BMO Shines a Light on Smaller Companies’ Big Ideas

In partnerships with Genivity and SpringFour, BMO Harris Bank is taking a targeted, specific approach to help its customers gain a better understanding of their finances

A little bit of mentoring can go a long way for a start-up company, and a startup’s business ideas can go a long way to sustaining a large company, as BMO Harris Bank is demonstrating.

In August 2018, BMO announced partnerships with two Chicago-based tech start-ups, Genivity and SpringFour, in an effort to provide more specific solutions to certain customers. Genivity is an artificial-intelligence software platform that can help advisors work with clients through life stages and care-cost planning, while SpringFour developed a financial wellness platform to improve payment performance and reduce payment delinquencies.

Genivity won an award in 2017 as part of the BMO Harris/1871 FinTech Partnership program—which provides mentorship tracks to start-ups—thanks to the company’s financial planning software tool, which helps wealth advisors have healthcare discussions with clients and estimate future long-term healthcare costs. The software will be unveiled via a rollout with BMO Wealth Management’s US business in the Hinsdale and Barrington suburbs of Chicago, as well as in Naples and Sarasota, Florida.

“With Genivity’s platform, our team of advisors will not only be able to better prepare our clients in this area, but also manage the risks that come with planning for unforeseen circumstances,” said Darrel Hackett, president of BMO Wealth Management US, in a statement. 

SpringFour’s technology platform helps customers who are facing financial difficulties connect with trusted local, state, and national resources. The company’s platform can be navigated with a simple search by zip code, and provides people with various resources in their respective area. BMO Harris customers will have access to SpringFour’s resources through the bank’s website.

“We are excited to take a step forward in enhancing the level of financial support we offer our customers by leveraging SpringFour’s resources,” said Ernie Johannson, head of the US Personal and Business Banking Group for BMO, in a statement. “We are committed to aiding customers in their journey to achieve and sustain financial stability.”

The partnerships are an example of the work BMO is doing not only to provide improved, more direct solutions to its customers, but also of doing so in a way that embraces multiple platforms. Such partnerships wouldn’t be possible without the bank’s legal department, including Christy DeMott, BMO’s associate general counsel and vice president, who provides strategic legal advice for consumer and small business deposit and lending products services—including online and mobile banking initiatives.

BMO’s partnerships with both Genivity and SpringFour were not forged at random, but rather out of a mentoring relationship to help both start-ups gain better footing in the financial world.

In an interview with Crain’s Chicago Business, Heather Holmes, CEO of Genivity, says the mentorship program provided a different entry point into the financial sector than other pilot programs might.

“It’s the difference between having a demo day and rolling up your sleeves and wanting to bring innovation into your company,” she said. “Our mentors at BMO recruited other mentors. It was the opportunity to get direct feedback from a large enterprise customer. BMO had people assigned to us who wanted to make sure we got the support we needed.”

In the same Crain’s Chicago Business piece, Howard Tullman, a former CEO of 1871 and an investor in Genivity, said the mentorship program is a valuable tool to give start-ups a chance for long-term success.

“Once the C-level guys say, ‘Do something,’ it still doesn’t happen unless they identify a business unit within their companies and some line—not staff—people who will work to actually implement something that helps both sides,” he said. “Small wins to start, but with real P&L consequences and benefits. If you don’t get someone inside as your champion, who actually has some skin in the game and a career interest in seeing the project succeed, then you won’t be going anywhere.”