“We have the opportunity to better people’s lives with the work we do,” says Dan Adams, Vice President, Indigenous Banking Unit, BMO. “Banking is an incredible platform for creating change – and to do that effectively, we need to make sure that our bankers understand the communities people live in.”
That’s why Dan created an educational program at BMO to teach his fellow bankers about Indigenous communities. Since starting at BMO in 2010 as Senior Relationship Manager, Dan has grown his business banking portfolio into one of the largest First Nations files at the bank. Along the way, he began to notice something: “Not everyone had the same amount of comfort in the market that I did. So I started asking why,” Dan says. “What I found out is that people just didn’t have the knowledge. And basic comfort and knowledge is so important for the work we do.” When Dan was promoted to VP of Indigenous Banking, he discussed the issue with Stephen Fay, Head of Indigenous Banking at BMO. “Steve asked me what I was going to do about it, and my answer was simple: ‘We’re going to create knowledge!’”
As he began building a program focused on cultural awareness, financial literacy and credit structure, Dan looked to Indigenous culture for inspiration. “It’s an oral culture,” says Dan. “I wanted to share knowledge the same way Indigenous people have done it for thousands of years – through telling stories and working together.”
The program was modeled after the Sharing Circle, an Indigenous tradition that ensures everyone participating in a conversation can be seen, heard and respected. “It’s hard to open minds and hearts at a 600-person conference. But small, personal conversations can really change people,” says Dan. “We sit at one table. There are no fact sheets and power points. No one is interrupted, everyone is given a chance to speak, and the focus is on listening.”
Tailoring information to different markets was also a priority, because each community has its own history, culture and treaty agreements. Dan brings in local experts for each session; Chiefs from nearby First Nations, or lawyers and auditors who understand how treaties and finances work in the area. The program has been very popular, and is now ready to expand across the country.
BMO has a long history of leadership in Indigenous banking. For example, we were the first bank to develop an on-reserve housing loan program, which helps customers get loans that align with the terms of the Indian Act. “The bank got creative and figured out a way to help, and that builds trust,” says Dan. Now, as First Nations leaders find new ways to create wealth in their own communities, BMO is continuing to innovate right alongside them. “To have a bank that will work with them – and that really gets it – is extremely important,” says Dan.
That’s why he believes so strongly in providing our employees with cultural awareness education. “It’s part of doing good business. We’re working towards economic self-sufficiency of Indigenous communities, and people who’ve been held back by systemic issues. When you’re able to finance a community centre so children have a safe place to play and to grow, that really means something. When you can give a family a house and they’ve never had one before, it matters,” says Dan. “When BMO talks purpose, we mean it – it doesn’t get any more purposeful than that.”
Read more about Indigenous banking at BMO here.
Read more about financial products, services, employment and scholarships for Indigenous communities here.