to change course in 2012 turned out to be a good one indeed. “When we started, literally seven years ago, we were getting one or two applications a day. Today, we can get up to 1,000 online applications coming in per day,” said Satov.

The company, which started in the Pointe-Claire basement of Chief Technology Officer Cris Ravazzano, now has its office in St. Henri and runs a successful pan Canadian online business with the equivalent of five full-time staffers including Ravazzano — who was with Satov from the beginning and is now a partner at Loans Canada — Chief Content Officer Caitlin Wood and Web Developer Alberto Arredondo.

The small team also runs Prêts Québec, that deals with the French-speaking segment of the population.

“We’re able to be an online banking-type operation without having the infrastructure and the footprint of a bank,” Satov explained. “So we’re able to just focus on really marketing loans and trying to get people the right product that will help their needs. They apply directly on our site and it’s fully integrated so that they have great service and they can get funds in their account the next day. I mean our whole business is making sure the customer has a good experience.”

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