Women Leading The Finance Industry: Jodi Chambers of Cornerstone Credit Union On The 5 Things You Should Do To Increase Your Financial Literacy

An Interview With Jason Hartman

Jason Hartman
Authority Magazine

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Listen to the experts — they know! — When we started to look for our first house, we met with the branch manager at the credit union branch where I was working. He took the time show us the mortgage we qualified for and the equivalent value of a house. He then proceeded to recommend a lower mortgage and house value to ensure we were not “mortgage poor”. He talked us through all the other things we might want to have disposable income for — including money to just maintain and upgrade our house. We listened to the advice and bought a modest 2-bedroom home that met all our needs as we started out. We even sold it for more than we paid for it, which set us up very well for a larger new home to meet our growing family’s needs!

As a part of our series about “Women Leading The Finance Industry”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jodi Chambers.

Jodi is an entrepreneurial, forward-thinking, and strategic-minded leader. She is known for her high energy, and passion for technology and digital transformation. Jodi enjoys supporting the development of others and the value in leading with a little touch of humour.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the finance field?

My parents were entrepreneurs whose business relied heavily on the support from the credit union — the only financial institution they dealt with! The company first operated out of our house where my mom looked after “the books”. I used to take their paperwork, like blank invoices and deposit slips, and play “business”. I loved to organize paper, help with the filing, and watch my mom add up the cheques on the calculator — she was so fast and never looked at the calculator!

My mom has a great business mind and is strong at negotiation and ensuring she receives value for her money. No one pushed my mom around. She is very good at managing personal finances; as an entrepreneur you don’t have a company pension to fall back on and she made sure to minimise their debt and maximize their savings!

I often went with my mom to the credit union branch to make the business deposits and got to know the people well over the years. I think my love for business and the interactions at the branch drove my interest to work for the credit union. I loved filling out the forms, organizing the deposits, and keying things into the computer! I also loved how the credit union employees knew and cared about their members — including my mom and dad and their business. They took the time to be creative in how to help to their members succeed. There were many years when things were tight, and I believe my parents’ business would not have survived without the trusting personal relationship they had with the credit union.

Through my mom’s relationship with the branch manager, I was fortunate enough to work as a summer student at the credit union while attending university and when I graduated with my commerce degree, I jumped at the chance to work as a Financial Advisor with them. At first, I really loved the financial planning side of things, I took my CFP and obtained my Canadian Securities certification. From there I transitioned to many different roles within the credit union including Finance, Data Analytics, Strategy, Technology, Risk, Compliance, etc. I think that is what kept me interested in the credit union and financial services industry — there is so much opportunity to learn and build one’s skillets.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

I worked my first 20 years in with the same credit union — Assiniboine. In fairness, it was not always Assiniboine to me, as my original credit union Astra merged into Assiniboine. When I left, I received a hand-made gift from someone who had been one of the first people I ever managed. With the gift was a card with the most amazing message. The person was so grateful for my leadership, for my belief in them and encouragement to try new things. They had really advanced in their career, and I played a large part in that for them. What was funny, is they also said they were so intimidated by me at first, they didn’t know how to take me! I talked fast, I worked quickly, I performed at a high level, and I was aggressive in my commitments.

That comment was an important reminder for me to be aware of how I present myself, how people experience my energy and enthusiasm to succeed. I absolutely adjusted my energy level and was more observant of how people responded to me and if they felt like they could approach me! I slowed things down and appreciated that everyone processes information at a different pace.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We are working on a project that will facilitate the communication of renewal notifications to members AND provide them the ability to return to us their decision/direction for the renewal. This makes it easier for members to manage their investments and helps us keep connected, even if digitally, with our members. If this experiment works, then we can look at building this into other renewal processes.

Second, we have a few branches that need upgrading — which comes at an interesting time with the rise of remote and work from home situations. We already have several remote (working outside of our market/province) work arrangements purely given the size and location of our credit union. We also had many employees that wanted to stay home post COVID. As an awkward-sized credit union at $2 billion with 15 branches operating in rural Saskatchewan, we often need to go outside of our market to find the talent required to keep up with our competitors and with our members’ needs and expectations.

