I Help Immigrants Build New Lives (and Credit)

My family and I were denied housing, car rentals and even hotel reservations, all because we didn’t have a credit card.

Kingsley Madu
Illustration by Adrian Hogan

April 17, 2024

I’ve wanted to travel the world since I was a teenager. In 2009, after studying mechanical engineering at a university in Nigeria, I got a job with an oil and gas company that sent me to Texas. Three years later, I moved to India for work and, since then, I’ve lived in 15 countries. During all that globetrotting, I met and married my wife, Bola, and we had two children. For years, Bola and the kids were going back and forth between Nigeria and wherever I was located at the time. Eventually, I realized how much my jet-setting life disrupted our family, so Bola and I decided to find a permanent place we could call home. She suggested Canada.

In August of 2019, the four of us arrived on Bola’s student visa. She was studying business at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ontario, while I worked remotely for a company in Europe. We had already lived in so many countries, so I didn’t think that anything would go wrong. Then everything did.

Upon landing, my Uber app didn’t work because I didn’t have a Canadian credit card. We’d only brought debit cards: Nigeria, and all the countries I’ve lived in, operated on debit. We ended up paying cash for a cab to take us to our hotel. There, the front desk said they couldn’t honour our reservation without a credit card, so we paid a deposit equivalent to a three-night stay before they accepted us. I also couldn’t rent a car without a credit card, so I walked for an hour to the house I wanted to lease. There, the landlord asked me for six months of credit history in Canada to secure the place. Finally, I walked to a bank to ask for a credit card, where the teller told me I’d have to open an account first—but to do that, I’d need a home address.

I was frustrated. We were stranded on arrival. I shared my qualms with a friend in Nigeria, who then connected me with his friend—another Nigerian, named Catherine, who’d been in Canada for many years. The next day, she drove over, rented us a car in her name and co-signed the lease for our apartment. We moved into our new place after a week in the hotel.

I didn’t understand the concept of credit at the time. Back home, debt is a bad thing: no one wants to owe anyone money. But in Canada, credit underpins much of daily life, allowing banks and landlords to assess your risk profile. This creates a gap in the immigration system: the only way a person can start a life here is with a credit history, which newcomers don’t have. I’ve met many immigrants who faced the same hurdle. One person told me they landed in Canada as a permanent resident and got a job at a bank, but they were turned down for a credit card from the same bank that employed them because they didn’t have a six-month credit history.

I wanted to solve this problem. I reached out to an engineering friend in Alberta to help me start an online banking app for new immigrants. Together, we bootstrapped the software with our own funds and incorporated in August of 2020. Five months later, we launched the app, which we called Expedier. Our first phase was to leverage open banking to give immigrants instant access to their money from international banks, pulling their funds into a Canadian bank account. Then we launched a debit card where users could load money and spend it in Canada.

We’re now in phase two of Expedier—the credit-building phase. This summer, we’ll start reporting our clients’ rental payments to credit bureaus so users can establish and strengthen their credit history in Canada. In phase three, next year, we’ll launch a credit card for newcomers. My initial Canadian card had a $500 limit due to my lack of credit history. We’ll give our users higher limits based on their international credit history.

Our app has been downloaded about 10,000 times, and we now have about 8,000 active users. I recently heard from a student who was only able to pay their tuition in Canada after signing up for Expedier and accessing their money from Nigeria. Last year, we raised around $300,000 from a family and friends campaign and began working with the Google startups accelerator. We want to keep growing the app—and to continue helping newcomers build their lives and credit.

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This story appears in the May issue of Maclean’s. You can buy the issue here or subscribe to the magazine here.

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