Women Leading The Finance Industry: Tammy Christopher of OMISTA Credit Union On The 5 Things You Should Do To Increase Your Financial Literacy

Jason Hartman
Authority Magazine
Published in
11 min readApr 19


Know what a credit score is. How do you build a score. What affects the score. When in a tough financial spot and you must choose what to pay or what not to. Think about your credit score.

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

Tammy is the CEO of OMISTA Credit Union in New Brunswick. She holds a Charter Professional Accountants designation and is a graduate of the Institute of Corporate Directors. Her career has spanned industries of manufacturing, insurance, and the financial services sector.

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?

As a child I loved to play with money. I would save my coins. I’d count the coins. Re-count the coins and when I got enough, I’d roll them and proudly take them to the bank to add to my savings account. I guess that is why I was drawn to the accounting profession and ultimately the finance industry.

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?

In 2010 I became involved in a volunteer Credit Union mentorship program. The program saw Canadian Credit Union professionals go to developing countries to coach credit union managers. I was paired with a SACCO (this is what credit unions are called in Africa) in Uganda. Our mission was to provide advice to managers and boards to help them overcome challenges within their credit union. The SACCO that I visited had two computers but unfortunately, they did not have stable electricity. For this reason, all their records were maintained through a manual system. I was asked to work with the accountant to help her balance her monthly ledgers. She was using the biggest ledger pad that I have ever seen. It had at least 30 vertical columns and she needed more columns. As an accountant, can you imagine how difficult it would be to foot and cross foot such a massive manual sheet. She was literally spending hours tyring to keep everything lined up and added correctly. She needed a solution.

After spending some time with her and watching how she worked her magic, together we discovered a way for her to save space on her column pad. The solution was very simple. If she was entering a debit, she would enter it in blue ink. If she was entering a credit, she would enter it in red ink and place brackets around the number. This allowed her to use one column instead of two for each account. She was overjoyed and could now focus her time on other critical activities within the SACCO.

This may sound like a very simple story and unrelated to business today. It however has stuck with me throughout my career. It reminds me that solutions do not always have to be complex. Don’t dismiss a solution because of its simplicity.

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

Our Credit Union is embarking on the biggest technology project in our history. Later this year we will be completely replacing our core banking program. The new core will allow us to better serve our members in a friction free digital environment while maintaining our tradition of exceptional personalized service. This will be extremely beneficial to people as technology continues to shape our world. Members will be able to receive banking services in whatever means they are comfortable, we will be there for them and ready for the future.

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

Our company stands out because of its cooperative nature. It is built on fairness, trust, honesty, and the seven cooperative principles. Our purpose statement is “We care for members and empower them to succeed”. We do this by simplifying the banking experience by providing honest advice and exceptional service so that dreams can be achieved. We prove that where you bank can change everything. We are the trusted and desired financial partner for our communities and local businesses.

Our company prides itself on creating personal, trusting relationships. Many years ago, we had a married couple come to us seeking credit. They were young and establishing their lives. As typical, they have a car loan, some personal debt, and a mortgage. Things were tight financially but manageable. Over time, life happened, and they made some not so wise financial decisions. They got in the habit of utilizing credit cards and buy now pay later purchases. On a few occasions they would come and see our financial advisor and seek a consolidation loan to free up cash flow and make their debt more manageable. Each time our advisor would talk to them about budgeting and the unwise spending patterns they had created. Then one day the couple came in to see the advisor. Now in their 40’s they saw that they were working hard, had good jobs, but were not moving forward. They felt they had nothing to show for the past decade of hard work. They asked, “Please help us to get on track so that we can retire one day.” And so, it began. Our financial advisor helped them to create a budget with small goals to move them forward. They met by-weekly for close to a year. Fast forward to today. The couple have moved forward. Their mortgage is paid, they have savings, and are prepared for retirement. The icing on the cake, they have shared their learnings with their children and set a healthy financial example. For this couple, their choice of where to bank really did change everything.

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 believe that this has changed due to research and studies that have shown time and time again that including women on finance teams helps results to skyrocket. It has been proven that teams that include at least one woman outperform all-male teams by every performance indicator. This has caused conversations to be had and for diversity to be discussed as a competitive factor. Board governance best practices now call for diversity. Companies are realizing that women have a unique perspective and can often relate and connect with people on a different level.

