Canada is one of Europe’s closest trading partners, and the rapid pace of Canadian development in artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, and IoT overlap with European priority areas and digital strengths. This makes Canada an attractive destination for tech-based foreign direct investment (FDI) from Europe.[1]

Recently, ICTC published two studies:

  1. CETA: Strengthening Canada-EU Ties and Scaling the Canadian Digital Economy

This study offers an overview one of Canada’s most progressive free trade agreements and identifies opportunities for improving Canada’s digital technology trade with the EU.

2. A New Partnership with the EU: CETA and Digital FDI Opportunities for Canada

This study examines both the opportunities and challenges of attracting ICT-centred FDI to Canada. It provides a snapshot of Canada’s tech ecosystems and the supports available for further growth.

As a follow-up to these recent publications, ICTC’s Manager of Labour Market Research, Maryna Ivus, met with Nicole Streuli- Fürst, Executive Vice President Operations and Research at RepRisk, to learn about RepRisk’s experiences as a European ICT company entering the Canadian market.

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Photo by Niamat Ullah on Unsplash

Maryna: Thank you for making the time to speak with me today. To begin, please provide a brief description of your company and its core business activities.

Nicole: RepRisk is a data science company in the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) field. We run the RepRisk ESG Risk Platform, a database on ESG issues such as corruption, environmental pollution, child labour, and human rights obstruction related to companies around the world. We gather this information on a daily basis from 90,000 sources in 20 languages by combining machine learning with human intelligence. Our clients are mostly financial institutions and corporations who use us for due diligence and risk management across their operations, business relationships, and investments.

Maryna: Aside from your company headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, what other countries is your company operational in?

Nicole: Manila, the Philippines; Berlin, Germany; and Toronto, Canada are our other key locations. We have a legal presence in the US, but for the time being we have only one employee who is based in New York.

Maryna: When did you begin operations in Canada? And what prompted this decision?

Nicole: We started our operations in Toronto in 2017. We were looking for a place to expand and that had a lot of foreign language capacity. Our biggest operations are in Manila, which is where we conduct English language research. We wanted a hub where we could get basically any language at a well-educated level. When we did our research, Canada stood out, and especially Toronto. We have also been looking at expanding into the US. We felt that opening in Canada was a bit easier than the US, at least at the start.

Maryna: What kind of presence does your company have in Canada?

Nicole: We began in a co-working space in Toronto and have since grown our operations to employ 18 people. Today, almost all company divisions are present in Canada. We have IT, Research (the biggest team), HR, and Admin capacity. We also have Sales operations in Canada, which is extremely important for future expansion.

Maryna: What have the results been of your company’s expansion into the Canadian market?

Nicole: We have been pleased with how things have gone. We are extremely happy with the talent we have found, especially in research and IT. For Research, we do find the multi-language analysts we are looking for. We did not anticipate that our IT team in Canada would grow as much as it did; IT was not our primary focus when we decided to expand to Canada, but now our second biggest IT team is in Canada. It was easy to get started here. There were not too many hurdles. We got some help through Toronto Global and we were in touch with Trade Commissioners who eased those first few steps for us, providing context, etc. In general, the legal side and the paperwork was structured and went well. We had lawyers helping us, but we followed the process, and everything went rather smoothly.

On a more personal note, I moved to Canada with my family. Both as a business professional and as a resident, I felt extremely welcomed. Canada is very open and supporting to new people. There is a culture of helping people to get on their feet.

Maryna: What would you say have been the biggest barriers or challenges in doing business with Canada in ICT?

Nicole: Maybe “challenge” is too big a word, but I was surprised at how banking worked in Canada. I was not expecting to be carrying checks around. I thought that was a little bit backward. The whole financial side of things could have been way more efficient; there was a lot of paperwork needed to just open a bank account.

Also, I was a little bit spoiled when it comes to public transport in Switzerland. That was a downgrade. I was surprised at how long commutes can take in Toronto, even if you live in the city centre. Public transportation does not really have priority over cars in Canada. That was something that affected everyone. Those who lived the closest to work typically biked. Commuting spurred a lot of conversations, like how strict we wanted to be about our mandatory office hours. We had to adapt to make sure that the burden was reasonable for everyone.

Maryna: Is your company planning to expand activities/presence in Canada? If yes, how?

Nicole: We are a growing company. For many of our open positions, we post job ads in at least three of our four global locations and then hire and expand wherever we find the best talent.

I have seen that there’s always a bit of randomness when you’re looking for talent. You don’t always know where to find the best talent. It depends on when you open the job ads and whether the best people for the role see it. We have not seen a pattern in where the best applications come from, therefore, we open it up to multiple locations. But in general, it will be natural to expand in Canada.

Maryna: Now I would like to talk about your attitude toward Canada and tech. What comes to mind when you think of Canada and ICT?

Nicole: The first thing that comes to mind is that there is a large gap between young startups and the old guard. The connections between the two sides could be stronger. In finance, for example, you have all these FinTech startups that are very different culture- and process-wise from the big traditional institutions. Many of these established companies are rather old in their ways, although they are trying to bridge the gap and evolve as well.

Maryna: How would you describe the general attitude of European ICT companies toward Canada?

Nicole: I can only speak for Switzerland, which is a tiny part of Europe. When I was back in Switzerland after setting up our Toronto operations, I was approached by a lot of small Swiss companies that were looking to expand into Canada as well.

Swiss people feel that they have a bond with Canada. I don’t know if it’s the mountains or something else, but it’s there. In terms of culture, people feel that Canada is somehow close to Switzerland. I feel this way as well. When we were deciding where to expand to in North America, it was very clear that it was going to be Canada. I think there is a general feeling that Canada is a friendly nation and that things can “go well” there, and so far, it seems to be materializing as I expected.

Maryna: Has your attitude toward Canada changed since you started operations? If so, how?

Nicole: I knew Canada before, and my attitudes have not changed. My husband has family in Canada, so there was a personal connection and familiarity there. There were no big surprises.

In terms of business, I think we were hopeful when we came here. Now that it has been three years, I can confirm that we are very happy with our decision.