Taking a cue from Far Eastern trading companies, one former Canadian banking executive has become a matchmaker for banks.
Helen Sinclair, who stepped down as president of the Canadian Bankers Association in June, founded BankWorks Trading Inc. with an eye to pairing banks with organizations - including other banks - that want to buy their technology and expertise.
BankWorks is based on the same principle that Asian trading houses have perfected - finding foreign markets for the products of local companies.
But, instead of commodities, the firm trades brain power. "We're buying and selling financial company infrastructure," said Ms. Sinclair.
With four clients signed on as of the end of July, and "the phones ringing" all of August, the Toronto-based company has already found a niche peddling training software and capital markets expertise to banks in Latin America.
Credit training software and courses have been particularly popular there, says Ms. Sinclair. "Latin American banks have not had a great deal of experience with market-based credit, but that's a staple skill set that we take for granted."
The two-person trading house maintains its headquarters in Toronto's financial district, just steps away from Ms. Sinclair's former colleagues at the trade group and the Bank of Nova Scotia.
Ms. Sinclair's business strategy has a dual focus - on marketing bank training courses and training software on one hand, and marketing payment systems technology on the other.
With her partner, fellow Bank of Nova Scotia alumna Danika Lavoie, Ms. Sinclair has amassed a loose-knit freelance network of academics and technology experts who help BankWorks in its mission overseas.
The firm reaps licensing fees for deals it forges between Canadian banks and foreign buyers. BankWorks also will manage projects, such as assigning academics to customize coursework materials and run classroom training programs.
To Ms. Sinclair, the trading possibilities are endless. One of her ideas is to sell obsolete automated teller machines owned by banks to retail stores that want to market affinity products through them. Another idea is to repackage the Interac point of sale debit network developed jointly among Canada's banks and sell the concept abroad.
"You have to be a lateral thinker," she says.
Entrepreneurship is a new test for Ms. Sinclair, who started her career as an economist at the Bank of Nova Scotia in Toronto after graduating from York College and the University of Toronto. Her 12-year stint at the bank ended in 1989, when she was appointed to head the CBA.
As the head of the 54-member trade organization, Ms. Sinclair fought on a number of fronts, most visibly a failed campaign to loosen Canadian regulations regarding banks in the insurance business.
But, Ms. Sinclair points proudly to successes, such as helping member banks develop a standard protocol for electronic data interchange.
The self-described workaholic hopes to translate Canadian interest in trading with Latin American institutions into deals among banks in North America, even between market rivals in the United States.
But first, she says, the idea must find acceptance.
"It's a pull on the heartstrings. We have to convince banks that their competitive advantage isn't in the tools they've created, it's in the execution. Why not sell your loan system to the competition? They will probably buy it from someone else anyway."