Before we start on the design work, we are stepping back to define our branch of the future. To challenge what we believe the purpose of the branch to be. There is a lot of literature suggesting the branch is not going away. People, including young people, want to deal with an FI that has a branch. Not for day-to-day transactions but for advice, to complete complex transactions and to resolve issues. We need to understand the impact of more day-to-day transactions processed online, shift to relationship building in-branch and flexible employee work arrangements impacts the design of our branches! I am really excited to see where this takes us — we want to create a welcoming space for our members, where they can feel comfortable to discuss their complex financial needs and where employees can build those relationships during the in-branch interactions.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I think our commitment to our employees is what makes our company stand out. For example, we have several immigrant families who do not have their own family in Canada to lean on for support. Often, our employee is the sole wage earner and the driver in the family. We work with the employee to manage their schedule to help with any driving required to attend appointments, take children to pre-school programs, etc. During COVID, our leaders could be found going to the grocery store and buying supplies for these families when the employee and/or their family was sick, and they were unable to leave their homes.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?

I think there are many contributing factors including a generational change-over which brought with it a heightened awareness and appreciation in the value that diversity and inclusion can bring to an organization. There have been many studies to validate that belief which makes it hard to argue against. I think there are many women and other diverse groups who paved the way for us by demonstrating the value and overcoming many stereotypes. I think there has been more effort spent within organizations to understand biases and the impact that can have on the people we choose to hire, the conversations held, the decisions made, and the overall success of the company. I will never forget when we went through DE&I training years ago and the consultant asked the finance team to stand up and everyone was male and almost looked alike. They pointed out the bias that can play into people hiring employees like themselves and then spoke to the risks and limitations associated with that.

Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a) individuals b) companies and/or c) society to support this movement going forward?

Individuals — I really believe in the stud(ies) that identified a critical difference between men and women — men are more likely to apply for a job even if they think they don’t have all required skillsets. Whereas women tend to wait until they feel they have all or most of the requirements before they will put themselves forward. I think that limits the number of women applying for more senior positions. There is an opportunity for women to be more proactive in their preparation for career advancement. They can identify themselves as potential successors, mentor with senior leaders, and demystify the complexity of the role and the belief they need to have all skillsets before taking on the challenge.

I think companies need to proactively support women to identify themselves as successors, support mentorship, and to actively seek out women they believe are potential candidates for a senior role and encourage them to apply. Companies should be challenging themselves to understand why leadership teams have an underrepresentation of women and assess the impact that might be having on their overall performance. From here they should develop plans to attract, develop, retain, and promote more women into senior roles. Maybe a change in job postings is required — less technical focus and more leadership style and outcomes focused.

I also think companies should provide flexible work options; I could work remotely 20 years ago when I was raising my children. I also had the option to come to work early in the morning and their dad could take the kids to day care and then I could be available to pick them up. I was also afforded the opportunity to work part-time — I had a split schedule where I worked two days one week and three days the next. All the while I was able to take on new challenges, new roles, and to continue my education beyond my undergrad. I really felt like I was able to manage my young family and continue to focus on my career.

You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non-intuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say? Can you please give a story or example for each?

1 — Listen to the experts — they know! — When we started to look for our first house, we met with the branch manager at the credit union branch where I was working. He took the time show us the mortgage we qualified for and the equivalent value of a house. He then proceeded to recommend a lower mortgage and house value to ensure we were not “mortgage poor”. He talked us through all the other things we might want to have disposable income for — including money to just maintain and upgrade our house. We listened to the advice and bought a modest 2-bedroom home that met all our needs as we started out. We even sold it for more than we paid for it, which set us up very well for a larger new home to meet our growing family’s needs!

2 — Listen to your grandma’s advice — I was raised to be an independent person, but more specifically by Grandma (and my mom) to be an independent woman. My grandma did not have a healthy marriage, like many in that generation who married based on proximity rather than love. While they physically lived under the same roof, they led very separate lives. My grandma did not have an education but knew she could not rely on my grandpa for money. Once the kids were older, my grandma took a job at the local grocery store. She worked for 30 years at minimum wage to pay for her own car and retirement. When I told my grandma I was going to get married she told me two things, always have your own car, and never rely on a man for money. Those two pieces of advice have served me well over the years. A vehicle has provided me with a sense of independence and confidence. I can go where I need to and when I need. I opened my first RSP at the age of 16 and have financial independence and knowledge, which is critical as women tend to outlive their male partners.

3 — Read “The Wealthy Barber” — I read this when I was in my 20’s and will never forget the message to “pay yourself first”. This was applicable then and still is today. All my children have savings accounts and monthly PACs contributing to their plans. I was able to put a down payment on my house because I had paid myself instead of spending it on things I did not really need. I learned the concept of disposable income early and to live within my means.

4 — Follow a financial/economy newsfeed — I didn’t start this until I was older and came across the Morning Brew. It is written by younger people with a great sense of humour. The newsfeed covers many different stories and topics and is written in plain language — even in Gen Z acronyms which I sometimes google to know what they mean! This publication has increased my knowledge of the global economy and always leaves with me some great conversations starters!

