50 Smartest Companies of the Year 2016

A classic tech entrepreneur story: KEV Group

“Great companies start because the founders want to CHANGE THE WORLD, not make a fast buck.” – Guy Kawasaki

As a one stop solution for school cash management, KEV Group provides fully integrated web-based solutions designed to meet the unique needs of public schools. It specializes in the collection and tracking of School Activity Funds through online and point of sale payments, fees tracking, and accounting solutions. To parents, KEV Group makes it possible to purchase field trips, agendas, or meal plans for their children!

Stepping Stones
As with many successful business ideas, KEV Group was founded out of necessity by the very users that the company ended up serving. While working at a school in Waterloo, Ontario, KEV Group founders Kim Vivian-Downs and Evelyn Eagle realised the need for a better way to manage cash coming into their school. With a heavy workload and daily interruptions from co-workers, students and parents, they knew that there had to be a more efficient way to complete their work. They collaborated to create solutions to streamline and automate many of the manual processes performed by school bookkeepers each and every day. After sharing their product ideas with many neighbouring school districts, the company began to grow quickly. KEV Group launched its web based offering in 2004 and later expanded into the online payments space in 2010 through its School Cash Online Solution.

KEV Group works with school districts to roll out its software within individual schools. The solution is tailored to meet the ever growing needs of K-12 public schools. Originally called School Banking, KEV Group’s School Cash Accounting solution has been in the market for decades, bearing testimony to the company’s capability to continu­ously innovate. KEV Group’s other big product, School Cash Online, has seen rapid adoption from both schools and parents since its launch.Serving over 8,500 schools across North America, KEV Group has become the industry expert in school cash management.

Gearing towards a successful journey
Talking about KEV Group’s customers, Bram said, “School districts are buying more than just technology when they purchase new software for their schools. They are committing to a very significant tool that changes the way schools perform their everyday activities. The decision they make greatly impacts thousands of staff members, students and parents. This is why districts don’t simply want software, they want a partner that is committed to the solution’s long-term success in their school communities.”

The team at KEV Group is a firm believer in the saying “persistence is the key to success.” KEV Group has focused on building a business that adapts to market changes while still maintaining an unwavering focus on the education market.“We have developed an organizational structure strategically designed to meet the needs of our district clients. Our organization is split up into Technol­ogy, Sales & Marketing, Client Suc­cess, and Business Services. We have around 40 people working around the clock to ensure the delivery of excellent services. While our market undergoes changes constantly, our customers demand reliability and consistency,” Bram added.

Client Testimonials
“School Cash Accounting has made our district much more efficient and effective at dealing with school generated funds and from an administrative perspective, the improvements are numerous. I would strongly recommend this package to any School District looking to use a program that their secretaries will not only understand, but enjoy using.” Terrie Irwin, CFO – MAT-SU BOROUGH SCHOOL DISTRICT, AK

“I would like to give the people who developed the School Cash program a big hug! It is so user friendly you don’t even have to think about what you have to do next. You can tell it has been developed by people who have done this job. Reconciliation is awesome! Parents paying online is phenomenal and will ensure I handle less money and save even more time.”

In conversation with the CEO:

Q. Who or what have played key roles in shaping the organisation’s roadmap?
A. Our founders, Kim and Evelyn, of course! Their patience, persistence to excel and leadership is what motivates us to get better daily. Our customers also guide us to improve our solutions and play a key role in giving us valuable feedback, referring us to others and driving our success. We are grateful to them for placing their trust in us.

Q. How is KEV Group contributing to the global tech platform?
A. The KEV Foundation is our way of giving back to society. We actively engage in social welfare initiatives. We also have internship opportunities available for students and new entrants to the workforce and actively engage ourselves in conferences and discussions, sharing our ideas and opinions with other decision makers and a global audience.

