Women of the Year 2021: Borrowell Co-Founder Eva Wong is Helping Canadians Find Financial Freedom
From Olympic athletes and tech startup founders to social impact champions and business changemakers, our inaugural 2021 Women of the Year guide features 37 impressive leaders who are making a difference, both individually and as a collective. They’ve all navigated incredible obstacles to get to where they are (often on an uneven playing field) and yet, despite this, have still managed to summit their industries and change Canada—and the world around them—for the better. In our series of one-on-one interviews, get to know each honouree a little better: their values, mission, lessons learned, and the other women that inspire them in their own lives.
Co-founder and COO, Borrowell
What is your elevator pitch to the world?
Eva Wong: Borrowell’s mission is to make financial prosperity possible for everyone.
What excites you most about the work that you are doing?
Eva Wong: The first is our mission and the depth and breadth of impact we have. The individual stories of our members using Borrowell to take control of their finances and become the person their friends and family go to for financial advice are super inspiring. The second is growth. Growing Borrowell, increasing our impact, and growing ourselves professionally and personally keeps things exciting.
Where do you think you have made the most impact in your company and community?
Eva Wong: Borrowell was the first company to give Canadians their credit score for free. Your credit score can determine whether you’re able to rent an apartment, buy your dream home, and sometimes even get hired for a job. But before Borrowell, if you wanted to know your credit score, you had to pay to get it. Making people’s credit scores universally available and helping people understand how to improve their credit has made a big difference in people’s lives. If you can improve your score, you can lower the cost of accessing credit, get out of debt faster, and achieve more of your financial and life goals.
What kind of problems are you trying to solve?
Eva Wong: People are stressed about their finances. A global pandemic didn’t help.
What are you doing that no one else is doing?
Eva Wong: We are putting our members first. Lots of people in financial services say it, but it’s hard to live out. Our business model enables us to do what’s in the best interests of our members because the most important thing to us is that our members trust us to recommend the best product for them. If we do, they’ll keep coming back to us.
Why is your work important?
Eva Wong: I know it sounds cheesy but we’re really making a difference. People’s finances affect every aspect of their lives. But making the right choices is complicated, and so much advice is biased. You can pay for a financial advisor, but even that is time-consuming. We can use technology to personalize advice and recommendations, which democratizes good financial advice and makes it available to everyone, not just those who can pay. (Now I’ve used all the buzzwords!)
What have you learned about yourself as you’ve led your company?
Eva Wong: As a founder and leader at the company, my words and actions can have more weight than I understand and can be misinterpreted. I’ve tried to adapt to this by stating my intent. For example, saying something like, “Is it okay if I ask you some questions? You know this space really well, but I don’t.” Otherwise, if I just start peppering someone with questions, they could think that I doubt whether they’ve done their homework and that I’m trying to poke holes in their logic, when I’m just trying to understand the problem.
What has been the most challenging part of building the business?
Eva Wong: So many things have to go right, and many of them are outside our control. It can be challenging when you think you’ve done so many things correctly but you get a giant curveball (hello, global pandemic) that knocks things off course.
What has been the most rewarding part of building the business?
Eva Wong: I do think that adapting to change successfully has felt rewarding when you come out the other side of something hard. Of course, hearing stories from Borrowell members is always rewarding. And building a great company from an employee perspective also means a lot—having a great culture where people can learn and grow quickly.
What questions do you think all leaders should ask themselves before building a company?
Eva Wong: If you don’t do it, will you look back and regret it? I actually think there should be a fairly low bar for people deciding to start a company. Lots of people, way less qualified than you, do it every day. If it fails, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. You’ll learn a ton either way.
In your experience, what do you think is the quickest way to get people on board with your mission?
Eva Wong: Have a great mission. It hasn’t been hard to get people on board.
What is your mission? The bigger picture?
Eva Wong: Borrowell’s mission is to make financial prosperity possible for everyone. We envision a world where people live free from financial stress.
How do you define success? What does it mean to you?
Eva Wong: Success to me is having an impact, at scale. It means helping as many people as possible succeed and achieve their financial goals.
What is one lesson that you hope people will learn or walk away with from your work?
Eva Wong: There’s no specific education or training you need to build a business—it’s not like being a surgeon or an Olympic gymnast.
If you could go back and give yourself advice, what would it be?
Eva Wong: Speak up. I think women and people of colour are more likely to doubt themselves and assume that the person speaking knows what they’re talking about. Often, it’s just their opinion, and your opinion is just as valid. You matter. Your voice matters. Speak up and use your voice!
Who is a woman in the community that you admire?
Eva Wong: Fiona Lake Waslander, co-founder of Skylight, is someone I worked with in my first job and admired from the first time I met her. Twenty years later she is still a great sounding board and source of advice!