The USAND Group
Aboriginal groups are five times more likely to open their own businesses than the average Canadian. These business ventures require culture-specific attention when it comes to finding proper financing. The USAND Group, a Manitoba-based capital corporation, aims to create partnerships with First Nation, Inuit, and Métis organizations and communities in order to facilitate full financial participation in the global economy. Through providing pre- and post-closing advisory and training services, USAND helps First Nations groups reduce their reliance on external investors and work towards reaching financial independence.
In 2012, Sean McCoshen noticed a need for proper financing and investment solutions within Canada’s First Nations communities through extensive discussions with former Grand Chief Ovide Mercredi. He realized the challenges these groups had in dealing with large corporate financial firms. The lack of substantial training within these communities affected the creation of important own-source revenue growth necessary to meet community needs.
Drawing from his past career experience as a commercial lawyer and merchant banker, McCoshen founded The USAND Group. The name reflects the basic operations of the company: the website, www.usand.ca, incites the value of techniques drawn from the U.S. and Canadian (“U.S.-and-CA”) financial markets.
The USAND Group’s tagline, “Building Strong Nations through Modern Finance,” echoes the organizations focus. USAND’s ultimate goal is to bring independent financial management to First Nations communities. Although the capital deal structure is somewhat similar to that of most capital corporations, the advising provided before and after is uniquely geared to the native business understanding and lifestyle.
“There’s a different way to approach financing when you’re a reserve-status community than when you’re a corporation,” McCoshen explains, “There’s actually more flexibility. We’re able to leverage the communities’ resources in different, often safer ways than through bringing in a private equity partner.”
Prior to financing a First Nation’s project, USAND will enter the community to gain a better understanding of its needs, plans and approach. The firm will then work alongside various band directors to hone the group’s financial planning skills and gain a better understanding of how to use the new influx of capital in a positive, growth-oriented manner.
The USAND approach allows First Nations groups to fully participate within their own projects, putting in place their own internal management and leadership security. Communities working with USAND often discover they can use various methods internally to leverage and own more of their dealings, thus allowing them to control their projects and access higher dollar lending in the future.
In its first year, USAND achieved over $300 million in approved transactions. According to McCoshen, “the firm currently has another $200 Million worth of projects in progress. The number seems to go up every day.”
Sparking Future Success
The long-term goal of USAND is to create succession plans that allow First Nations communities themselves to approach, assess, and finance projects from internal sources. The firm’s involvement does not cease once the financing transaction is set in place. USAND continues to advise and guide First Nations groups toward further financial independence when required.
Once proper training and organizational strategies have been set in place, the First Nations communities can promote and drive projects forward internally. This control over capital projects can usually be completed within two years of initial financing.
A substantial portion of USAND’s post-closing services involve training the band for continued financial understanding and growth. A major component of this is a cloud-based gaming program called ‘Forward Vision Games.’ Forward Vision Games is a company headed by former Bay Street Trader Meaghan Daly. Seeking to address the learning challenges of financial literacy across all age-groups, Daly created role-play and strategy based games to educate on concepts related to budgeting, planning, and risk management.
Due to the high percentage of business owners present in First Nations communities, Daly decided to focus Forward Vision Games towards the Aboriginal experience. McCoshen sits on the Board of Forward Vision Games in order to assist in promoting financial literacy among Aboriginal groups.
“We’ve introduced Forward Vision Games to several groups already,” explains Erinn Mah, Chief Operating Officer of USAND, “They can be played by almost anyone – grade 12 students learning to control their own finances, Band Councils to help strengthen their financial literacy skills, and even Band Directors to help increase their knowledge on financial planning strategies.”
“The whole group learns about finances as a whole…These games create a common experience. Users are better able to communicate with one another in regards to the finances of the Band,” Mah adds.
Several of USAND’s other future goals involve financial literacy training within First Nations communities. Potential plans include the establishment of an annual scholarship and of a finance-based internship program.
USAND is also in the process of creating a private equity fund targeted solely towards First Nations groups. The tentative start date for capital raising is set for June, and USAND hopes to raise approximately $500 million within the next 2 to 3 years.
“We’re currently looking to international and domestic organizations wishing to participate in the fund capitalization. The goal is to create a fund that will provide First Nations groups access to participate in hydro and power projects that are offered to Bands by way of treaty entitlements or otherwise,” explains McCoshen, “The fund will help First Nations organizations own and control their own projects.” Another aspect of the fund will be directed at providing the equity to kick start community projects such as hotels, retail facilities, apartment construction, and other ventures.