Power Financial to invest more in fintech startups to avoid digital disruption

MONTREAL — Power Financial Corp. plans to invest more money in financial technology (fintech) startups as it looks to find technologies that can be incorporated into its business model and avoid disruptions that have hurt other sectors, its CEO said Thursday.

“We’re going to put some more money into it and we’re looking to partner increasingly with outside capital providers to do so,” Jeffrey Orr told reporters after the company’s annual meeting.

The conglomerate and subsidiaries Great-West Lifeco and IGM Financial have invested $230 million in 32 fintechs.

Wealthsimple, Canada’s largest robo-advisor, has received more than half the money, which more than doubled its assets last year. It has more than 80,000 clients and administers in excess of $2 billion.

Orr said Wealthsimple’s performance is good but noted that it will take several years before it is profitable.

Power Financial’s fintech focus is on insurance, asset management, personal finance, wellness and digitization of financial services.

The company turned to Paul Desmarais III, the son of the executive co-chairman, a few years ago and asked him to try to disrupt its business before others attempt to do so, Orr told shareholders.

“We might as well do it to ourselves,” he said in response to a shareholder question.

Fintech uses technology to make financial services more accessible to the public, such as mobile banking, investing and cryptocurrencies.

“I don’t think that we’re going to be ultimately disrupted because we’re going to import what tools are being developed in the fintech world into our business models and make them our own business models.”

Among the investments is Diagram, a fintech incubator based in Montreal. One of its companies is Dialogue, which allows people to connect virtually with a team of medical professionals who provide similar service to an in-person appointment.

Great-West Lifeco is piloting Dialogue with some of its Canadian group customers, including some of its own employees in Canada, and has announced that the service will soon be rolled out to a large segment of its group customers.

Instead of going to hospital emergency rooms, customers will be able to call for medical advice and use the service as a triage system.

Meanwhile, Orr said the company continues to be on the hunt for acquisitions, particularly in the United States, in two areas: defined contribution pensions such as 401(k)s and asset management.

While deals over the past decade have not translated into great earnings, he said it is in a position to deliver faster growth and higher returns as the market consolidates over the coming years.

Orr said the recent cut in U.S. federal corporate income taxes will help long-term as it grows south of the border.

Power Financial said Thursday that its net earnings increased 21 per cent to $586 million in the first quarter due to a strong performance by Great-West Lifeco Inc.

The Montreal-based company says it earned 82 cents per share for the period ended March 31, compared with 68 cents per share of $484 million a year earlier.

Excluding one-time items, adjusted profits grew by 17 per cent or $85 million from $501 million or 70 cents per share in the first quarter of 2017.

The year’s adjusted net profits included $495 million from Great-West, $107 million from IGM Financial and $44 million from Pargesa Holding SA. That compared with $419 million, $104 million and $43 million respectively in the same period last year.

Power Financial is the main subsidiary of holding company Power Corporation of Canada, which also has investments in renewable power and media properties.

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