In his “Republic” the Greek philosopher Plato suggested that, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” In other words, hard-to-solve problems inspire innovative solutions. Michael Wendland, CEO of Refresh Financial, founded an online, financial services company designed to give Canadians an affordable solution to build credit and savings and to reach their financial goals.
Headquartered in Kelowna, British Columbia, Refresh was ranked #19 on the Startup 50 Canada’s Top New Growth Companies by Canadian Business and Profit Magazines for 2017. Recently, Refresh was also listed #9 on Deloitte Technology’s Fast 50 and came in 40th on the Fast 500 – a list of the 500 fastest growing companies in North America.
To date, over 50,000 Canadians (and counting) have already used the Refresh program to rebuild their credit and to confidently step onto the path of building a better financial future.
“Everyone deserves a fair shot at reaching their financial goals. The catch 22 is that you need good credit to get credit. Anyone can find themselves in financial trouble through no fault of their own, whether from job loss, identity theft, illness, separation or divorce, or bankruptcy or insolvency. Or perhaps they are new Canadians or university students with no credit history. By providing our clients with the tools and advice they need to be successful, they can finally climb the credit ladder,” says Maria Schwab, Regional Business Development Manager for Ontario.
Like starting a fitness regimen, building credit requires dedication, time, and patience. At the same time, it only takes one or two bad decisions or life altering changes to hurt your credit score. Maria explains, “There is no quick fix to building credit; the only way to improve your credit score is to make payments on credit products on time and/or in full. Refresh arranges “Cash Secured” loans for people with poor credit or no credit. This provides a new trade line on their credit bureau and allows for the positive payment activity required. The capital for the loan (the principal) is raised from accredited investors and financial institutions.
Here is the innovative part. No money actually exchanges hands when the client signs up. Rather, the principal is held as security and monthly payments are collected and reported to the Bureau in the same way as a traditional loan from a bank or a finance company. As clients make payments toward their Refresh loan, their credit score begins to reflect this positive activity.
The uniqueness doesn’t stop there. Since no funds are released up front, the client is actually building up savings with payments made. Like all loans, monthly payments stay the same throughout the term of the loan. After the client has covered the cost of their commitment fee, they begin to build their savings. These accumulated savings are paid back to the client at the end of the program. But, should an emergency arise, the accumulated savings can also be accessed during their Refresh experience.
According to Maria, “Clients with poor or no credit often have to resort to private financing which typically ends up being more expensive. With the Refresh loan on their Bureau, and provided their payments stay current, when their private mortgage is up for renewal, clients have the opportunity to borrow through a “B” lender, and in time, even an “A” lender. This lowers the interest cost substantially which puts clients into a better financial position. It does however take time, approximately, two years on average, to improve a damaged reputation enough that a traditional lender, like a bank, will consider you an acceptable financial risk.”
“I’ve been in the Financial Industry for 25 years. Unfortunately, there is not much within the parameters of traditional banking, to offer a client with poor credit or no credit at all. If the client doesn’t fit perfectly within the bank’s prescribed box, their credit application is declined. Until now, there have been no credit building options that didn’t involve some sort of deposit. One of many reasons I pride myself on being part of the Refresh team is that we are making transformation possible for individuals, when others may turn them away. I’m thrilled to remind clients and our partners that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Our program and our educational resources make that light shine brighter. With time, our clients are able to build their credit, accumulate savings, and find approvals where previously there were none,” Maria adds.
Beyond the nuts and bolts of the loan, the Refresh program also provides clients with a well-rounded financial education platform known as Refresh f.i.t. This innovative program helps people develop the skills needed to manage their personal finances for the rest of their lives. f.i.t. teaches the financial skills that were not taught in schools and covers topics such as credit myths, credit and credit cards, maintaining assets, and building savings.
“We are passionate about teaching the people across the country about their money. With minimal financial education resources in Canada, it is not surprising that many Canadians lack a clear understanding of how credit works, especially the negative repercussions of a bad score. Poor financial education is not just limited those less fortunate; you could have a PhD. and still not know how much of your credit limit you should utilize for a good credit score (by the way, it’s around 30%). Combining f.i.t. with our untraditional loan gives Canadians the educational tools needed to not just reach their current goals but to set them up for life,” Maria says.
At the core of Refresh is their values. According to their website, “Respect is at the core of why we do." We believe that anyone is capable of change, if it is something they truly want. Our goal is to serve as many people as possible on the road to self-improvement…We serve with Compassion – we know there are a variety of reasons someone may find Refresh; we promise to do our best to understand and empathize with the unique situation of every client. We are Champions of Time, Talent, and Treasure – We believe in respecting people’s time (we know that it’s limited), making the most of individual talents (we don’t squander them) and celebrating the wins along the way (big or small).”
There are many testimonials on the company website that confirm these values in action. Recently, Geoff, a Refresh client says, “Don't take this the wrong way, but I sincerely hope that I won't have further need of Refresh services going forward…Thank you for bringing a nicer quality to the process than what I've gotten used to over the last 13 years. You have no idea what a difference some kindness makes.”
The Refresh program is one of Canada’s best kept secrets, relying on an expansive B2B partner network to find the clients who need Refresh the most. Partners such as mortgage brokers, accountants, divorce mediators, credit , Bankruptcy Trustees who are unable to serve their client due to bad credit can get them started with Refresh.
They can then re-engage once their credit is showing signs of improvement. “This is what our partners love. Despite not being able to get their client their desired product today, they can still help them immediately. When the time comes and their credit is in a good place, the client remembers who helped them get there,” Maria says.
Eddie, one of Refresh’s B2B Partners says, “I have the product personally and I see how its working for me…it makes it easier to talk to people about it. It’s truly a one of a kind product. You'd be surprised how many people have never heard of this program. Most of the people I set up on this program wish they had it years ago.”
When she is not working, Maria supports the work of Habitat for Humanity (https://habitatgta.ca/). Habitat for Humanity GTA is one of 1,400 Habitat for Humanity affiliates worldwide. All share a common vision and social purpose – A world where everyone has a safe and decent place to live. There are 56 Habitat for Humanity affiliates in Canada.
“The Refresh program is designed to help all Canadians - whatever their background or education - to build their credit. Watching our clients succeed and reach their goals is incredibly gratifying. Rebuilding credit is a journey, a journey we are excited to take with our clients. We are committed to working with them humanizing the process and supporting them every step of the way,” Maria concludes with a smile.
Suzen Fromstein is the author of Suits and Ladders, Ten Proven Ways to Keep Your Job Safe - with a few jokes thrown in. Suits and Ladders was an Amazon Best Selling Book in the Career Guides Category
Regional Business Development Manager