Janet Bannister, Real Ventures
A good way to gauge the future is to watch where technology money goes, and that makes Janet Bannister one of fintech’s best barometers.
Name an innovation that’s changed retail payments—mobile, e-commerce, AI—and Bannister, one of PaymentSource’s Most Influential Women in Payments for 2019, has been there from the start.
She’s worked as consultant, investor, board member and mentor. As far back as 2001, Bannister was director of category development at eBay, helping to grow the giant digital marketplace from a collectibles venue to a multi-million dollar marketplace in books, clothing, home and garden, and jewelry. Later, Bannister became one of the best-known innovators in Canada when she founded the classified ad site Kijiji, which became one of Canada’s most popular websites before becoming part of eBay.
Now she’s spotting the next wave, with a focus on hot trends such as alternative merchant credit and how changes in the way people work alter the way they manage the money.
For the past six years, the University of Western Ontario graduate has been an impossible-to- miss fixture in Toronto’s technology investment scene as a partner at Real Ventures, spotting the innovators who will create the next generation of financial and retail technology. Real has a $150 million fund dedicated to early-stage tech companies and it invests in 12 to 15 new companies a year from that fund. Fintech is the largest single category of investments.
From there, Bannister has helped lead investments and worked with a dozen companies, such as PartnerStack, a reseller and marketing company; Kooltra, a forex technology company; and Instant, a company that’s at the fore of changing payroll.
As payrolls rapidly evolve beyond the traditional two-week cycle in the sharing economy, Instant rewrites the relationship between employees and their salary. Staff can get paid after every shift, and can use Instant’s card to make payments at Visa and Mastercard merchants and access more than 33,000 no fee ATMs. The fintech counts Papa John’s, McDonald's, Carrabra’s and Chili’s among its clients.
Bannister is also at the ground floor for changes in marketing as Real invests in Clearbanc, an alternative business fundraising startup that funds business in exchange for a revenue share of earnings until the loan is paid back. Clearbanc has build technology that scans a business’ Stripe or Facebook ads, alongside other sources to determine that company's financial health and potential. It made about $100 million in loans to more than 500 companies in 2018.
Fintech continues to be a popular target for investors, particularly as established companies add new technology to keep up with startups, Bannister said.
“We are seeing aggressive reactions from incumbents even if it means they are cannibalizing themselves,” she said.
Bannister has also been involved with funding startups like Dream Payments, a mobile payments payments company which has added a payments cloud, collaborations with Mastercard and new transaction technology for merchant acquirers and insurance.
“There’s been continued innovation in the fintech sector and continued funding, which creates credibility,” Bannister said. “Fintech companies are getting more credibility among businesses and consumers.”
Bannister sits on myriad boards, including Canvass, an AI-driven platform for manufacturers; Hubba, a meeting place for brands and retailers; as well as Dream Payments and Instant. She’s also working to bridge the gender gap at VC companies, where the percentage of female partners at VC firms is still in the single digits for most industries.
“My father has always believed in me from a young age of 5 or 6,” Bannister said. “He told me I could do anything I wanted to do and that’s always been a huge source of confidence.”