In a Nutshell: When Canadians need transparent, unbiased information about loans and other financial products, they often turn to Smarter Loans. Its marketplace connects consumers with products and services suited to their financial needs. Smarter Loans reviews and vets each offering, ensuring applicants receive quality service without fear of falling prey to scams or predatory lenders. It also offers educational resources to help consumers understand their options and choose the right loan products.
The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada’s 2019 financial capability survey showed that average household debt was nearly 177% of disposable income. The survey also found that 73% of all Canadians carried outstanding debt or had used a payday loan within the last 12 months, and 31% of Canadians said they believed they had too much debt.
One way to help solve those problems is through consumer financial education. Another is to help them find financial products better suited to their situations and goals. However, in Canada, that may be more challenging than it sounds.
“The financial landscape here is that everybody’s familiar with the top banks. But very few people, or at least not enough people, are familiar with the entire financing world, which is very vibrant here,” said Vlad Sherbatov, President of Smarter Loans.
Smarter Loans is a financial service marketplace where Canadian consumers can discover the right products that meet their unique financial needs. The platform provides vital information and resources to help consumers better manage their money, reduce their debt, and lead healthier financial lives.
“There was a lot of innovation happening in the industry, lots of new startups coming into the space,” Sherbatov said. “We wanted to create a central hub that was going to be an informative central resource for people to understand the financial landscape to make better decisions.”
Financial Products That Meet Diverse Consumer Needs
Smarter Loans understands that people fall into many categories on the financial spectrum.
Those who fall on the lower end of the financial spectrum may have the greatest need for loans and other resources. However, they may have the least access.
Financial missteps in the past could prevent them from qualifying for a loan or other product. And if those subprime candidates can access a loan or credit card, the rates are typically very high, which could hurt their credit scores even more.
Those financial consumers have very specific needs, which may change as their financial standing improves. Other life events and professional decisions will also affect those needs.
“We have products for people that are new parents because they have new insurance needs,” Sherbatov said. “We have products for entrepreneurs and freelancers, who are a new market that needs their own financial services tailored to them.”
As the financial world changes, the need for choices becomes greater. But as providers proliferate, finding the best options within the sector has become more complicated.
“People had no choice but to explore different options because you simply can’t get everything at one place anymore, even if you wanted to,” Sherbatov said. “There are places that are specifically focusing on solving certain problems. You should take your time to do some research and see what’s the right product for you. And that’s kind of a key reason why people come to Smarter Loans.”
The Marketplace Offers Transparent Recommendations
When Smarter Loans launched, Sherbatov and his partner said they set out to address two pressing issues in the industry: transparency and trust. They wanted to ensure consumers were getting reliable information that would help them make effective decisions.
“We said, ‘We’re going to tackle this, and we’re going to do it by being neutral and unbiased with everybody,’” Sherbatov said. “There is not one single party we work with that is treated differently or has different privileges. Everything is neutral in that way.”
The Smarter Loans marketplace includes a profile of each company that explains its products, rates, qualifications, and requirements. The platform doesn’t try to be all-inclusive. Instead, it focuses on connecting consumers with the most reputable companies that offer tailored financial products that fit their needs.
“We have a set of guidelines and requirements for the members that join our platform,” Sherbatov said. “They have to be in business for at least two years. They have to have a good track record publicly in terms of customer service. That ensures that if somebody is choosing a company on our website, that they know that we’ve done our due diligence in vetting them.”
Smarter Loans presents users with recommendations of most suitable providers, and let people make the choice. Consumers can have more peace of mind selecting a reputable lender from its list of vetted resources.
Educational Resources Help Users Understand Options
Smarter Loans goes beyond showing consumers their options. It also offers articles and educational resources to help users understand them. The need for financial literacy isn’t limited to people at the lower end of the credit spectrum. Someone in debt may have excellent money management skills, but they fell on hard times and had to rely on credit to make ends meet.
“A lot of times, people assume that we’re just talking about somebody who doesn’t have a basic understanding of saving money or borrowing and what an interest rate is,” Sherbatov said. “But it’s not just for people who have no exposure to financial topics. Many people who make six-figure salaries don’t have financial literacy. And the proof of that is that, no matter how much you make, you’re still living paycheck to paycheck.”
Sherbatov used himself as an example. Even making $100,000 per year, he was still living paycheck to paycheck. When he decided to start his own business, his income dropped, forcing him to come to grips with his own money management skills and spending habits.
“It’s not about how much you make or how far you have ascended,” Sherbatov said. “You can be an executive, but nobody’s a perfect expert at it. So no matter who you are, you can learn more and improve.”
Beyond connecting consumers with valuable financial products, Smarter Loans wants them to make informed, intelligent choices with those products.
“We show the different options available to you. Maybe you never knew about it,” Sherbatov said. “We present options for whoever you are. So you have that information. And then it’s up to you to decide what you want.”
Smarter Loans: Putting People in Control of Their Finances
Smarter Loans launched in 2016 to empower consumers who wanted to educate themselves and remain in control of their finances.
“Now, four years later, we’ve worked with close to 100 financial companies, 50 of them are lenders, and another close to 50 of them are other companies in the financial sector,” Sherbatov said. “We have about 40,000 people a month coming in now, just over 1,000 people a day. They use us as a place to discover amazing products, feel like they know what they’re talking about before they make a decision, and then be more confident about their financial situation now and in the future.”
But Sherbatov and Smarter Loans aren’t about to rest on their laurels. In the near future, the platform plans to unveil a new project that will expand access to financial education and empower more consumers to improve their situations.
“It will address the fact that financial literacy is something that should be communicated to a mass audience, not just somebody who maybe never even had the opportunity to get basic junior high or high school education,” Sherbatov said. “It affects everybody. And the project that we will be launching is something that will advance financial literacy and conversation about money topics, both in Canada and in the U.S.”