Randy Johal is our Product Director, Forge Business Suite, and has over 25 years of experience in business and banking solutions. Randy’s strategic insights into small business coupled with his ability to understand how financial institutions can better serve them have made him a widely sought-after leader. Randy was formally trained as an accountant in the UK before owning his own business and becoming increasingly interested in technology-enabled business. Randy has led teams who provided business solutions to top global companies including Hertz, Citizens Bank of Canada and Vancity Credit Union. While at Vancity, Randy was among a group of select thought leaders invited to observe and learn from the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna as it is recognized as one of the most successful wealth-generated cooperative economies in the world.
In 2013, Randy took the leap to Central 1 Credit Union to develop leading edge payment opportunities that would create the optimal direct banking experiences (both online and mobile), namely MemberDirect Small Business and MemberDirect Business. Randy, in his current role currently leads the roll out of these innovative products with the Forge Business suite so that Central 1 can enable financial institutions across the country to better serve small business owners through technology. Learn more about him in our exclusive interview:
Tell us about yourself and how your background has contributed to your passion for small businesses?
My connection to small businesses began as a child, as my parents had a general store selling food, newspapers and other household items. As I got older, I would work there in the evenings and weekends to help and give them a break. Working in a small business that opens at 5AM and closes at 10PM at night is extremely taxing for anybody. The margins were very tight and any changes in the marketplace created a significant impact and strain (much like what we are seeing with COVID-19).
An example of this was when supermarket chains rolled out longer hours and how this impacted my parents emotionally and business-wise. I also remember the significance of interest rate increases on their financial margins. Seeing these changes impact people you care about is challenging, and it brought home to me how creating solutions and support can provide a peace of mind to help positively impact business owners to understand their challenges and have options to address them. It gives me passion knowing that we are able to make a difference for those small businesses going forward.
We heard you were once a small business entrepreneur yourself?
Yes! In the mid-1990’s, I founded a business with a friend. As young entrepreneurs, we researched how we could provide frozen ready meals for the growing takeout market at the time, as the concept of having ethnic dishes outside of a restaurant was relatively unknown. Through our testing and exploration, we refined the ability to produce on scale and freeze product with the right ingredients so that when prepared at home, they would retain restaurant-quality. We sold this successfully to several national wholesalers and it was very exciting to see. We won a taste testing contest with a number of renowned competitors for a famous brand. Like many small businesses, there’s a certain growth stage where capital is required. One of the overriding memories was how we were roundly dismissed at this growth stage by larger banks and venture capitalists, depicting a reality at the time that it wasn’t necessarily the importance or success of ideas, but who one knew.
Now you’re leading teams and developing products for small businesses – what motivates you as the Product Director for the Forge Business Suite?
As the Director for business products, I like to think back to the times where I would have appreciated support as a small business owner. Generally, it’s a case of adapting products and services to meet the changing environments that small businesses operate in. We saw that when we interviewed small businesses through the planning of Forge Small Business, and more recently in a more dramatic way with COVID-19. The reality is that we need to consistently pursue elevated ways to serve small businesses and their customers. We need to enable financial institutions towards digital transformation in a way that creates convenience for business owners, allowing them to focus further on deepening customer relations and operations rather than administrative capabilities.
You are recognized as an industry expert that’s frequently asked to speak at Board of Trade events, Payment Summits and CKNW – you’re also a contributing expert with the Globe and Mail and other business syndicates – it’s obvious you’ve dedicated a lot of time in the business sector – tell us what you have learned:
I’ve learned that irrespective of the size or sector, small businesses face similar challenges. This could be cash flow management, identifying partners to work with, finding new customers, staff management and handling legal and human resources affairs. These are areas that small business owners are expected to handle but in wearing multiple hats, are often unqualified for. They have to learn quickly, thus the importance of searching for partners to help them be more effective.
This support network to small businesses has grown significantly across multiple areas. Small business accounting packages, fintecs providing particular solutions and financial institutions have been expanding their range of services. The key to supporting small businesses is to bring this network together for a small business owner to access when they need help. If there are fragmented experiences, the effectiveness of this support diminishes, as a time-strapped business owner has limited cycles to look at areas of support. There is also the concept of providing insights, so that when a small business owner is sleeping any areas of concern are monitored and highlighted for their action. In summary, support networks need to have my back based on what is actually happening in my business.
How does Forge Small Business play into this digital transformation?
Digital transformation is in many cases, both the survival strategy and the key to thriving for small businesses. This enables them to level the playing field against bigger competitors in having access to similar tools and opportunities. This will be key to their success in a marketplace that has completely changed on a global scale in just six months.
Learn more about Forge Small business