Monday 29th November 2021
Some people think that women’s full economic inclusion is not a “first world” problem. This is not so. For example, just sixteen percent of Canadian small and medium-sized businesses are owned by women. We sat down with Nikki Briggs, head of Women in Business at ATB Financial to discuss how the state-owned financial institution plans to empower women entrepreneurs in its province and nation.
Alliance: For the benefit of our global readership, can you share the bank’s overall strategic vision?
Briggs: With $54.9 billion in assets, ATB Financial (“ATB”) is an Alberta-built financial institution that is a catalyst for economic growth in our Canadian province. We got started in 1938 to help Albertans through tough economic times. Today, ATB’s more than 5,000 team members love to deliver exceptional experiences to nearly 800,000 customers through our many branches and agencies, our 24-hour Client Care Centre, four entrepreneur centers and our digital banking options. Everything we do is focused on how we can serve Albertans, from providing expert advice and supporting entrepreneurs to helping people buy homes and grow their wealth.
Alliance: What led you to make the decision to target the women’s market with a deliberate strategy?
Briggs: In 2017, ATB began exploring the potential impact and opportunities presented in the changing women’s entrepreneurial landscape. We found that women generally see banks as a barrier to their success, citing “a lack of respect, poor advice, contradictory policies, one-size-fits-all forms, and a seemingly endless tangle of red tape that leaves them exhausted and annoyed.” In addition, women entrepreneurs feel they are penalized for differences in their behavior and risk perspectives compared to their male counterparts.
While our original strategy focused on banking for women entrepreneurs, early findings revealed that meeting the banking needs of women business owners requires a more holistic approach. As such, we began looking at women clients through a horizontal perspective, as entrepreneurs, investors and consumers. We looked at the impact and size of the female economy, the structural and attitudinal barriers facing women, the role the financial industry plays in creating a diverse and gender-balanced economy and the economic potential of creating a holistic women’s banking program at ATB.
Alliance: We know the strategy is in its early days, but do you intend to segment the women’s market?
Briggs: ATB is taking a phased approach to supporting women. Initially, we’re focusing on women business owners (defined as a business that has a minimum of 51-percent ownership by a woman/women) with established and mid-market businesses, that are looking to grow and innovate. Once we’ve had success there, we’ll move to supporting other segments in the women-led business market.
Alliance: What kind of impact does your institution wish to have through this program? Have you set objectives?
Briggs: ATB is genuinely obsessed with the success of women business owners and leaders. We understand the barriers and opportunities facing women in business and are dedicated to reimagining banking for women and aligning with women’s value objectives. We will stand out by having a dedicated team of Women in Business Specialists, delivering an end-to-end, holistic, integrated, one-stop experience with financial and non-financial services and a banking experience that is focused on a long-term partnership. We will create an ecosystem of successful women business owners and leaders, enabling growth and empowering every woman in business in Alberta to have the most successful business imaginable. Our vision is for women business owners in Alberta to see ATB as key to their growth and success.
Alliance: Capturing sex-disaggregated data is critical to understanding and sizing the market and establishing a baseline for the program. Do you capture sex-disaggregated data?
Briggs: Currently ATB does not capture sex-disaggregated data. We are in the process of updating our CRM systems to give us the ability to capture and collect sex-disaggregated information.
Alliance: What is your internal diversity and inclusion strategy? Do you have initiatives to get more women into leadership positions?
Briggs: Women are a key demographic of focus for our internal strategy. As part of our governance framework, ATB has a strong and dynamic Employee Resource Group (ERG) for women, which focuses on mentorship, development and performance excellence. This ERG is also part of ATB’s participation in the UN Global Compact on Gender Equality— which in turn reinforces our commitment to hiring, developing and retaining women at all levels.
Alliance: Do you see a correlation between having a commitment to diversity and inclusion (D&I) and getting the buy-in for an external women-centered strategy?
Briggs: ATB believes that an enterprise-wide commitment to D&I enables better understanding of and responsiveness to a diverse client base. For example, it creates an enabling environment for training teammates to respond to clients in a gender-intelligent way. The commitment to D&I comes from the top, and effective internal communications around it is foundational to having a successful and sustainable women-centered strategy.
Alliance: How did you first hear about the Financial Alliance for Women, and why did you decide to join?
Briggs: When we began setting up a Women in Business segment at ATB, we undertook extensive research—provincially, nationally and globally. Throughout this time, the Financial Alliance for Women was continually highlighted as a key barometer and resource for research on women in business. The depth of research the Financial Alliance for Women has completed, coupled with the support available to financial institutions in the design and implementation of a Women in Business strategy, were some of the key drivers for ATB joining the Alliance.