What we did
Cloud-first at almost 100 years old
Headquartered in Montréal, Fairstone Financial Inc. provides personal and home equity loans to everyday Canadians, as well as flexible automobile and retail point-of-sale financing programs. With roots in Canada for almost 100 years, the responsible lending solutions leader migrated to a cloud-first strategy on AWS in 2018, to keep pace with digital disruption in the financial services industry and accelerate its own digital transformation.
Due to the pandemic, many businesses slowed down—and some even shuttered. But in the financial services industry the pace of change accelerated. “Disruption in consumer lending, along with assertive competition and the evolution of technology, made us pause and rethink our priorities and where the focus needs to be to maintain a best-in-class borrowing experience for our customers,” says François Côté, Chief Digital & Technology Officer at Fairstone.
Beyond the results, the relationship and team spirit created among the combined delivery teams made a big difference, especially as we were all going through unprecedented times.
Maintaining a competitive cadence
Fairstone’s IT team is highly skilled but needed some outside support and expertise to stay nimble. Lengthy RFPs and bringing partners up to speed on complex business requirements can bog down a lean team. “To keep up with the transformative changes required to drive growth, meet customers’ needs, and attract the right talent, we needed to be able to react more quickly,” says Côté.
In addition to elevating his team’s IT capabilities, the leader wanted to resolve specific pain points for his customers, merchants, and internal teams. Fairstone needed a trusted partner to help migrate its in-house applications to contactless ones and scale up the business. After Côté considered our expertise with AWS, Fairstone landed with Slalom. We also had experience with Amazon’s unique approach to product development.
“We work backwards from the customer, rather than starting with an idea for a product and trying to bolt customers onto it,” says Côté. “In 2020, it was a constant challenge to find the right partner experienced in the AWS virtual environment. We were already on the cloud, and we needed the right technical, highly skilled talent to integrate into our culture, complete our team, and collaborate on key digital transformation projects.” Enter Slalom.
We worked with Fairstone to implement several strategic initiatives using AWS services across compute, storage, databases, analytics, networking, and mobile. We enabled developers with new cloud-based tools and helped set up AWS security services and management tools for optimal control. It’s the first financial institution in Canada to move its business entirely to the AWS cloud.
We also deployed Amazon WorkSpaces, which allowed Fairstone to provision virtual, cloud-based desktops to more than 1,400 employees in 240 branches and centralized offices across Canada. This service allows the business to quickly add or remove users as their needs change, and employees can access their virtual desktops from multiple devices or web browsers.
This new approach allows Fairstone’s teams to scale up or down as needed on projects, without losing time on RFPs, contracts, or third-party training. “It’s like a vending machine infrastructure—we integrate talent into our core team to keep the velocity going. And then if we need more velocity, we outsource again,” says Côté.
Other IT initiatives we helped deploy to maintain Fairstone’s place as an industry disruptor include:
Creating a new online account-management web application to improve the customer experience.
Co-developing a machine learning model to reduce manual intervention in loan approvals.
Using Shopify and Magento to expand the company’s ecommerce offerings for merchants.
Revamping and automating processes to decrease merchant onboarding time—for both merchants and Fairstone’s internal teams.
We now have access to highly skilled resources who give us the ability to react to sudden changes in the marketplace. This approach has helped us increase velocity without compromising the quality of our work.
A two-pizza, one-team partnership
Fairstone’s digital and technology (D&T) team finds inspiration in the “two-pizza team rule,” where two pizzas are enough to feed the entire group. D&T workers are divided into small, decentralized teams comprising Fairstone and Slalom resources, who are empowered to foster agility, ownership, and accountability. “The goal was to leverage our deep expertise in software engineering while showing how uniquely Slalom can scale locally, with a global level of expertise. The result is a team that reached unprecedented levels of quality and velocity,” says Lionel Pimpin, General Manager for Eastern Canada at Slalom.
“Our product teams own and run what they build along with Slalom resources and are not afraid to experiment and learn,” says Côté. “We now have access to highly skilled resources who give us the ability to react to sudden changes in the marketplace. This approach has helped us increase velocity without compromising the quality of our work.”
Fairstone increased the work done in the retail sector by more than 700% in 2021 compared to 2020, even though the size of its technical team increased by just 300% during that same period.
“Slalom and AWS helped us continue to innovate at a faster pace during the pandemic. The benefits of our partnership to scale product teams up and down with Slalom resources are helping us offer a best-in-class experience,” says Côté. “It’s allowing us to rapidly and efficiently grow our D&T team with highly skilled talent, which is vital in today’s ever-changing business environment.”
“More importantly, beyond the results, the relationship and team spirit created among the combined delivery teams made a big difference, especially as we were all going through unprecedented times,” says Pimpin. “We want to thank the whole Fairstone organization for their commitment and for the opportunity to work within an amazing organization.”
Fairstone continues to work with Slalom and invest in the AWS cloud platform to respond to its evolving customer needs. This includes innovating through technology and attracting and retaining top tech talent, as well as evolving how teams work together to create value-based outcomes.
“We’re 100 years old, but we’re running on some of the most advanced technologies out there and we’re empowered to use technology to drive innovative outcomes,” says Côté. “We aspire to learn through Agile projects and create a blueprint to scale this Agile methodology across the organization.”