A career at Price Waterhouse Cooper isn’t anything to scoff at, but after receiving an offer to join, James Laird thought he’d try his hand at entrepreneurship.
“I had run College Pro Painters franchises throughout my time at university and it gave me a taste of being an entrepreneur. I’d been going down the path to becoming a chartered accountant at university, but I was making more money painting in the summer than my first-year salary was going to be with PwC,” said Laird. “I decided to defer my offer and look at something more entrepreneurial to do.”
So it went that Laird bought an Oxford leaning centre with a partner, but it wasn’t long after that the mortgage industry called. Laird bought into True North Mortgage brokerage based out of Calgary, and helped grow it to over a billion dollars in annual volume, and turned one location into eight.
“I liked how the mortgage industry affects almost every Canadian and it’s also a multi-billion industry, so I made the deal to buy into True North and expand it into Ontario and Quebec,” he continued. “The other thing that happened was True North became the first customer of Rate Supermarket, which was the first rate comparison site in Canada. We were very successful at turning online leads into closed mortgage transactions and, to me, it was obvious that consumer behaviour was changing and that Canadians were looking for more financial resources online, but there was only one rate comparison site operating in the country.”
The realization spurred the inception of Ratehub.ca, an immovable fixture on Technology Fast 50’s list of fastest growing tech companies in Canada (listed at 37). The realization that consumer habits have changed also led Laird to found CanWise Financial, a mortgage brokerage with nary a storefront.
“The core of the True North model was to attract business through storefront locations in busy downtown areas, which, I think, is a reasonable model, but I think that as time went on it became apparent to me that Canadians did their mortgage research online and fewer and fewer were interested in meeting in person. More consumers were comfortable getting their mortgage by phone and email, and you don’t need a storefront to do that. That’s why CanWise doesn’t have any storefronts. The idea is you find us online and we’ll connect you with a full-service agent.”
If the idea sounds dubious, consider CanWise—which was founded in 2014—won a Canadian Mortgage Award for Best New Brokerage in 2017 and back-to-back awards for Brokerage of the Year (Over 25 Employees) in 2018 and 2019.
“We’ve grown 50-100% every year since we opened CanWise and that’s from a mortgage volume perspective, number of transaction perspective, and the size of our team. Every measure of the business has been growing at 50-100% each year, and with each passing year we have a stronger team internally, which, five years out, I’m really proud of.”