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Fabiola Sicard, Scotiabank's bridge with Latin America

Fabiola Sicard, Scotiabank's bridge with Latin America

Posted by Juan Gavasa on April 25, 2014

Fabiola Sicard is the Director of Latin Markets in Scotiabank's Multicultural Banking. She's Mexican-born, and decided, many years ago, to move to Canada to explore new professional possibilities in the sphere of finances. After doing an MBA in the Schulich School of Business, she started a successful career in Scotiabank, one of the Canadian entities with greater presence in Latin America. 

Fabiola Sicard has become, in the past years, one of the most influential Spanish-Speaking figures in Toronto. She is the co-founder of LAMBA, the Latin American MBA Alumni Network, an organization that is an example of vitality and of the high academic level of the last generations of latins who have arrived in Canada lately. She is also a member of the Advisory Council of the Institute of Mexicans Abroad (Generation 2012 - 2014).

Sicard's commitment to her community was acknowledged by the Mexican Government with the Ohtli Award, the highest recognition given to citizens who have contributed to the improvement of Mexican communities abroad. From her position at the Scotiabank's Multicultural Banking, she facilitates the arrival conditions of those Latin American citizens who have decided to settle in Canada. This is a job that demands deep knowledge in the constant evolution of immigration's characteristics and of the human aspects behind mere statistics.

Scotiabank operates in 11 Latin American countries, and, as it has recently been pointed out by his President, Brian Porter, the expansion objectives of the entity are now targeting at Colombia, Mexico, Peru and Chile, considered by the bank as great projection markets, ''thanks to their economic stability and growing middle class''.

What is the Scotiabank's Multicultural Banking?

The Multicultural Banking is a department that was created in 2008 and it's part of the Consumer Banking in Canada. We aim at serving all immigrants who decided to start a life in Canada. Scotiabank made an analysis and observed that every year, more than 500.000 new immigrants come to Canada from all over the globe, and they have fundamental needs in order to settle in the country and starting this new life. They don't have the necessary Canadian documents or a credit history, two things that are a must. We created a package called ''StartRight' that fits the immigrant's circumstances and that helps them settle here in Canada.

What kind of services does ''StartRight'' include?

It includes all the basic services that a newcomer needs. These services are adapted to all the different segments in which this new population can be divided: students, those who come with a work permit and permanent residents, who are, approximately, the half of the whole annual volume of new citizens.

Yet, we understood that we had to create a double strategy, depending on the migratory stratum or place of origin. Statistics show that currently most immigrants come from China, India and the Philippines. Nevertheless, if we combine all Latin American countries, we observe that Spanish-Speaking people represent a volume of great significance that acquires a particular relevance in these statistics. Scotiabank has a solid brand awareness in all the region; therefore, our work in this market has a great consistence.

So, could it be said that ''StartRight'' is a product of constant evolution because it depends on the migration flows that arrive in the country and its characteristics?

Our programme ''StartRight'' is in constant evolution because we try to satisfy the needs of the immigrant and facilitate their access to financial services and many others - such as a permanent phone contract through different alliences, among several important services. Statistic changes in terms of place of origin make us adapt our promotion plans. Changes in place of origin affect our marketing strategy. On the other hand, changes in migration policies have an impact in the financial services we offer in StartRight. When we started, Colombia, Mexico and Peru were the Spanish - Speaking countries with biggest migration to Canada. Now Venezuela has outnumbered Peru, that has decreased one third in the last four years due to the remarkable improvement of its economy. We are constantly looking at what happens out there, but Mexico and Colombia are two countries that keep stable figures.

When it comes to Mexico in particular, was immigration affected when the Canadian Government decided, in 2008, to demand visas (to its citizens) to enter the country?

It has had a great impact on Mexican tourism but not on formal migration. The number of new permanent residents from Mexico grew by 43% between 2008 - when a visa was not required yet- and 2012. It is important to highlight that professional immigration, that is, permanent residents who are skilled workers grew by 67% in that very same period. This is something worth clarifying. In the same line, the number of students who come with a visa has increased by 13% between 2008 and 2012. There was a clear decrease, however, asylum applications (91%).

Back to the StartRight package, what kind of products are included in it that are indispensable for someone who wants to start a new life in Canada?

There are two basic services: first, there's the Check Account. To open an account in Canada, usually two Canadian documents will be asked by any bank; we, however, will solve that with the country's passport and the migration paper.

