Women in Finance Canada Virtual Summit 2020 Looks to Innovation and Upskilling to Aid Recovery

This year’s Women in Finance Conference Canada took place virtually on October 22nd. Tania Ferreira, Head of Events Content Production, Bonhill Group plc. opened the event which was co-hosted by Kari Chaudhry, CEO, The Atlantic Society and Dylan Emery, Editorial Director, Last Word Media UK. The event covered several topical themes and issues including diversity and inclusion, FinTech, ESG and the effects of COVID-19 on women and the economy as a whole.

TFI’s President and CEO Jennifer Reynolds joined Preeti Malik, Partner and Global Head of Risk and Financial Crime, Capgemini, who acted as moderator, and Jennifer McDonald, Chief Operating Officer, Moka Financial Technologies for the first event of the day to discuss on how the pandemic has impacted Canada’s financial sector. The fireside chat covered topics such as the change in how Canadian's approach their personal finances and financial services (FS) as whole, how Toronto’s strong innovation ecosystem attracts top talent to the region, and why the women have faced greater difficulties returning to the workforce after significant job losses as a result of COVID-19.

Changes to the Financial Sector

The panel noted that there have been many changes to the FS sector since the beginning of the pandemic including a shift towards focusing more on the needs of consumers and the changes in their priorities. “With many people out of work, people are focusing on building a buffer and changing their spending patterns” said Ms. McDonald.

A major change to the industry has been the rapid shift towards the digitalization of the financial industry. FS companies have had to reimagine how people interact with their services, which is good news for consumers.

“In terms of digitalization, it would never have progressed this quickly” said Ms. Reynolds. So, this is a kind of silver lining”.

The speakers also discussed the importance of developing great talent and attracting skilled workers to the Toronto Region and making it the go-to place to work, not only within the FS sector but also across the entire innovation ecosystem in the Region.

“I think there’s a great opportunity here” noted Ms. Reynolds. “I do think we have a great story because we have such strong growth in the technology industry in Toronto and across Canada and when you put that beside a very strong financial services sector that has also been growing, that is pretty unique in comparison to other financial centres around the world.”

The Effect on Women

The global pandemic has had a significant impact on women's participation in the workforce. With unemployment rates dipping lower than what experts have seen in over 30 years, according to a recent study conducted by RBC, women are facing the brunt of the economic downturn.

The panel noted that industries such as hospitality and retail, that are often dominated by female workers, have not seen the level of jobs return as quickly compared to other sectors. And they might never return post-COVID. “We don’t have experience with this type of event before” said Ms. Reynolds. “It’s going to be a very different type of recovery.”

Looking to the Future

The panel closed with a discussion on the various ways in which we can work towards recovery. The rapid digitalization in response to the pandemic has created new roles requiring a digital skill set. A focus on providing the resources to upskill workers in the hardest-hit industries would accelerate the number of Canadian’s able to re-enter the workforce. 

Innovation will also be key. The Financial Services sector must continue to innovate in order to stay ahead and the COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly increased the pace of innovation within the large incumbents. As this pace grows, partnerships between the larger firms and the smaller tech and FinTech companies will be increasingly important to spur that innovation and to support the shift towards digitalization.