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Report on Business Vancouver entrepreneur whose last business was sold to PayPal for $400-million expands new fintech for banks

Lisa Shields, founder and chief executive officer of FI.SPAN, in Vancouver, on Dec. 12, 2018.

DARRYL DYCK/Globe and Mail

A Vancouver entrepreneur whose previous business was acquired by PayPal Holdings Inc. for $400-million is set to announce a key partnership with JPMorgan Chase & Co. for her latest financial-technology venture.

Lisa Shields founded FI.SPAN in 2016, a year after she stepped down as chief executive of Hyperwallet Systems Inc. The sale of the 18-year-old international payments platform to PayPal, which was announced in June and closed last month, is one of the largest tech acquisitions in recent Canadian history. FI.SPAN continues Ms. Shields’s foray into financial technology, or fintech, which allows banks to connect business clients with new technologies.

With only $6-million in financing behind it – including $4-million in seed money from the Business Development Bank of Canada’s Women in Technology Venture Fund and other groups – Ms. Shields says FI.SPAN has already built partnerships with four of the top 20 U.S. commercial banks. As of Wednesday, that includes JPMorgan Chase – the biggest of them all, according to the Federal Reserve – the first partner FI.SPAN is revealing publicly. Now, Ms. Shields hopes she can persuade Canadian banks to try the service too.

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FI.SPAN helps banks connect some of their products and services with accounting and other applications for commercial clients. In doing so, it links classic bank services with new cloud technologies without the high cost of upgrading massive older systems.

“It’s an opportunity to make fintech a service, where banks can make use of innovative solutions that fintechs provide" while still retaining the customer, Ms. Shields said in a phone interview.

Jason Tiede, JPMorgan Chase’s head of treasury services innovation, said partnering with FI.SPAN will help the bank develop pilot programs for the corporate treasurers of its business-banking clients.

“FI.SPAN is a very young and nimble organization, and is able to do integration work with those treasury software programs,” Mr. Tiede said in an interview. By working with the Vancouver company, he said, the bank can "do so in a very rapid and experimental way to better understand how our clients want us to embed our services with them.”

Educated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ms. Shields worked as a engineer for 15 years before launching Hyperwallet in 2000. It took time to hit its stride, surviving the dot-com bubble and gradually finding international reach before coming of age after the global financial crisis. As the freelance-style “gig” economy grew after the crisis, Hyperwallet found a key client base in multinational businesses that needed to pay such workers, Ms. Shields said. The company helped them make payments worldwide, in multiple currencies, and at low cost.

She and other Hyperwallet shareholders each sold half of their holdings in 2014 amid a private-equity recapitalization, staying on as CEO for another year before what she calls her “garden leave.” She launched FI.SPAN in 2016, and financed it herself for its first year before taking on investment; she remains a “significant” investor. The fundraising experience this time was much easier, Ms. Shields said, and not just in comparison with Hyperwallet, which had to weather the dot-com bust.

“It was, and is, different for a female founder without domain experience and a track record,” she said. Now Hyperwallet has given her a track record – and the market has changed, at least slightly. “I think there’s been a mindset shift with professional women over last 20 years – now I’m selling to [more] women.”

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Ms. Shields, who has been a fellow with the Creative Destruction Lab entrepreneurship program, says her experience has informed her own startup investing. She said she seeks businesses with female founders: “Quite frankly, because they represent value for money.”

BDC managing director Michelle Scarborough, who runs the Women in Technology Venture Fund, said she has long been impressed with Ms. Shields’s experience and business-building style, and was excited to invest in FI.SPAN.

“She has a very practical approach to organizing teams, identifying a customer need, validating that with the customer, and then executing what that actually needs to look like," Ms. Scarborough said.

Ms. Shields now hopes to expand FI.SPAN’s customer base not just among large U.S. banks, but in Canada. It’s a strategy she shares with fintech startups she invests in. “My advice, nine times out of 10, is ... start with the United States, then bring it to Canada if it makes sense for you,” she said. “It will be easier to do business with U.S. banks. They move faster.”

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