Five ways we can make banking more inclusive for women.

Kathleen Hurtubise is among the first generation of women whose mothers could open a bank account in their own name—without a male co-signer.

“It’s kind of a big deal. Growing up, it never even crossed my mind that it wasn’t always like this,” says Hurtubise, senior vice president, Wealth, at connectFirst. “It’s interesting to be one generation removed from a lot of things being off the table for women.”

Banking has always been a patriarchal system, Hurtubise explains. Though she acknowledges that the industry has made strides towards equity, Hurtubise says it’s far from actually achieving it.

“We need to think about who we lend to, what we view as stable, how we judge merit from a credit perspective, or the value of someone’s contributions when they don’t have monetary value,” she says.

In honour of International Women’s Day, we asked Hurtubise and senior vice president, Independent Business and Agriculture, Liz Stretch, how we can make banking more inclusive for women — at connectFirst and across the financial services industry.

  1. Ask the right questions.

    Evolving the banking system to better serve women starts with asking the right questions. That’s what Stretch and her team at connectFirst have been doing for the last six months. Stretch’s role as senior vice president, Independent Business and Agriculture offers her unique insight into the challenges that women entrepreneurs, business owners and agricultural producers face.

    “Our end goal is that we understand the space well enough to create products and solutions that fill the gaps for women, whether that’s in financing, approach, or diversity within our own workforce,” she says. “We’re seeking to understand what we can do differently to increase access to financing, networks and expertise for women to start or scale up their businesses.”

  2. Listen. Really listen.

    Part of making banking work better for women means working harder to understand who they are beyond the numbers on a screen — like their bank account balance or credit score, says Hurtubise.

    “There are women entrepreneurs out there who have money, who have saved money, but who have had spotty employment or income history because maybe they’ve had kids,” she explains. “But we don’t value them and we can’t get a loan to move their startup forward.”

    “We need to come out from behind our computers and just listen,” Hurtubise adds. “What’s their story? How can we help them get access to what they need with dignity and respect? We need to meet them where they are without bias.”

  3. Break down the silos.

    The banking industry can be fairly siloed, says Hurtubise. When individual departments don’t communicate well with each other, the member is the one who suffers. Credit unions are uniquely positioned to break down those silos, she says.

    “It’s uniquely special in the banking world to be able to say, ’I see you, I believe in you, I’m willing to invest and help you,’ and actually follow through,” Hurtubise says. “If something’s gone sideways, if someone’s asking for something that’s not standard, the buck stops with me.”

    “Let’s say we’re talking about investments,” she continues. “Because of the structure of the company, we’re not competing with each other. We’re co-solving with you, and our internal partners, whether you need commercial real estate or an auto loan. We can do it all, but we do it as a team.”

    This collaborative approach helps to create a clearer picture of a member’s financial situation, making it easier to find the right products and solutions that will work for them.

  4. Think outside the box.

    Investing in women-owned businesses can look different than investing in male-led companies, says Stretch.“

    Anecdotally, we know women are typically less willing to take on higher amounts of debt,” she says. Sometimes that means that it’s a longer-term investment for financial institutions to partner with women in business.”
    “You’re easing into it, you’re providing advice, you’re working with them through the evolution of the whole lifecycle of their business, and you are considering the broader impact to communities and the province” adds Stretch.

  5. Representation matters.

    Stretch has heard from women members who often say they’re the only woman in the room at ag-focused events or gatherings. When they come into a connectFirst branch to talk about their financial situation, however, they’re often met by a woman advisor — who also comes from an agriculture background.

    “We really want our workforce to truly represent Alberta and consider the experiences of all women—women of colour, Indigenous women entrepreneurs, women business owners in rural areas, and women entrepreneurs living with disabilities,” says Stretch. “When people come to us we want them to feel that we understand and represent them.”

    “If we’re looking for female representation in ag, for example, and the mix of our ag advisors is too heavily weighted to male advisors, we might have to keep looking, and think about how we’re recruiting and hiring,” she adds. “This idea of banking where you belong…we want representation of everyone that makes up our province.”
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