A new unbanked credit card promising cardholders the world is on the horizon in Canada. But a long wait without a card and some questionable security requirements have some applicants sounding the alarm.
Brim Financial is the company behind a new Mastercard called Brim. “The credit card revolution is here!” the website proclaims, promising to help consumers “unlock the world.” The card promises an ultra-flexible rewards program called Brim Open Rewards where more points can be collected based on how often you buy certain brands, not where you buy them or what product category they belong to.
Brim also promises they can be redeemed for anything – cash back, travel, merchandise and more – all on one card. Other features include access to free Wi-Fi at 1 million Boingo hotspots around the world, opportunities to earn points and pay for merchandise through installments at a lower interest rate without affecting your existing available credit and the ability to lock your card and track your spending through an accompanying app. But the feature that really made applicants take notice was no foreign transaction fees on any international purchases in any currency.
“What initially got my attention about the Brim Mastercard was their zero per cent foreign transaction fee,” says Ahmed Dawn, a finance and travel author and blogger. “As a data integrity analyst for a major wealth management corporation, I do a lot of travelling and there’s only one other card on the Canadian market – Home Trust Preferred Visa – that makes the same offer.”
Dawn applied for the Brim Mastercard when it first arrived on the scene in February 2018 as one of its earliest and most enthusiastic champions. But now, almost five months after submitting his application, (as of publication of this article) he’s still waiting, along with every other applicant.
Brimming with optimism?
Mention of Brim began to appear on the personal finance threads of the forums RedFlagDeals.com and Reddit in early February with a launch date on Brim’s website of March 2018. At first, the feeling was optimistic as users “brimmed” with anticipation for the impending launch. The launch date came and went and to this day, still no market-changing credit card.
“I applied six months ago. Got a call for ID verification three months ago. Still no card, no details, no updates. I plan to call and cancel my application, even though they hard pulled my credit three months ago,” read part of a post from May 2018 by Matthew, an applicant who goes by ComplexCandle on Reddit.
As the wait got longer over the proceeding months with no communication from Brim (one Reddit user even reported that they were blocked by Brim on Twitter simply for asking about their application), many wondered if Brim was just a dummy website fronting some kind of scam, especially when applicants said they could see that an inquiry had been made on their credit file, but hearing nothing from the company.
Currently, there are no documented official complaints against the company.
“To date we have not received any inquiries on this organization,” said Jessica Gunson, acting call centre and intake unit manager with Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
So if Brim’s not a scam, what is their story how can the company seemingly offer credit card applicants the moon and then stay silent for so long?
Beneath the Brim
Yahoo Finance Canada reached out to Brim Financial to find out, but they were unwilling to comment on the situation publicly before publication. They are looking to speak to media outlets in “a few weeks,” according to an email exchange with a Brim employee.
According to corporate filings with the Canadian Federal Government, Brim Financial Inc. began its life as KREDITShare Inc from 2015 to 2017 before changing its name to Brim. The CEO and co-founder is Rasha Katabi, former managing director of Merrill Lynch Canada and part of the Tech and Innovation Advisory Council at Sick Kids Hospital. Other major players listed include John Reucassel, former managing director at BMO Capital Markets and Christian Lassonde, founder and Managing Partner of Impression Ventures, a major financial technology venture capitalist firm that invested in WealthSimple.
So if the people at the top are legit, what’s the hold-up? Dawn thinks he knows.
“When I didn’t hear from Brim three months after submitting my application, I decided to give them a call,” he says.
“They said they had not anticipated the huge interest in the Brim Mastercard and were not prepared for the amount of applications they would receive, so they’ve moved their launch date from March to late spring 2018 and are processing each application on a first come, first serve basis as part of their pre-launch phase.”
At the moment, Dawn remains hopeful that he just has to be a little bit more patient that Brim will get around to his application and everything will be business as usual. He’s a man with over 30 credit cards, so a little bit of a delay on one of them doesn’t mean much to him. For others, the wait they’ve already had to endure is already a deal breaker.
Even if things are legitimate, Brim’s business practices have done enough to turn off customers: lack of disclosure, (including the company’s history, source of liquidity, and names of directors of the corporation) lack of transparency and lack of communication have all sent up red flags. Brim has collected data from hundreds, if not thousands of individuals who are now unsure whether a credit card is actually coming.
“Brim also does not appear to be serious about its business,” says Matthew.
He questions why Brim’s executives would give priority to attending events like TechFest Toronto and Monday Girl Toronto’s The Future is Female event – giving the appearance of legitimacy to those in attendance – when their product doesn’t technically exist yet?
“Why should I trust this company?” he asks.
The Brim identity
With late spring upon us as of this writing, Brim’s true official launch should be right around the corner and some credit card applicants have been contacted by Brim to move their application forward. While most applicants report being asked standard credit application questions and to email the company a utility bill in a process that takes less than five minutes, some applicants are asked to fill out this extensive document and send it in signed by a lawyer, doctor or surgeon before their identity can be verified.
“Asking a potential customer to verify their ID for the purposes of a credit card application by hiring a surgeon, doctor, or lawyer is ridiculous and bizarre,” says Ryan Sieber, an applicant who was asked to fill out and send back the form.
“I have refused to provide the required ‘identification agent agreement’,” says Sieber. “I feel the request far exceeds a reasonable requirement to verify identification for the purposes of a credit card application. Furthermore, I think it is unethical that a company asks our already taxed health care professionals to act as bank branch agents for the purposes of identification checks, nor am I willing to visit a doctor’s office while I am perfectly healthy. I do not personally know any surgeons, medical doctors, or lawyers and wouldn’t expect them to perform this paperwork gratis.”
Dipen Shah was asked to go through the same process after applying for the Brim Mastercard on behalf of his wife.
“Its bizarre to be honest,” Shah says. “That is some kind of intense verification that they have. It feels like I was applying for a passport or something. I don’t care much about credit cards, as I already have many, but a move like that is definitely taking more customers away from a new business which is not good for them.”
Both Shah and Sieber have written to Brim’s chief privacy officer Nadim Abdo requesting Brim withdraw their application and the company has complied. Neither of them were told what about their application triggered this greater level of scrutiny.
“I was hoping they we take my concerns about their verification process more seriously and try to rectify the issue,” says Sieber. “I haven’t heard of any other applicant being asked for this document so it is possible that they have changed their process already. In the future, I will choose a credit card provider with greater care.”
He has subsequently applied for the Home Trust Preferred Visa Card – the only other credit card in Canada offering no foreign exchange fees on purchases.
“I would caution others to avoid Brim until they actually launch a product and there is some positive reports that they can be trusted with your data and personal finances,” he says. “I believe consumers should have a right to know what can be asked of them before they start the application process.”