How Montreal fintech Moka is moving into France

The company formerly known as Mylo is running its first video campaign as it enters the "gateway" to Europe.

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On July 20, homegrown fintech startup Mylo officially became Moka, a name it hopes will more easily resonate with global audiences, according to company founder and CEO Philip Barrar. The change comes as it enters France this week, a move which will serve as a stepping stone for broader European expansion.

Moka_New LogoHe says part of the reason for the Montreal-based company’s name change is that Mylo can be pronounced differently depending on the speaker’s language. In becoming Moka, the company hopes to eliminate that potential for confusion. But Barrar also believes it will serve as a signal of the startup’s graduation from a round-up app into something more.

MyloLaunched in 2017, Moka offers an app that links to users’ financial institutions and enables them to save and invest by rounding up purchases made to the nearest dollar. That money is then invested in diversified portfolios of Exchange-Traded Funds. And as it continues to mature, the company hopes to incorporate more user data in order to provide even more personalized recommendations and financial advice.

For now, Moka is rolling out an upgraded rewards program called Moka Perks that offers discounts and cashback through Uber Eats, Apple Music, HelloFresh and Staples. The goal is to help users offset the $3 monthly fee of investing with Moka through the app.

Ahead of its French debut, Moka is running its first digital video, which continues to emphasize the app’s core roundup investing service. The video was storyboarded internally and executed by agency Bonhomme Paris, and has been running in France – where Moka launched this week with 10,000 waitlisted users – since the beginning of July, and is now running across channels in Canada.

Having overcome the regulatory hurdles of bringing its fintech abroad, Barrar believes Moka will be able to enter other European markets with ease, although the company is mum regarding which ones it plans to target next. “France is our gateway to Europe and we’re excited to bring Moka to as many Europeans as possible,” he says.

Many considerations pointed to France as a viable entry point.

Based in Quebec, Moka already delivers a French product to Canadians. But more importantly, the country is home to 17 million millennials, its core target demo. According to a survey Moka conducted with Opinion Way, two thirds of French millennials have anxiety about achieving their goals, half struggle to save, and two thirds (65%) feel current financial services don’t offer investing that caters to their needs.

“There’s probably a little bit more of a culture of investing in Canada than they have in France,” says CMO David Haber. “It’s a more risk-averse culture, but the desire is there, certainly.”

The decision to rebrand was not made lightly, according to the founder and CMO. Rebranding comes with a significant amount of risk for young startups. In becoming Moka, the company is relinquishing three years’ worth of brand building and equity. But Barrar says the change is worth the potential upside in the long run.

“It’s tough to let go of the brand that you’ve invested so much into in the last three years,” Barrar says. “It’s really about, ‘How do you set yourself up for global success?’”

Haber adds, “How do we go from being Canada’s number one saving and investing app, that’s known for rounding up your purchases and investing in your spare change, to becoming the app that’s going to help you achieve your goals because we help you save more, spend less, invest smarter?”

In addition to working with Bonhomme on the new identity, Haber says he and Barrar spent time in Parisian bars and cafes (before the pandemic hit), speaking with young locals about the roughly dozen names it was considering for the rebrand. Those one-on-one discussions were supported with online quantitative research.

“Moka was a name that resonated with people,” he says. “It was associated with a ritual that exuded energy and social engagement and was thought of in a really positive connotation.”

To date, the company has raised $14 million in funding. In November 2019, it raised $10 million from the investment arms of National Bank and Desjardins Group, NAventures and Desjardins Capital. At that time, Mylo said it would use some of the funds to build new services and explore opportunities in international markets.

NAventures has also backed credit score monitoring fintech Borrowell (which has more than 1 million members) and Toronto-based Koho, which launched in 2017 – then rebranded a year later – and offers cashback and the ability to save by rounding up purchases. Meanwhile, Desjardins Capital launched a  $45 million fintech investment fund last June, building on investments it had made with 20 other fintechs over the years.

In recent years, many fintech players – at first averse to working with traditional banks – have faced costs and challenges associated with acquiring new customers and have partnered with established financial institutions to help accelerate their growth.

Although a number of fintech players have raised “5 to 20 times” more capital than Moka, according to Haber, the app has been downloaded by 750,000 Canadians. “In order to achieve that, we’ve needed to be extremely targeted, extremely efficient and strategic [in our marketing].”

Beyond advertising on Facebook, Instagram and Google, the company has focused on generating earned media. It has taken the same approach in France, having recruited Hélène Cazalières as a communications manager for that market. Prior to joining Moka, Cazalières managed the fintech department of one of France’s largest PR agencies.

Moka currently has 53 employees on staff, including a small presence in France, where it tapped Maxime Le Maître (a former Mylo project manager from Canada) as country lead.