National Bank Financial advocates importance of diversity

January 26, 2015

Republished from Dialogue, an internal magazinefor the employees of National Bank Financial, one of the largest brokerages inCanada. Author: Cristelle Basmaji, NBFCommunications, Montreal.

On June 22, 2006, National Bank Financial welcomed a delegation of 12 bank managers from South Africa to exchange best practices in regards to managing diversity in the financial sector. This visit was part of a Canadian International Exchange Program offered by South Africas Banking Sector Education and Training Authority, often referred to as BANKSETA.

Representing National Bank Financial at this meeting were Ray Williams from Fixed Income Derivatives, Joanne Leroux and Ingrid Grant-Douglas from Human Resources, and Trevor Wilson, a respected author and President of TWI Inc, a firm specializing in Human Equity. Mr. Wilson has provided consulting services to Mr. Louis Vachon and the senior management team of the National Bank on various aspects of diversity and human equity. (See Mr. Williams’ bio at the end of this article.)

The fact that NBF is working with Trevor Wilson demonstrates the level of importance that Louis Vachon allocates to diversity issues, explains Ray Williams. It also shows how forward-looking our firm is in this area.

An innovative program for historically disadvantaged individuals

BANKSETAs Canadian International Exchange Program targeted 12 historically disadvantaged individuals who currently hold senior positions in banks in South Africa and who are well positioned to be promoted into highly senior positions within the next two years. This intense six week program provides candidates with a unique opportunity to be exposed to international banking, diverse cultures, and a new type of work experience.

We recognize that a lot of work still needs to be done in wholesale banking in terms of social transformation and employment equity. BANKSETA wanted to support this component of banking by creating a pool of potential leaders from which participating banks would be able to promote, affirms BANKSETA CEO Frank Groenewald.

Founded in March 2000, BANKSETAs mission is to support people development and enable stakeholders to advance the national and global position of the broader banking and microfinance industry in South Africa. It aims to develop the skills of the South African workforce by increasing the level of investment in education and training for individuals employed in the financial sector.

Canadas financial community gets involved

In addition to meeting with several financial institutions in Canada to discuss best practices in the area of employee diversity, participants were required to make a presentation to a panel comprising of representatives from Canadian universities and financial institutions, including National Bank Financials own Ray Williams. These presentations focused on such topics as opportunities for wholesale banking with the 2010 World Cup, corporate governance in wholesale banking, and reputational risk.

Upon their return to South Africa, the delegates will develop a rigorous plan of action for the countrys banking sector with a particular focus on benchmarks of excellence that demonstrate their understanding of the challenges in this area. The group will make their final presentation to the Banking Council of South Africa and senior executives from across the sector.

It was amazing to see the quality and the competence of the people who gave of their own time to meet with the group, to share their experiences of what it takes to be a business professional, and to mentor and coach participants, says Groenewald. We expected the Canadian business fraternity to become involved, but we were, nevertheless, surprised at the extent to which they became, and remain involved.

Employee Profile: Ray Williams, Fixed Income

Committed to equal opportunity and diversity for all


For more than 10 years, Ray Williams has been involved with the Black financial community in Toronto through several volunteer roles, all relating to equal opportunity and diversity. Williams strongly believes that volunteerism is its own reward. Only if you volunteer and feel the sense of well-being that reflects trying to make a difference can you truly appreciate its reward, affirms Williams.

Since 2000, Williams has been an advisor for the Federal Governments Embracing Change initiative, which recognizes the need to address the under-representation of Visible Minorities in the Federal Public Service in order to effectively reflect the changing demographics of our society

Through the Embracing Change initiative, Canada has made great strides towards diversity in respect to non-managerial employees, explains Williams. However, there remains work to be done when it comes to diversity in the executive ranks of major corporations. Targeted strategic programs are now being developed to create opportunities for members of Visible Minorities who have merit and want to grow to executive levels.

Because of his experience with the Embracing Change initiative, Williams was asked to serve as a National Bank Financial host during the recent visit from South African BANKSETA representatives, which served as an excellent forum to exchange best practices in the area of employee diversity.

Williams is also heavily involved with the Urban Financial Services Coalition, for which he served as a Board member for 5 years and as President of the Toronto chapter in 2000. This US-based professional trade organization is dedicated to promoting the growth of minority professionals in all areas of financial services and to increasing the community’s awareness of personal finance. It provides mentorship services to young people entering the financial industry as well as a variety of networking opportunities.

According to Williams, preparation is the key to success, particularly for Visible Minorities who have not always had the tools needed to successfully climb the corporate ladder. When preparation meets opportunity, many doors open, says Williams.

Through his different roles at the Urban Financial Services Coalition, Williams has helped build a strong reputation for the first and only international chapter of the organization (Toronto), introducing its unique services to a wider North American audience. His most notable achievement was the organization of the first ever Canadian conference for this organization, which brought together several hundred people from across the continent.

The Urban Services Coalition also offers scholarships to university and post-graduate students to complete studies in the field of finance. Known as the Harry Jerome Scholarships, these bursaries are given to candidates who excel academically and who are highly involved within Ontarios Black community. Fourteen scholarships are awarded each year for a total value of $50,000.

As much as society is changing, there is still a greater need for accommodation on the part of all people, explains Williams. Personally, I strive for diversity for all. I want my children to have the same opportunities as everyone else and to be judged based on their capabilities rather than on the color of their skin.

Ray Williams has served as Vice-President of the Fixed Income Derivatives group at National Bank Financial since November 2005.