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I think it is important to callout my gratitude to Assiniboine Credit Union. I spent the first 20 years of my career with them. They have always been recognized for their CSR commitment and focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. They were intentional in how they treated their employees and the development and advancement opportunities. I had so many great female role models throughout my career with them — a direct benefit of working for Assiniboine. I was fortunate that these leaders were extremely accommodating and afforded me the flexibility to work from home and modified hours when I was raising my young family. They continued to challenge me and provided me with stretch assignments like leading our credit union through the technical aspects of our merger and leading our conversion to a new banking system. They themselves were an example of how women could be respected and successful and a table of primarily older white men!

Can you please give us your favourite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

At one point in my career, I was leading the collaboration strategy for three credit unions. Their goal was to integrate certain areas of the business without formally merging. This was a tall ask and after two years the decision was made to wind-up the initiative. It is the only time I received a position termination notice which created a lot of anxiety for me as I did not know what my future might be!

My CEO at the time was very empathetic and shared some simple life advice that “This too shall pass”. And he was right. Shortly after receiving the notice, I was offered a job from each of the three credit unions. It was still a stressful time and rife with uncertainty, but that time did pass, I did move into a role that has challenged and moved my career in the direction I wanted it to go. This lesson was instrumental for me. In 2022 our organization experienced a cyber-attack. IT is one of my areas of responsibility and the magnitude of the impact was debilitating. We worked around the clock to bring systems back. I shared this lesson with my leaders and their teams, encouraging them to believe that we will get through this, “This too shall pass”. Nine months later we have moved on and we are much stronger and better protected that we were before!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I am fascinated by the shift in society’s acceptance of mental health and the increased willingness of people to speak up about their challenges and to ask for help. We have also seen a shift in organizations and their willingness to acknowledge mental health and to provide people with the resources they need. I believe the movement to break down the stigma, embarrassment, and unwillingness to speak about mental health hit a tipping point, where mental health is now openly talked about in schools, at work, in social circles, etc. I would love to understand what worked within that movement and apply those learnings to people’s willingness to ask for help with their financial well-being. Most people avoid conversations about their financial challenges, and yet these contribute to their physical and mental state. What is that people are embarrassed about? What makes them feel embarrassed? Finances, like a person’s mental health, is complicated — terms and conditions of mortgages, credit cards, BNPL, etc are all complicated! We need a movement to encourage people to acknowledge their financial challenges and to ask for the help they need.

Thank you for the time you spent on this interview. We wish you only continued success.

About The Interviewer: Jason Hartman is the Founder and CEO of Empowered Investor. Jason has been involved in several thousand real estate transactions and has owned income properties in 11 states and 17 cities. Empowered Investor helps people achieve The American Dream of financial freedom by purchasing income property in prudent markets nationwide. Jason’s Complete Solution for Real Estate Investors™ is a comprehensive system providing real estate investors with education, research, resources and technology to deal with all areas of their income property investment needs. Through Jason’s podcasts, educational events, referrals, mentoring and software to track your investments, investors can easily locate, finance and purchase properties in these exceptional markets with confidence and peace of mind.

Starting with very little, Jason, while still in college at the age of 19, embarked on a career in real estate. While brokering properties for clients, he was investing in his own portfolio along the way. Through creativity, persistence and hard work, he earned a number of prestigious industry awards and became a young multi-millionaire. Jason purchased a California real estate brokerage firm that was later acquired by Coldwell Banker. He combined his dedication and business talents to become a successful entrepreneur, public speaker, author, and media personality. Over the years he developed his Complete Solution for Real Estate Investors™ where his innovative firm educates and assists investors in acquiring prudent investments nationwide for their portfolio. Jason’s sought after educational events, speaking engagements, and his popular “Creating Wealth Podcast” inspire and empower hundreds of thousands of people in 189 countries worldwide.

While running his successful real estate and media businesses, Jason also believes that giving back to the community plays an important role in building strong personal relationships. He established The Jason Hartman Foundation in 2005 to provide financial literacy education to young adults providing the all-important real world skills not taught in school which are the key to the financial stability and success of future generations. We’re in a global monetary crisis caused by decades of misguided policies and the cycle of financial dependence has to be broken, literacy and self-reliance are a good start. Visit JasonHartman.com for free materials and resources.

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Jason Hartman
Authority Magazine

Author | Speaker | Financial Guru | Podcast Rockstar