A Toronto-based FinTech firm has been named the first-ever recipient of the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC)’s Ingenious Spark award for helping banks across North America – and beyond – fill a critical gap in their mobile services.
Co-founded by a former lawyer all too familiar with the pain of tracking expenses, Sensibill Inc. provides banks with a receipt-tracking platform they can add to their apps.
Scotiabank customers can then use the Sensibill platform from within their mobile banking app to keep track of their purchases for tax, accounting, expense management, budgeting, warranty tracking, or return and exchange purposes.
“Banks don’t have access to receipt-level information,” Sensibill fo-founder and CEO Corey Gross explains to ITWC. “They really only have what’s called level-one or transaction-level data, and even that data isn’t cleaned up, so when you go into your credit card statement online, you may see that you spent $64 at Home Depot, or $180 on Amazon, but that’s kind of where the story ends… It doesn’t give you any proof of purchase information. You don’t even know what you bought.”
By contrast, the Sensibill solution allows customers to shoot pictures of their physical receipts, in addition to automatically importing all online shopping and digitally-issued in-store receipts. For banks, Gross says, the greatest benefit is enhanced understanding of their customers.
“If you’re shopping on Amazon all the time, which more and more people are, it could mean that you love apparel shopping, or like to buy expensive electronics, and knowing one or the other could help inform which financial services are right for you,” he says. “Ultimately, from a mission perspective and vision perspective, we believe the future of financial services is really around the ability to personalize services for customers, and if banks don’t, someone else will.”
The product is ideally suited to the Canadian market, he notes, since Canadians place a great deal of trust in a small number of banks, which has given them great social credibility, but also an obligation to serve customers to the best of their ability.
“They have the credibility, so they should also be able to serve you the best way they can, and right now the reality is they can’t,” Gross says. “So we work with them so they can do better.”
From Smartslips to Sensibill
As it happens, Sensibill wasn’t the first solution Gross developed to his problem, which first reared its head when he began working as a lawyer in the mid-2000s.
“From a product perspective, there wasn’t a good solution to help me manage my expenses,” he says. “It was very painful to manage all of those receipts and keep them in a state where they’re not faded or destroyed, which they’re very prone to do – and when you’re with a law firm or an accounting firm, you need these originals to be in pristine shape. Digital technology allows us to do that.”
And while both the App Store and Google Play stores had countless receipt apps, Gross says, none of them solved his key pain point: Organizing receipts in a manageable way.
So Gross decided to tackle the problem from a business perspective. Founded in 2010, his first venture, Smartslips, was a cloud-based solution that businesses could use to provide shoppers with digital receipts for their purchases.
“It didn’t go as well as I thought, but we got to work with some big customers and partners, found a lot of advisors that I surrounded myself with, and learned a lot about what it took to be a good entrepreneur,” he says.
Eventually, Gross says, the banks he had built a relationship with approached him with a pain point of their own: while investing in digital ventures like mobile payments, many were having trouble engaging customers – and believed that improving receipt management and capture could be part of the solution.
With their support, Gross and co-founder Jamie Alexander started running Sensibill in 2013 out of the Ryerson DMZ.
“I became the receipts guy, of all things, and that was really the seed that started Sensibill,” Gross says. “We’ve been working with banks ever since.”
Since 2013, Sensibill has seen its workforce grow from two to more than 60, and is now operating out of its second office. Key to the platform’s success, Gross says, is its accessibility: Rather than building another app for users already inundated with dozens, users can access its features from services they already use.
In fact, according to a research study submitted for the Ingenious Awards, Sensibill’s banking customers have seen app log-ins increase by 30 per cent, with 75 per cent of users saying they planned to stay with their financial institution specifically because of their app’s receipt capture capability.
In addition to collaborating with four of Canada’s big five banks, Sensibill also works with Scotiabank’s Tangerine division, and the U.K.’s Royal Bank of Scotland and National Westminster Bank. Gross says the company will be expanding to Australia and announcing a partnership with a “very large” U.S. institution soon, though he emphasizes that the company hopes to work with credit unions and smaller banks in the future as well.
“We built our reputation working with large institutions, but we’re slowly moving down market, to meet consumers wherever they are,” he says.
Officially an award-winning company
As for Sensibill’s status as the inaugural winner of ITAC’s Ingenious Spark Award, created this year to honour a private Canadian business with “an ingenious spark of a new technology product or service, according to the Canadian technology association’s website, Gross says he primarily considers the award a chance to raise his company’s public profile and ability to meet other potential collaborators.
“We didn’t know what we would be winning, but you always want to put yourself out there, highlight some interesting things that you’ve been doing, and see what comes of it,” he says. “You’re trying to inspire people to take notice of what you’re doing so that you can hopefully be in a position to give back to the community, whether it’s through thought leadership, opportunities, or sponsorship.”
ITAC handed out the Ingenious Awards during a gala dinner on Nov. 9, 2017. ITWC served as a media sponsor.