Alyssa Furtado is the CEO and co-founder of Ratehub.ca, the industry-leading rate comparison site. Alyssa took some time with stnce to talk about Ratehub’s origin, personal finance, and empowering Canadians to be financially confident.
stnce: Here at stnce, we love a good entrepreneurial success story. Can you tell us how Ratehub got started?
AF: Of course! I graduated University in 2007, and my first job out of school was as a strategy consultant. I did that for about two years. I learned a ton, and met so many amazing people, but I realized pretty early on that it wasn’t what I was meant to do. When I was in school, I always had something motivating me, whether it was extracurricular activities or my regular schoolwork, and I always did some entrepreneurial things on the side. But once I started that job, I didn’t feel that same spark and fire that I was used to feeling.
Around the two-year mark, I re-evaluated and started thinking about what it was I really wanted to do. I had always loved the concept of teaching, and it was while writing applications to teacher’s college that I started a conversation with a friend in the mortgage industry who was purchasing mortgage leads from an online mortgage site. At that time, banks would advertise their posted rates, which were much higher than what they were able to offer. Prospective clients, however, would have to go into the branch and haggle to get a better rate. Online resources to educate Canadians didn’t exist at that time. Something that really excites me is consumer needs. The consumer need was clearly there. The business case and my need to educate Canadians naturally aligned, and Ratehub was born!
stnce: Industry lore tells us you operated the business out of your home in the beginning, what was that like?
AF: We operated Ratehub for five years out of the townhouse I was renting. The company grew to about thirteen people in that office. It was kinda crazy! We really bootstrapped it for the first seven years. When I started out, I didn’t want to build a billion dollar unicorn, I had an ambition to build a profitable business that filled a need. When we were starting out, we couldn’t afford an office, and I didn’t earn much, but operating out of the townhouse really helped. I lived in the basement, and the business ran out of the top. When I think back, that was one of the smartest financial decisions I ever made – both in my business, and in my personal life. I was able to save up for a down payment during those years. My boyfriend at the time, who is now my husband, was a little less thrilled about it! *laughs* I realize it wouldn’t necessarily be everyone’s first choice, but it’s something I’ve learned in personal finance; the sacrifices you make today will be worth it five years down the road.
stnce: Definitely. It’s always harder to make the sacrifice when you can’t see the results right away, but that’s a great motivator! So, do you recall the moment you felt like you had “made it”?
AF: When I started Ratehub, my goal for the company was to help Canadians make better financial decisions, and find the best rates. I wanted to help Canadians feel empowered throughout the entire process of finding a mortgage. A more personal milestone was for the business to support me and be viable without me having to look for a second job. I feel like we reached that around the two to three year mark.
Second, and this is more recently, I’d say in the last six to twelve months, we’ve really built a solid team and we are approaching the next phase of building a Canadian company that is sustainable well into the next hundred years. It’s an incredible feeling. I was in a cab the other day and one of our clients was advertising with the tagline “… as seen on Ratehub!” and I thought to myself, “Wow, that’s pretty cool!” It’s really representative of how far the company has come.
stnce: Is there an iconic woman who inspires you most?
AF: When I think of iconic women who inspire me, I think of Sheryl Sandberg. She’s a strong, successful woman, but she also shows her vulnerable side. I am an emotional, people-driven person so realizing I can do that and be a strong leader at the same time has been an important lesson for me. As women, we often worry if we’re too soft or too nice, so it’s refreshing when you look up to leaders to see someone you can see yourself in. For a long time, I thought my biggest weakness was empathy, but so many people would tell me they believed it was my biggest strength. So I’ve started to think about it differently.
Outside of public figures, there are so many women in the entrepreneurial community who are doing exceptional things, and that’s amazing and inspiring in its own way.
stnce: We love that! Speaking of doing amazing things, what would you say is your biggest source of motivation?
AF: It’s changed over time. Originally, my motivation was to create a career I loved, and bake in flexibility and control. As a company, when you grow larger and larger, priorities shift. Now, my biggest source of motivation is to empower Canadians to make better financial decisions, and in the same vein as stnce, to empower Canadians to feel more confident in their finances.
I’m really proud of an internal project we’ve started that mirrors those values, called “Project Decimal”. We’ve brought someone on to lead the charge, and we’re reaching out to the community to teach underprivileged youth about personal finance. Not everyone comes from the same circumstances, or has access to education on these topics. We’re striving to create that safe space.
This year around tax season we’ve brought advisors into the office to speak to our staff and help them feel empowered and in control of their finances. Doing things like that gets me so excited. It has really opened up conversations more within the team. We can help someone who is doing a great job in their career and is so brilliant, but may have no idea what to do with their money. It’s inspiring to think – if a few members of our team choose better today, we could transform lives in 20 years. If we want to be advocates for personal finance, we need to start with ourselves.
stnce: Wow – that’s incredible. Tell us, what’s your approach to personal finance?
AF: I’ve always been passionate about personal finance, and I do find it interesting! One of my approaches is, the stuff that’s not valuable to you, keep those costs as low as possible and then indulge. One example is, when I was starting Ratehub and I was young, I didn’t really care where I lived, so I was able to keep my rental costs very low, which allowed me to spend on travel and entertainment, which were my priorities at the time. I could do that and feel safe, because something that I didn’t care that much about, like living in the basement, really balanced my expenses.
Some of the best advice I’ve received is from Dan Bortolotti, a financial advisor we brought in to speak to the Ratehub team. I was stressing about which asset classes and funds I was investing in, and if they were the right ones. Dan told me it’s far more important to get the overall strategy right. Once that’s in place, it’s more about the disciplined principles. That really alleviated my stress. Now my husband and I focus on how much we want to save, in what type of registered accounts, automate our direct deposits and let the market do the rest.
stnce: That actually brings up a really interesting point. In many of our conversations, we find that many women feel like in order to consult a financial advisor they need to be wealthy. They see it as prohibitive unless they have a huge income. What are your thoughts on that?
AF: That’s a good question, and a really interesting finding. Now, I’m not an expert, but what I would say is that advice is available at all levels. If you have a lower income, yes, you might not get that “high touch” advisor, but there are options available to you. Wealthsimple is a great example of that. If you want to be financially confident, it’s about reading, educating yourself, talking to friends and family. We need to open these conversations to build confidence.
stnce: We couldn’t have said it better ourselves! As you know, stnce’s mandate is to improve financial confidence. Our research has shown that there is a significant gap between women and men when it comes to confidence about personal finances. What are your thoughts on this?
AF: Good question. There are common themes here with women in professional environments. We often talk about impostor syndrome being a lot more prevalent in professional women than in men. It’s really about perception of yourself and your abilities, rather than actual fact.
That’s why seeing that EQ Bank formed stnce is so incredible. Ratehub and EQ Bank have had a great partnership for many years, as we are both committed to providing consumers with great rates, products and services. We can be too apathetic about our finances; something that makes such a huge difference in our lives. Finding a way to get excited about it and finding material and authors you connect with. Start building comfort starting the dialogue with friends – people you’re comfortable with to open that conversation. Read and self-educate. Any conversations you can have with people will put you on a different trajectory towards your financial future.
Ratehub.ca is Canada’s leading online comparison platform for mortgage rates, credit cards, deposit rates and insurance. On Ratehub.ca Canadians can compare thousands of rates from hundreds of providers with just a few easy clicks. More than 5 million Canadians visit Ratehub.ca every year to get personalized recommendations on financial products and make smarter financial choices.