Willful acquires competitor WillowBee as it prepares for expansion to new provinces

Toronto-based Willful, which provides online will and estate planning, has acquired Ottawa-based WillowBee, an online will competitor. The purchase price of the deal was not disclosed.

The acquisition marks the latest move amid a busy year for Willful, which saw the startup raise a seed round and launch a number of new programs and partnerships. This WillowBee deal marks Willful’s first acquisition since launching in 2017.

“We know that joining forces will help us to reach even more Canadians as Willful grows.”

As part of the acquisition, all of WillowBee’s customers will also be invested to transition to Willful plans. Rob McGrorty, president and general manager of WillowBee, will work with Willful in a consulting capacity to integrate the products and also advise Willful on product development. No other team members from WillowBee are expected to join Willful.

“We knew of [WillowBee] and their product, so it just made a ton of sense to consolidate, invite their customers into Willful’s ecosystem, and join forces to get some of Rob’s product knowledge because he’s a really experienced product guy,” Erin Bury, CEO and co-founder of Willful, told BetaKit.

“We’ve been admirers of Willful and their ability to accelerate the charge for simple online wills in Canada,” said McGrorty. “We know that joining forces will help us to reach even more Canadians as Willful grows, and we’re so excited to be working with their team to continue to modernize estate planning.”

Willful was launched in 2017 by Bury’s husband Kevin Oulds, currently the company’s head of business development.

The startup’s online platform is a variety of estate planning services, including the creation of a legal will and assigning a power of attorney for personal care and/or property.

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Bury told BetaKit Willful was able to continue to scale during the COVID-19 pandemic, noting the startup saw a “big influx of traffic and sales,” as consumers began to prioritize estate planning.

The startup also saw an increase in interest from investors, from potential corporate partners, and from financial advisors, and others who are talking to their clients about estate planning, Bury said.

“If anything positive has come out of COVID, it’s that estate planning is top of mind for folks, and they are prioritizing it, whether that’s them prioritizing it as a consumer or getting exposed to it through a financial planner,” Bury said.

“We’ve always seen wills and power of attorney documents, our core products, as the entry point to a bigger suite of products.”

This interest led to Willful raising a seed round. Initially, an $800,000 round, Bury told BetaKit the startup exercised an option that brought the total proceeds of the round to $1 million.

In addition to the seed financing, Willful also joined the Intuit Prosperity Accelerator program and has launched new partnerships with a number of financial companies, including another Toronto-based FinTech startup, Wealthsimple.

Notably, Willful also recently launched a B2B offering with its partner program. The program allows Canadian companies and professionals to provide their audience with simplified estate planning tools created by Willful.

The program was tested over the summer with some insurance companies and financial planning firms. Bury said the program, which officially launched in mid-October, is aimed to solve the challenge for financial advisors of ensuring their clients have estate planning tools in place.

“This B2B channel is what creates urgency, because if you’re sitting with your financial planner, they need you to have a will because it is a core part of a solid financial plan, and they have a vested interest in you having a solid estate plan,” Bury told BetaKit. “By us offering this B2B product, it’s empowering the people who are already creating that urgency and equipping them with easy tools.”

Willful is currently gearing up for an expansion to more Canadian markets next year. The platform, which is currently available in seven provinces, is expected to be available in additional provinces sometime in early 2021, including Québec, Bury told BetaKit.

RELATED: Willful partners with Wealthsimple to launch RESP and will creation tool

Willful already has ties to the province’s tech ecosystem, having fundraised from Montréal-based Tactico, and completed the Montréal-based FounderFuel accelerator program last year.

“We’ve been embedded in the Québec space for over a year. It has a different legal system, and different legal requirements for wills, and of course, a different language,” Bury added. “We’ve always wanted to enter Québec, and now, we’re well on our way.”

The broader goal for the company is to expand its product suite to include more estate planning tools, including digital products to streamline estate administration. Estate administration involves going through the court system, closing up accounts, and distributing money to beneficiaries, which Bury described as a ”very offline,” paper-filled process.

“We’ve always seen wills and power of attorney documents, our core products, as the entry point to a bigger suite of products that help people prepare for their own passing and help their families put those plans into action,” Bury added.

Image courtesy Erin Bury. Photo by Becca Lemire Photography.

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Writer, globetrotter, drone pilot & David Attenborough enthusiast