Salmaan Moolla has already made an important difference in the community by spearheading the push to get financial literacy curriculum into Saskatchewan high school classrooms. Now, as the fifth-year business student and the company he runs with other U of R students and alumni prepare to expand their influence, there’s only one question that comes to mind. Just how bright is his future?
Salmaan Moolla is a changemaker who, over the past seven years, has worked steadily and passionately toward his goal of empowering people—high school students and adults alike—with the knowledge and tools they need to lead financially healthy lives.
Currently a fifth-year student in the University of Regina’s Hill and Levene Schools of Business, Sal—as he is commonly known—has already dedicated years as a high school student, university student and young entrepreneur to understanding and learning how to bring together his two biggest passions in life: financial literacy and socially conscious business.
“Personal finance is one of the most stressful things in a person’s life,” says Moolla. “I want to make financial literacy accessible for everyone, whether you live in Regina, Toronto or Vancouver, or in a small town like Yorkton or on a First Nation. I want to give people the ability to build a stronger financial outlook for their lives.”
“We want to give the confidence and power back to the individual so that when they go to speak with a financial advisor, they will know what they want,” Moolla adds.
Step by step with each initiative he has undertaken— from helping to develop curriculum for high school financial literacy classes across Saskatchewan to creating digital financial education tools and now innovating financial technology applications to improve Canadians’ ability to make sound financial decisions—Moolla has been laying a solid foundation for his concept of finding business solutions to meet community needs.
“There’s never been an easier time for a person to learn about financial literacy,” explains Moolla, whose student-led financial technology or fintech company, FiFo Technologies, is an emerging leader in Western Canada.
FiFo is developing personal financial management software that financial institutions can offer to their customers in order to help them understand their finances in a wholistic manner— from budgeting, investing and goal setting to understanding what investment and saving strategies best suit their individual needs.
“We want to give the confidence and power back to the individual so that when they go to speak with a financial advisor, they will know what they want,” Moolla adds. “It’s a whole new way for people to interact and engage with their banks. A lack of financial education is affecting banks negatively with soured loans, but if you can educate the customers, you’ll see a stronger customer-bank relationship and the positive effects of a financially stable consumer bringing more money into a financial institution. It’s a win-win for everyone if you just put people first.”
In October, Moolla and his colleagues at FiFo, who are all students and alumni from the University of Regina, were accepted into one of Canada’s leading fintech accelerator programs, Cooperathon, run by Desjardins.
“Only the top 30 fintech startups in the country are accepted into the program,” explains Moolla. “One of the 12 challenges they are running this fall focuses on how companies can help Canadians become more financially literate. It was the perfect thing for our concept and idea.”
FiFo is the first Saskatchewan company to ever apply and make it into the accelerator program. Accelerator programs like the Cooperathon provide young startup companies with an immersive, hands-on experience in a short timeframe to develop their business concepts with the support of industry experts and specialized training. FiFo is also the only company competing from the Prairies.
“I am so happy for Sal and the FiFo team for all the success they’re having,” says Eric Dillon, CEO of Conexus and a long-time mentor to Moolla. “To have Sal be recognized by a financial cooperative like Desjardins as being one of the top 30 most promising fintechs—and the only one that’s been accepted into their program ever from Saskatchewan—obviously confirms that his idea has merit and he’s onto something.”
The importance of support from industry experts, academics, and private and public companies cannot be overstated. Their role in providing mentorship, time, money and expertise helps students with ambition and dreams achieve their goals and make a positive impact on their local, national and global communities.
For students like Moolla, being able to develop strong connections with and gain support from business and community leaders, such as Dillon, can make a huge impact on their ability to realize their career and personal goals.
At the annual Achieving Business Excellence (ABEX) Awards in Saskatchewan, Conexus and the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce regularly host members of the Saskatchewan Business Teachers’ Association and their high school students studying business. Moolla was one of the students from Campbell Collegiate chosen to attend in 2013, and he vividly recalls his first meeting with Eric Dillon.
“I was just talking with Eric about my idea to bring financial literacy into the high school curriculum in Saskatchewan, and he challenged me to do something to address financial literacy,” Moolla reminisces.
“Financial literacy is a real challenge in Saskatchewan and across Canada,” says Dillon. “I told Sal, the best businesses are created when there are real life experiences that are solved with startup magic. You’re onto a real, lived problem. If you can find a way to solve that, it would be very powerful.”
As a high school student at the time, Moolla was already prominently involved in the Business Club at Campbell Collegiate, and was named as one of CBC’s Future 40 young leaders for his youth leadership and community involvement.
As a high school student at the time, Moolla was already prominently involved in the Business Club at Campbell Collegiate, and was named as one of CBC’s Future 40 young leaders for his youth leadership and community involvement. In his role as an executive member of the Campbell Business Club, Moolla learned first-hand the importance of networking with members of the local business community and developed an understanding of the business climate in the province. He also had the chance to participate as a self-described guinea pig in his school’s locally-developed pilot program on financial literacy in Grade 12.
“The minute you graduate from high school, financial independence becomes a core concept in your life that you’re never really taught in your high school setting, such as budgeting, student loans, and good and bad credit,” says Moolla.