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?

As an individuals and women specifically if a position resonates with your education, experience, and capabilities, got for it. Don’t hold back. Throw your hat into the ring even if you do not meet 100% of the job criteria. Few candidates meet 100% of the criteria. Leve your comfort zone and embrace the next step in your career.

One thing that I can personally do is be a role model for other women who are up and coming. I can make a point of being real and authentic by providing words of encouragement and support.

As companies need to support women and give them a voice at the table. But they need to listen to those voices so they can understand what female colleagues really need. Companies need to set policies that are gender neutral and allow flexibility and remove biases about working mothers. Most importantly, companies need to train their entire teams on diversity to create a respectful environment.

As a society we need to highlight and celebrate the successes of females in senior positions. Advertising needs to demonstrate that a financial expert does not have to be a white male sitting behind a desk. We need to ensure young girls see the world of finance as a not just a clerical job but as a strong achievable career option.

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?

This one is easy; I have three young adult children. My advice is to start early and ingrain good spending habits into your lifestyle. When each of my children went out into the work force for the first time, I explained to them the key to a healthy financial future.

  1. When you get your first paycheck (before you have debt), divide it into three categories. 50% goes to future savings (education), 25% goes towards something bigger you’d like to purchase (maybe a cell phone or a motorcycle or car), and 25% can be spent on fun.
  2. As you get older, keep this system. 50% goes towards bills, 25% goes towards your rainy-day fund or a desired thing, 25% can be spent on fun.
  3. Always pay your cell phone bill. That is usually the first bill young people will have in their own name. This is the first thing that will goes towards building your credit.
  4. Know what a credit score is. How do you build a score. What affects the score. When in a tough financial spot and you must choose what to pay or what not to. Think about your credit score.
  5. Never be afraid to ask for advice. That is what financial advisors are for. Financial basics are not taught in school, educate yourself.

This philosophy has worked for my children. Two of the three are finished university and have zero student debt. What a great head start they have in life.

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’ve been fortunate to have many wonderful people guide me along my career path. Dr. Richard Vaillancourt was the former CEO of OMISTA and hired me for a Controller position. He and I worked very closely. He had a strong background in HR, IT, and operations. I had the strong background in finance. Together we made a great team. One day he asked me if I ever had aspirations of becoming a CEO. Honestly, I had not. I was a wife, and mother to 3 children. I was simply trying to balance life’s commitments with family commitments. He told me that he thought I had a natural ability to lead and would make an excellent CEO. With his help and guidance, I decided that I wanted to at least learn what was required. I wanted to open that door even if one day I did not walk through it. Richard was 110% behind me. He provided me opportunities to grow and learn. He encouraged me to get involved in board governance. He nominated me for system board positions. He gave me the space and time required explore and was always coaching me. He instilled in me critical and strategic thinking. Without his encouragement and support, I would not be where I am today.

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

“To waste time is to ignore the value of life.”

Often we procrastinate in many decisions or actions. We may tend to say, I will do that tomorrow, or I need to think on that a bit more. Sometimes we can get caught up in analysis paralysis, never deciding for fear of making the wrong decision. The above saying was shared with me by a mentor early in my career. I was trying to decide if I should change jobs or stay where I was. I deliberated. I made a list of the pros and cons. I asked others what they thought I should do and that’s when these words were said to me. “To waste time is to ignore the value of life.” To sit around and allow life to pass you by out of fear will bring you no success. If you want to achieve a goal, stop wasting time. There is no time like the present to make a plan, set milestones, and inch closer everyday to your desired life.

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’d love to see a movement in which physical activity is the first line of defence in mental health circumstances. So many health issues are tied to physical health. We know that the endorphins that are released when we engage in even mild exercise improves circulation and mood. Wouldn’t it be great if all employers made physical activity a part of everyone’s workday? As a society we have allowed ourselves to become sedentary. Doctors are all too quick to prescribe medication to help us cope with the stresses of everyday life. Imagine if we all took 20 minutes of each day to be active. Think of all the health issues that could be improved upon or eliminated by this small change.

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.