We also provide facilities to get a credit card, which allows the holder to start a credit history; something that in a country like Canada is extremely useful for different procedures and every day services such as a phone contract, for instance.

We have the Student Account as well, that is the same offered to any Canadian student, and it's free. There are other products or lines to make things easier for those who come to our country: for example, the deposit of 100 CAD for every permanent resident who opens an account in our entity. We also have a mortgage programme and alliances with car manufacturers to generate facilities when it comes to acquire a new car, both, used and new.

These Scotiabank's services have the support of the penetration that the brand has in many countries of Latin America.

Indeed, our clients are already familiar with the brand and that helps us connect the clients before their arrival in Canada. In Mexico, for instance, those citizens who have already received their work permits, residence or student papers can open their accounts before coming to Canada. They can open their check accounts or get a credit card, and make one only fund transfer in any of the four branches where this service is available. Online applications are only for check accounts and fund transfers will be available from September this year on. This will be possible not only in Mexico, but also in Venezuela, Chile, Peru and Colombia, and it will make things a lot easier for them.

A Mexican citizen, for instance, who will become a Canadian resident can therefore arrive in the country with all these paperwork done?

Exactly. It is a great advantage to be able to open an account online or in one of these branches that will be available from September on because it allows the client to make a transfer before leaving their country. When the client arrives in Canada, a card is given to them and they have immediate access to their funds. In any case, detailed information can be found in Scotiabank's web, http://espanol.startright.scotiabank.com/ca/en/0,,4364,00.html

After five years, how do you consider StartRight Programme has worked?

The results are positive and there is still much potential in the Latin American market. We can grow even more because we have great brand awareness in the region. It is a very small market compared to the Chinese, for example, but it is still a great working opportunity for us. Our only objective is, as I have said before, to facilitate the arrival conditions of those Latin American citizens who move to Canada. They will meet a series of obstacles to start their new lives and we give them the utilities, tools and services in order to make their 'landing' easier.

Talking about other aspects of your professional life, you were one of the founders of LAMBA, the Latin American MBA Alumni Network. What were your reasons to promote such an organization?

I wanted to have a professional Latin project in Canada and also to create a space to improve our positioning in the Canadian market. As I have said before, the latin community in Canada is very fragmented. In the United States, for instance, around 70% (of the Latin diaspora) is Mexican, while here 20% is Mexican, another 20% is Colombian, another 20% is Salvadorian...

Then I realized that what is in the Canadian media about the Latin community aren't usually the best news. Analyses were made and the emphasis was made on groups that, to my opinion, weren't a problem because of their origin, but due to their context. They didn't represent the majority of the Spanish - Speaking community and I understood that we had to work to show the other Latin segment, the one which has bilingual, well educated professionals.

Then, there are the relations, the famous Canadian networking, which is key to enter the working market. If I have before me two résumés and I know one of them personally, my selection is quite clear. We realized that we had to create a common meeting space, and that's how LAMBA was born, and now it has more than 400 members and it is probably the only Latin non profit organization that has such a broad range of sponsors. I think that our success lays in the fact that we have managed it as a business, keeping very professional guidelines in the relation with our members, sponsors and stakeholders.

You have lived in Toronto for 11 years. How has Latin immigration changed in this time?

It is very evident. Between 1980 and early 1990 there was political immigration due to Latin American dictatorships, mainly from Chile, Ecuador and Salvador... In the late 90s, a professional immigration started (Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru) and the reasons were very different this time; many of those immigrants had a privileged situation in their countries but decided to come to Canada to grow professionally. This immigrants are highly educated and they are, above all, bilingual. A clear example is given by the Mexican community: 90% of the immigrants who came to Canada in 2010 spoke either French or English.

And how has the Canadian perception towards Latin America changed?

I am in a very Latin space because Scotiabank has many Latin employees. We have 300 members in the HOLA (Hispanic Organization Latin America) and in general, in this entity there is a much deeper knowledge (about the issue) than in other banks. I have personally listened to speeches given by Scotiabank's CEO where he mentions Colombia or Mexico, that is not very usual in our sector.

Outside Scotiabank, this (negative) image has been changing as more professional and qualified Latin citizens have arrived, I think they are now known and respected. In the every day relationship, there has been a change of impression and cohabitation, and from my sincere point of view, Latin and Hispanic professional organizations have helped in this process, because they have known how to do things well in their respective spheres.

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