Live & Learn: Nancy Hughes Anthony

The CEO and president of the Canadian Bankers Association on minority governments and how Canadians really feel about their banks.

Born July 3, 1949, in Montreal • CEO and president of the Canadian Bankers Association &8826; Government insider

When I was taking literature and languages at McGill University, I don’t think I ever could have imagined that I would have ended up at the Canadian Bankers Association. I didn’t have any particular views about what I would do as a career, but it was more oriented toward journalism and writing in some way, shape or form.

I joined the federal public service right out of university and spent 24 years in the service in a variety of jobs. Then I got a bit of a curve thrown at me when I was asked if I would join Metropolitan Life and run a line of business. I wasn’t doing GR or PR; I was running the group insurance client business. It really opened my eyes.

Metropolitan Life appreciated the fact that as a public servant I had actually operated large enterprises. Now, it was in a not-for-profit sense, but the fact is there were skills I had acquired in government that had to do with people management and project management that were actually very useful to a private-sector firm. I was rather flattered that somebody thought a bureaucrat was actually useful in the private sector.

A lot of people think that if you’re in public service, well, that’s it, you’re a lifer, and never the twain shall meet with the private sector. I can’t emphasize enough how much I think there should be more exchanges and the flexibility to go in and out of the public service and private sector, as circumstances arise that call for your particular range of talents.

The Federal Accountability Act goes in the wrong direction. As opposed to encouraging private and public sectors to mix and grapple with solutions together, it sets up a very difficult dynamic between the two and that’s too bad.

One of the myths about the banking industry is that Canadians really don’t like their banks. We’re constantly polling and asking customers and non-customers what they think of banks and there is a high degree of satisfaction. Are banks perfect? Absolutely not. Would people like to see improvements in service? Of course.

Canadians have a natural disposition to consider banks a bit like a public utility. When issues come up like ABM fees, people say, “Well, gosh, the banks could do better.” And it’s obviously a chance for banks to explain what they are doing, and sometimes there is a need for them to put together different kinds of packages for seniors, or different kinds of access points for disabled people, or whatever. Maybe it’s just media people who hate the banks.

There are two sides to the lobbying or advocacy business. One is you’re representing your members and you have to understand their issues, as I do now with the banks. But it’s also really helpful to have walked in the shoes of the public servants, understand the politicians and what their concerns are. It’s an asset to actually know what supplementary estimates are, you know what I mean?

Minority governments may be the new reality. You have to change the way you work with a minority government. You have to make sure you’re not just communicating to, let’s say, the department that has proposed a law, the deputy minister and the minister. You have to make a big point of communicating effectively with all parties. Overall, it makes for more short-term thinking than long-term thinking. You just have to work with what you get.

We have to make sure that Canada is a place where people want to do business. That’s a matter of keeping up with standards in certain areas. Obviously, tax policy is a big one. And there are some blatant inefficiencies in the system. The banking industry has long been a proponent for a single securities regulator. Not having one is just an example of how hard we make it to do business in Canada when it is in our power to make it easier.

My advice? Take advantage of opportunities when they come your way. It could be a volunteer opportunity or it could be a project team, it could be something new and different — just take the advantage of going sideways if you need to for a while or going in some other direction. You never know where it’s going to go.