JAMES LAIRD,CanWise Financial

By their very nature, startups are challenging and uncertain. But to James Laird, those are positive traits, not negative ones. Laird broke off from True North Mortgage in late 2014 to start CanWise Financial, and has since grown it into a national brand.

“I definitely love the early stages of business,” he says. “I love getting things off the ground; I love the challenge and the high stakes. I feel like I thrive in that environment, and I can sometimes get a bit bored when there’s not that challenge and that kind of do-or-die type of situation.”

Laird is especially proud of CanWise’s performance in 2016: The company closed about $940 million worth of mortgages, versus $386 million in 2015. CanWise now has 28 full-time employees at its offices in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver, and for Laird, looking ahead to 2017 isn’t going far enough.

“I want to get to $5 billion of funded volume by 2021, and that comes with continuing to focus on technology that allows a more efficient customer experience for consumers and also allows our staff to execute their job in a more efficient way,” he says. “As we build out each piece of technology, we’re always considering how it’s going to help the consumer, how it’s going to help us internally to deliver and execute, and how it’s gonna help our lenders in getting a high volume of good-quality of mortgages like they desire. I think what’s going to continue to play a huge role in our industry is technology enabling efficiency across all the different stakeholders in the industry.”

Laird, who is part-owner of mortgage comparison site RateHub, is familiar with the pace of modernization in the Canadian mortgage industry, and thinks the digital revolution is just beginning to make the mortgage experience more efficient for consumers.

“Consumer behaviour in Canada is changing, but it’s slow,” he says. “Most mortgages in Canada are still originated in an in-person environment, either with a bank branch or a mortgage broker in-person, and you can be extremely successful doing that, and that’s how most of the billions of dollars are funded today. But it’s slowly changing. Banks are still dominant, and I think brokers who operate in person still have lots of runway, but then there’s also opportunity for people within the industry to focus on the changing consumer, the younger consumer, who understands technology, is comfortable with technology and prefers an efficient transaction over an in-person, more time-consuming transaction.”
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