During the first several years of his university experience, Moolla volunteered countless hours to support the development of financial literacy programs for both individuals and high school students.
Dillon’s challenge to improve financial literacy for individuals always hovered in the back of Moolla’s mind after he entered the Hill and Levene Schools of Business at the University of Regina in 2014. New opportunities to become involved in University clubs, such as the Hill Business Students’ Society and Enactus Regina, an entrepreneurship and social innovation student club, as well as engagement with key professors at the University, helped him to push the concept of financial literacy from a focus on creating educational programming to financial technology applications.
During the first several years of his university experience, Moolla volunteered countless hours to support the development of financial literacy programs for both individuals and high school students. In partnership with the Regina Open Door Society and with the support of his personal finance course with professor Jim McKenzie, Moolla and his fellow students applied their university education to developing and teaching a financial literacy course for new Canadians.
“The participants were from countries such as Syria, Ethiopia, Somalia, Pakistan and India, and many were used to a cash system,” explains Moolla. “They didn’t understand digital financial systems. We helped them transition to their Canadian lifestyle and to educate them, because they were being targeted by scams and providers of high-interest loans and credit cards.”
The idea of experiencing setbacks doesn’t phase Moolla; rather, it motivates him to alter his course and continue on.
Inspired by this experience, Moolla participated in developing and bringing financial literacy programming to local high school students. The success of that initiative was the impetus for the provincial government to incorporate financial literacy programming in all high school curricula. Students and teachers are seeing the benefits.
“Learning the skills necessary to be financially literate before I navigate the post-high school world allows me to be proactive and confident about my financial decisions,” says Sarah Weimer, a Grade 12 student at Campbell Collegiate. She took Financial Literacy 30 last year. “Having an understanding of fundamental topics such as credit and budgeting will be key as I soon begin to build my credit history. I may even think twice before buying an expensive coffee!”
For Jill Labas, who has been teaching business at Campbell Collegiate for four years now and is a close friend of Moolla’s, the mentorship role that high school graduates like Moolla can play for students is invaluable.
“People like Sal are leading by example and they help our students set their own goals,” says Labas. She has watched Moolla’s ideas for addressing the problem of financial illiteracy develop and change over the years. “Sal’s a local guy creating his own fintech company, and it’s a huge asset to students when he shares his time and insight about being an entrepreneur and what you need to know about money to develop a business.”
Being a mentor to students is important to him.
“Not in the sense of telling them what they should be doing, but I try to encourage an open mindset,” says Moolla, who is extremely grateful for all the mentorship and support he is receiving on his journey as a social business entrepreneur. “I’m always down for a coffee.”
As a student himself, Moolla has taken the financial literacy projects he has created in university and tested them out in competition after competition. He tirelessly pitches his and his teammates’ ideas to peers and industry experts to revise, build upon, and evolve their solutions and business concepts for advancing financial literacy and now financial technology.
“Sal has certainly successfully applied business-related content from inside the classroom to build his financial literacy acumen and aid his startup journey,” says Lisa Watson, Enactus Regina faculty advisor and associate dean (Research and Graduate Programs) in the Hill and Levene Schools of Business. “In the Hill and Levene Schools, we really focus on helping our students to grow personally and in business, and develop their peer networks. The relationships that he has built with professors, business community members and fellow students through the University, and his involvement in experiential learning activities we offer outside of the classroom, have really taken him to the next level.”
Moolla’s involvement in the Enactus club at the University of Regina is one example. Over the years, his teams have won several regional and national competitions with their financial literacy projects. He has also participated in key business development incubators, such as Cultivator in Saskatchewan. These hands-on activities have been key to the successful transition of his business concepts for financial literacy.
“It’s easy to look at founders like Skip the Dishes,” says Dillon. “Yes, some founders get rich, but what people don’t see are the founders like Sal who have been at this for years and are deeply committed to making the world a better place through their business. They have to grind it out over long hours with lots of setbacks, pivots and speed bumps.”
The idea of experiencing setbacks doesn’t phase Moolla; rather, it motivates him to alter his course and continue on.
“I want to be a part of growing financial literacy,” he says. “I know failures will come along—you even want failures to come along—but it’s how you adapt to those failures and grow from them that makes something a success.”
Ultimately, Moolla plans to use his financial successes to support social benefit.
“Someday, I want to be able to utilize revenue generated from our company to fund an education-specific aspect of FiFo that would then provide this technology to schools throughout the province for free,” stresses Moolla. “High school students could utilize our fintech applications to the max and continue to apply them as they make financial decisions as adults.”
“I applaud Sal and his cofounders for their continued level of enthusiasm and commitment,” says Dillon. “They know financial literacy is a big problem, and they’re working their butts off to help solve it and make the world a better place— what’s more noble than that?”
You can support a student like Sal by making a secure online gift today by visiting giving.uregina.ca/achieve. Your gift and your belief in your University builds a solid foundation of support for students.
Photos by Trevor Hopkin, University Photography and courtesy of Salmaan Moolla unless otherwise noted.