Knowledge First Financial

Aims for No. 1 in the market

Knowledge First Financial, a rebranded RESP company that has been in business since 1965, is rebuilding itself with the intention of improving its market position.

As a scholarship plan dealer retailing RESPs, Knowledge First Financial offers educational savings products and services. Knowledge First Financial has redefined and transformed its brand image and, through changing its corporate and foundation names, the company has taken off with a new approach.

Exciting new growth phase

The mission and vision at Knowledge First Financial are simple: “To encourage and assist Canadians to obtain a post-secondary education by providing peace of mind savings solutions” and to be “the recognized leader in providing education savings solutions for Canadians.”

But it is in the finer details where this company has truly recognized its strengths.

George Hopkinson, President and CEO, who joined the company in 2009, strategized to set up the organization for long-term, sustainable growth, over 10 to 15 years. To achieve this, the company is being transformed in many ways.

What’s in a name?

As mentioned, part of the company’s growth plan includes a name transformation. The goal is clear: To become the No. 1 RESP retailer in Canada, growing from an existing 10 per cent of nationwide market share.

“One thing we implemented was a new name for the company,” explained Hopkinson, adding that the existing names will rebrand to Knowledge First Foundation and Knowledge First Financial, from the International Scholarship Foundation and USC Education Savings Plans, respectively.

“[The former] is an outdated name because RESPs are used for much more than just university, and scholarship doesn’t have a lot of meaning behind it.

“We wanted to have a name that had better positioning—that was the No. 1 reason [for our rebranding]. We also wanted something distinctive, more than initials, for better recognition. USCI kind of sounds like it’s a U.S.-based company, but we’re not, we’re Canadian-only. The ISF sounds like we do business internationally—we don’t. We only do business in Canada. We wanted to have a name that better reflects this.”

A similar name between the parent and selling companies also strengthens the overall brand recognition.

“This is a name I believe we can live with for a long time to come and it really reflects the type of business we are in. It reflects a good positioning of our company, and it describes our fundamental belief that the knowledge acquired through post-secondary education is so important to a child’s future,” Hopkinson summarized.

The name Knowledge First Financial derives from a renewed set of values instilled in the company:

First comes the customer (creating value for customers in achieving their educational savings goals), Integrity is never compromised (interaction with customers always demonstrates professionalism and trustworthiness), Results determine success (clear objectives and accountability achieve results), Sales drive business (customers achieving educational savings goals through the best sales capability in the industry), and Teamwork toward a common goal (taking pride in people, accomplishments, and celebrating success).

“Having these values in place is key to the transformation of our company,” Hopkinson beamed. “If you can get to a point where you are making decisions based on these values, then you really do start to have the transformation of the company going forward. We have lots of ideas on how we can be a better organization and how we can really be the best RESP company in the industry.”

Secure investments

In terms of the numbers behind the company, Knowledge First Financial invests “very securely” in assets like government bonds, posting a terrific return of six per cent over the past 10 years.

“You need to figure out strategies and have sustainable growth over a long period of time,” Hopkinson explained, and that’s where the company’s emphasis on rebranding truly shows its value. “My plan is a transformation of the company so that we can be around for at least the next 15 to 20 years and be successful over that time.”

Flex First Plan

Offering Individual and Group RESPs, Knowledge First Financial will this year also introduce its newest, complementary product, and overall the second phase of its rebranding transformation, called the Flex First Plan.

The Flex First Plan is a shifting from the group plan, and is dollar based, offering more flexibility and a loyalty bonus, up to 9.5 per cent of the contribution.

The Flex First Plan reflects a conservative investment strategy and is eligible for all grants.

“We’re pretty excited about the new product, as it is part of the transformation that is taking place in our company,” Hopkinson summarized.

“When you go through a transformation, and to have a long-term sustainable growth, the first thing is to have a vision—to be a leader in the education savings business in Canada—in terms of the best products, the best customer service, and the best compliance in the business.”