In the wake of the massive security breach by Equifax, a Victoria-based company is getting attention for developing a new screening tool that looks beyond credit scores to assess the suitability of would-be renters and borrowers.

The company, named Certn, rates potential tenants and borrowers using databases that analyze their social and behavioural profiles instead of purely financial criteria. 

"A credit check doesn't really assess how clean or credible or kind an applicant is," Andrew McLeod, a CEO of Certn told On the Island host Gregor Craigie.

Last month, the software company took a welcome piece of hardware back to their eclectically furnished downtown office, which features a black helicopter that was a prop in the film Oceans Eleven.

It was an award worth $10,000 from the BC Innovation Council and the non-profit New Ventures BC Society, recognizing the year-old company as the province's top regional startup.

McLeod said the company compiled 110 different databases into the largest risk-relevant database in the world. It includes information such as eviction records, complaints and negative news stories about individuals.

Victoria startup Certn staff

Co-founder Andrew McLeod, front right, and staff of Certn won a $10,000 New Ventures Competition award from the BC Innovation Council for top tech startup outside Vancouver. (Chris Cook)

"If someone showed up on a fraud watch list in India or China or Japan, our database is able to pull that information and give our lenders or our customers the information they need to make the right risk decisions," he said.

The company developed algorithms in consultation with scientists and psychologists to analyze how individual data profiles reflected reliability or risk.

McLeod said most people don't realize employers and landlords are already looking at their social media profiles and applying their own biases to photos of a potential client or tenant's friends, partners and weekend activities.

Saw need for screening

All three CEOs at Certn worked at Vancouver-based company Rentmoola, which developed the first app that allowed tenants in Canada to pay rent online or with a credit card.

McLeod said the trio saw the need in the tight rental market of Vancouver and Victoria for a screening tool that would allow good applicants to stand out for qualities besides a high credit score.

"If your credit isn't the best you could be the cleanest best renter in the world and you may never have had a credit card," McLeod said.

"You can't get access to that place. So we saw a real need and decided to start something on our own."

Qualifying for a rental is less of a concern for the staff of the startup since the company moved to Victoria from Vancouver.

"I joke that our staff in Vancouver could afford to live in their van, and here they can afford to buy a house and a van," McLeod said.


With files from CBC Radio One's On the Island