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Multicultural Canada? There's a banking job for that

Winnie Leong, vice-president, multicultural banking, at Bank of Nova Scotia.

As change has become a mantra in the business world, executive responsibilities and job titles are evolving quickly. Our Emerging Roles series will ask Canadians about how their jobs are changing.

New title: Vice-president, multicultural banking

Who: Winnie Leong, VP of multicultural banking at Scotiabank since February, 2012 (the role was created in 2007)

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What is your role?

I lead a team of 13 very talented individuals with diverse backgrounds in developing products and services that meet the needs of Canada's growing number of multicultural communities.

We're a team that focuses on reaching out to newcomers to Canada, helping them get settled, and developing a partnership with them to meet their continued financial needs as they continue to build their new lives in Canada

How did this role come to be at Scotiabank?

We've been in [the multicultural banking] business for a long time through referrals from our international banking division. However [more recently] there was a desire to really better understand the unique challenges faced by immigrants to Canada and also [we identified] an opportunity to become their bank of choice as they integrate into their new country.

A few years ago the bank launched a unique leadership development program for high-potential employees called the Executive Project Office. They work on different topics every year and in 2007 the project team actually worked in concert with the bank's most senior executives to get a better understanding of the multicultural segment.

From the project they determined there is a growing need and opportunity to better serve the needs of Canada's multicultural communities, particularly the newcomer segment

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As a result of that, Scotiabank's multicultural banking department was formed in October, 2007, and they appointed a leadership role so the position of vice-president of multicultural banking was also formed.

What is your background and how did it prepare you for this role?

I've been in banking for 35 years and joined Scotiabank in 1976. My last position was as the district vice-president out in Vancouver where I had responsibility over 27 branches.

A lot of my branches were multicultural-focused. Vancouver is very, very culturally diverse in many, many ways. In my position I was involved with the different communities, and I think it provided me with the insights and knowledge to help develop products and solutions to meet our multicultural customers' needs.

I myself am an immigrant. Back in the early 70s my family moved to Canada [from Hong Kong]. I have seen some of the challenges a new immigrant would face, so I bring a bit of that understanding and passion into my role.

What do you do in your role on a typical day?

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I consider myself the bank's ambassador for multicultural banking. Whether working with my team, branches, other parts of the bank, or meeting with external agencies or community leaders, I'm always looking for ways to build the awareness of Scotiabank's StartRight program [for newcomers]. At the same time, I'm also looking at how we can add value, expand, and improve our offerings.

[During a typical day I'm in] meetings, reaching out to different business lines, and I'm out in branches as well.

My very favourite [part of the job] is being able to participate and represent the bank in so many cultural events across the country.

Why is this an important role at Scotiabank?

I think the role is really important to make sure that we remain focused on meeting the distinct needs of this growing segment of Canada's population.

In a mature market where most customers are already established with a bank it is really an important part of our ability to grow our customer base.

Why should other organizations, including other banks, consider creating a similar role?

Every bank or organization will address their market in different ways, but I think … having a role at the vice-president level ... [shows] we have more drive and passion to meet the needs [of newcomers]. Considering the business opportunities that come from growing immigration, [this kind of a role] really is essential in Canada where the customer base and work force are becoming very multicultural.

As we demonstrate an interest in the diverse needs of our changing population, we also attract a diverse base of talent into our work force, ultimately strengthening our organization.

I think paying attention to the increase in the diversity of our population is really not just the right thing to do, but really is the smart thing to do.

This interview has been edited for length.

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