WFP Article

Winnipeg Free Press Article: Beautifully Simple Software

Conquest Planning lands $3 million in seed financing for web-based financial planning system

Mark Evans, the computer science prof turned software entrepreneur, has been biding his time since selling EISI (Emerging Information Systems Inc.) more than eight years ago after founding it the early 1990s and building it into the leading financial planning software product in Canada.

He has come out of a rapid development phase with a new company in the same space called Conquest Planning Inc., and he’s pretty sure he has an offering that will shake up that sector.

Recently, the company landed $3 million in seed financing from the prestigious fintech venture capital firm Portag3 and U.K.-based Eight Roads.

Evans said he hopes to be able to hit the market in the next few months with some large enterprise-sized customers.

Conquest has built a web-based financial planning software solution that is a lot easier to use for the financial planner and presents a much simpler format for the planner to collaborate with their clients, thanks partly to the development of computing technology that just was not available a decade ago.

“We wanted to make sure our solution was powerful, yet super simple to use,” Evans said. “One of the problems with existing financial planning software, including our previous incarnations (from EISI), is that they required too much trial and error on the user’s part.”

The old system could simulate a lot of scenarios but it was up to the user to figure out which numbers to change and what parameter to modify in order to illustrate different savings or withdrawals or insurance strategies. 

“What we have done this time around is build an AI (artificial intelligence) engine that takes the universe of strategies and ranks them for a client,” he said. “Then it tailors that universe of strategies to that particular client and does so in split-second analysis. Those kinds of tools were not available before.”

When it was sold in 2011 to Milwaukee-based Zywave Inc., EISI had more than 250,000 users and was the go-to tool for most in the enterprise-sized financial planning networks in Canada and the U.S.

Investors Group’s financial planning team, the largest in the country, was a client of EISI.

Portag3, the Canadian-based fintech venture capital firm, which raised $427 million for its second fund in December, is backed by IGM Financial, Great-West Lifeco and the Desmarais family holding companies.

It’s not to say that IGM and Great-West Lifeco’s operating companies will immediately switch their planners to Evans’ new platform, but Conquest Planning might have an easier time getting those doors to open.  

“Portag3 was the firm that we wanted to encourage to back us from the get-go when we first envisioned getting back into the game,” said Evans. “We had some relationships with Power Corp. through previous dealings with Investors Group and Great-West Life (whose operating companies are now all Canada Life). We had some connections there but we obviously had to prove ourselves.”

A spokesperson for Portag3 was not available, but Conquest Planning is likely the first Canadian investment of its second fund. Originally formed in 2016 as part of the Power Financial Corporation ecosystem — which includes Great-West Lifeco and IGM Financial Inc. — its mandate is to find “the big thinkers — the ambitious, creative entrepreneurs who will reshape the financial services industry to benefit all consumers.”

Evans said being connected with Portag3 will definitely help with access. One of the reasons Portag3 is in the fintech world is to help the companies in the Power Corp. ecosystem.

The development process kept about seven people busy for a year and the company now has about 20 employees. Evans said this time the idea is to go global (although he’s not thinking about the U.S. market for now), including cracking into the U.K. market with the help from Eight Roads.

But even when it’s fully scaled up, he envisions he’ll need a team less than half the size that EISI had when it was sold.

The nine-year hiatus was partly forced on Evans. Before EISI was sold, he was diagnosed with cancer that then spread. He said he spent much of 2012 undergoing intense treatment.

“Touch wood, I am stable now,” he said.

“When we sold EISI I was not looking to get back in the game, I was just trying to stay alive. I am well now and enjoying things. The second time around is a lot more fun. There is a little more financial security as well.”