Banking on People

EVP of HR Kelly Blackett returned to her hometown Alberta to put people first at Canadian Western Bank

Most people call their bank, get a prerecorded message, and then must navigate through impersonal menus and options before reaching the line they need. But not if they bank with Canadian Western Bank (CWB).

“When you phone CWB, you’re never going to get someone’s voicemail, because we don’t have it,” says Kelly Blackett, executive vice president of human resources of the largest publicly-traded bank headquartered in Western Canada. “We believe our clients should always have the opportunity to speak to one of our people during business hours.”

That willingness to put service first is what sets CWB apart from other banks. Born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta – where CWB has maintained its head office since incorporating more than 30 years ago – Blackett also appreciates that CWB has stayed true to its entrepreneurial roots.

When the EVP of HR isn’t helping up-and-coming leaders at the bank, she can be found engaged in outdoor activities with her husband and daughter or checking out local street art

“Having a significant presence here [in Alberta], being able to do deals faster with less bureaucracy, and with better service,” says Blackett, “have all been really big differentiators for us.”

And while Blackett loved the beginning of her career where she tackled work that was national and international in scope, something was missing. “When you do work that’s largely virtual-based, you lose a connection to the community you’re living in,” she says.

Building relationships rooted in understanding its clients’ needs and going the extra mile to provide great service is just part of the equation. Blackett and CWB understand that you have to take good care of your employees.


Branches throughout Western Canada


Banks that almagamated—Bank of Alberta and Western & Pacific Bank of Canada—in 1988 to create Canadian Western Bank

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Became a chartered domestic bank as Bank of Alberta on March 22, 1984

For Canadian Western Bank, that means helping employees throughout the organization understand what they’re working towards from a strategic perspective, and what employees can do in their jobs that are going to help drive success. “So we’ve started our journey on really doing a more thoughtful and deliberate job of integrating performance management with strategic direction,” Blackett says. The result is employees who are invested in doing what’s best for both the company and their clients. “It really helps our people to get a line of sight as to how the work they do really matters.”

CWB is also working hard to increase two-way communication among its employees. “That’s one of the keys to the success of our culture—that if you’re a front-line sales and service representative in one of our branches, you can feel comfortable calling up the CEO and talking about your business,” says Blackett. “We’ve done lots of things to try and drive the approachability and accessibility of our senior leaders and executive team.”

One of the more memorable programs they’ve run to accomplish this was called Rock of Changes. Last October, CWB planned and executed a week-long program with a rock music theme in which the executive team portrayed themselves as being in a band called The Rolling Coins.

“We had executives and senior leaders at every single branch and partner company in our organization and we went out and participated in activities like music trivia with them,” says Blackett. “At the same time, we talked about business and thanked them for their contributions.” Blackett considers this to be an important piece to bringing people from different parts of the company together. “Demonstrating that senior leaders are just people too is really important from a cultural standpoint.”

Another area that CWB has been working on is the idea of continuous improvement.
“We need to constantly be questioning whether there are better ways for us to do things,” says Blackett. “Are there ways that we can make processes more efficient? That we can take out bureaucracy?” Such an idea is surely welcome, not only to clients accustomed to filling out piles of paperwork, but to any employee who has ever been immobilized by red tape.

An additional change designed to benefit employees has been a revamping of how it handles compensation. “We did a complete redesign of our total compensation program across the bank,” says Blackett. “We infused it with about $5 million in cash to take those incentives to every single employee in the organization.”