Q. As the popular saying goes, ‘It is difficult to start a venture. But far more difficult to maintain it’ – What do you think about
this saying?
A. A cohesive, well-functioning team is the key to keeping a customer happy, and keeping a customer happy is the key to growing a company in the long term. Most of our customers love what we do and actively try to help us get better. We like to think of them as not just users of our service, but as members of our community. We are constantly investing in this mutually beneficial relationship.

Q. What is your take on feedback received from customers? What is the key to improvement by taking negative feedback in a
positive manner?
A. If negative feedback is given respectfully it is, in our opinion, a very generous act on behalf of the customer. From my previous experience I have seen that it is common for some customers to suffer in silence or to be less than constructive with their negative feedback. At KEV, we are very lucky to receive negative feedback in a constructive manner and we actively solicit it. This is how we improve. Our Product team and our Customer Success team take this feedback seriously and it continuously makes us better.

Q. What do you feel readers and your peers need to keep in mind to survive in the market?
A. Ensuring that your customers have a good experience and a deep relationship with your company is essential. To accomplish this, we focus on building a strong community of users. Combined with our dedication to build the best product on the market, this has been much more important for us than “making money.” This is especially true in the early years of a business’s life cycle. Too many businesses focus on immediate profitability needs instead of investing in their core assets: their product and their users. Profitability is important, but a focus on these core assets will shape the company’s future for many years going forward and build lasting brand value.

Q. Do you have any new products ready to be rolled out in the market?
A. We have three new offerings that complement our School Cash Suite solution. Firstly, our new KEV Connect series will offer training and professional development opportunities for our users. Next, our Custom Forms module allows schools to take the paper forms that students and parents are required to complete, and collect the information online. Finally, our School Cash Express module aims to allow all staff within a school including teachers, coaches, and parent council members to create their own school fees and generate reports. We’re extremely excited to offer these to new customers, as well as school districts that we have been working with for years!

Q. Where do you see yourself a couple of years from now? Do you plan to expand the company’s geographical outreach or penetrate any other market?
A. We definitely would like to reach out to more customers across various geographies, but we are determined to stick to the Education vertical. For us, focus is of utmost importance and it is what keeps us going at KEV Group. Meet Team KEV Group

“We have an unwavering focus exclusively on the education market. Finance in education is unique. Our customers need a solution that understands this in the same way that they do.”

Bram Belzberg – Chairman, CEO
Since joining KEV Group in 2009, Bram has played a leading role in ensuring consistent growth and has established a steadfast company strategy. After graduating from McGill University, he joined Goldman Sachs’ and then moved on to Amaranth Advisors LLC prior to becoming an integral part of the KEV Group team. Bram holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and is a member of the Young Presidents’ Organization.

Evelyn Eagle – Co-Founder/Director of Client Services
A Co-Founder and treasurer for KEV Group, Evelyn is a seasoned executive with more than 25 years of education experience. Evelyn is KEV Group’s technology visionary and guides our product and implementation teams to ensure success for our current and prospective customers.

Kim Vivian-Downs – Co-Founder/Director of Sales and Marketing
A Co-Founder of the KEV Group with more than 18 years of experience working in education, Kim leads the sales and marketing team. Her passion to “Reduce the Risk” and improve the “quality of life” for schools, coupled with years of district and fraud research inspired her to become a leader in the student activity funds arena. Kim has appeared at many state ASBO conferences and international conferences to share her expertise on the subject of student activity funds.

Joshua Shuval – Director of Finance, Operations & Risk Management
Josh, who joined KEV Group in 2010, is responsible for finance, risk, coordination of special projects, product design, employee growth and product and client management. After graduating from university, Josh joined PricewaterhouseCoopers and received his Chartered Accountant designation in 2006. During his time in public practice, Josh obtained extensive experience providing audit and consulting services to large public and smaller private businesses.

Giving back to society…
Arts at Work is a brand new charity designed to preserve art programs in schools while enhancing the connection between businesses and their communities. It is our goal that the Arts at Work program will have a lasting impact on the students’ creativity and ensure that art remains an essential part of education for many years to come.

“We are a people organization. Our customers do not buy technology. They buy Change Management and that is where our expertise lies.”