By Hailey Eisen
In late 2014, Laura Curtis Ferrera picked up the phone and made a cold call to Scotiabank.
Having had a rich and dynamic strategic marketing career with wealth management brands, Laura says she was eager to work with an international bank and was impressed with how Scotiabank interacted with Canadians and its customers.
“I had always thought the bank was optimistic, approachable, friendly, confident, and knowledgeable when interacting with its customers,” she says. “That’s what brought me to the bank and has kept me here ever since.”
Her cold call worked, and in February 2015, Laura was hired by Scotiabank into the role of SVP, Marketing. Her first job was to help launch the Scotia Wealth Management brand, which represented several of the bank’s wealth management businesses.
“When I came to the bank, I came in as a specialist in wealth management and asset management marketing. So even though I knew my craft and I had industry experience, the bank was exciting and new, and it was also mildly terrifying,” Laura says. “In my background, I have worked at start ups, family-owned businesses as well as large global companies. But coming to one of the largest banks and largest companies in Canada was a whole new challenge — operating in multiple cultures, in multiple languages, in multiple offices with a matrixed structure was largely new to me.”
Laura went on to add Global Business Banking and Canadian Retail Marketing to her repertoire prior to September 2020 when, in a significant career milestone, Laura was named Scotiabank’s Global Chief Marketing Officer.
“When you ask what the highlight of my career has been, I have to say I’m living it right now,” Laura says. “To come to work every day and be the steward of the bank’s brand — that’s my bliss.”
With a huge emphasis on not only marketing for growth but also marketing for good, Laura says she feels proud of the work she’s doing and the team she’s leading. Under Laura’s leadership, the marketing team at Scotiabank is focusing on advancing the bank’s global brand to be an inclusive ‘Bank of Choice’ — through everything from advertisements to partnerships.
What’s changed the most over the past seven years, Laura says, is the focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Not only internally — “we must walk the talk,” she says — but also in all aspects of marketing.
“There’s now an enormous obligation for us as marketers to show up as a force for good,” she says. “Our focus is how we can help communities and society at large by ensuring we remove racial and gender stereotypes and biases and represent all Canadians in an authentic way. For us, it’s about using the power of our dollar to do things that are not just going to be promotional in nature, but actually helpful for the communities we serve.”
An example of one such program which Laura was instrumental in launching — and means a lot to her personally — is Hockey for All. A sponsorship and partnership program, Hockey for All aims to make “Canada’s game” more diverse, inclusive, and accessible to everyone, breaking down the barriers that stand in the way of true inclusion and diversity.
“What makes me especially proud is that it is a platform for consistent change with programming and funding and partnerships versus a campaign that merely highlights the problem,” Laura says. “I love that we are part of the solution in a long-term way. I believe that as marketers and bankers, it is our obligation to use our positions to be a force for good in society. And with Hockey for All and its Latin American equivalent, Everyone on the Field, I think we have accomplished something so special.”
The program involves everything from supporting and partnering with grassroots initiatives, funding community hockey leagues, mentoring young girls interested in hockey and supporting the Hockey Canada Foundation Assist Fund which makes the sport more accessible to Black and Indigenous youth and young People of Colour.
Laura has also had the opportunity to work on the launch and roll out of The Scotiabank Women Initiative, which breaks down barriers to increase economic and professional opportunities for women now, and in the future. “One insight I had always found very troubling was that women were not going to banks when they needed to borrow money for new ventures — likely because they assumed they’d be turned down, even if that wasn’t the case,” Laura says. “I wanted to eliminate the assumption that banks weren’t being good partners to women entrepreneurs.”
Through the program, Scotiabank has been able to create a community with outreach, mentorship, education, and funding — breaking down the problems women traditionally face and creating a program that solves for each of them.
From small business owners, to women running established companies, to executives looking to get onto boards, to those in receipt of large wealth transfers, Laura says the program hasn’t stayed in one lane, but rather works to respond to a variety of client needs.
“I love that the program has changed dramatically over the past few years and we keep adding to it,” she says. “This type of program makes me feel like I really have a purpose and value in the work I’m doing.”
Through Laura’s leadership, Scotiabank has also committed to the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) #SheHer mission which aims to increase accurate portrayals of women and girls in the media. The group developed the Gender Equality Measure (GEM) to track progress and the marketing effect of removing unconscious bias from content. Scotiabank is also a member of the Global Alliance for Responsible Media, a cross-industry initiative established by the World Federation of Advertisers to address the challenge of harmful content on digital media platforms and its monetization via advertising.
“As a bank, we are very critical of ourselves and our commitment to move beyond stereotypes in all of our marketing efforts when it comes to gender and race,” Laura says. “I feel like I have a huge obligation to help communities be better off. And that goes beyond reflecting where we’re at now as a society. I don’t see why we can’t reflect the society we want to live in — the world we’d like to see.”
One of the earliest lessons Laura learned after joining Scotiabank was, “in order to thrive in a large organization, you must find your people who make the large feel small,” she says. During the last few years of the pandemic, she says what she missed most was the camaraderie of these natural interactions. In fact, she believes the obstacles she faced during COVID were, in many ways, the most challenging of her career. Looking back, Laura says she’s learned a lot about herself as an individual and a leader.
“I’ve come to the realization that I’m an extrovert, and while I used to think of myself as more of an introvert, I truly get joy from working with my marketing peers and partners,” she says. Finding this joy while working from home was actually harder for Laura than she expected it to be.
“My team was highly productive during the pandemic and they transitioned really well to working from home — but I’m not sure I did such a good job of it.”
In better understanding herself, Laura was able to make some changes and open some doors that may not have otherwise been opened. “I’ve actually decided to go back to school — both as a student and as a teacher,” she says. As a student, she’s joining CMO’s from around the world for a 12-week Leadership Program through the Institute for Real Growth, and as a teacher, she’s been providing guest lectures for MBA schools across Canada on ‘metrics that matter.’ “Both of these came from the realization that I needed to do something to spark my curiosity and creativity,” she says.
Beyond work, Laura has always followed her passion and committed time to causes and organizations that matter to her. She was a former director, and now a board member, of Hot Docs, and currently volunteers with the Children’s Aid Foundation. As a mentor, she’s worked with Next Canada — completing what she refers to as “the triangle” of being a teacher, a student, and a mentor. A network of academics, entrepreneurs, investors, and founders, Next Canada has allowed Laura the opportunity to work with young entrepreneurs providing insight and support. “It feeds my soul,” she says.
Looking back, she says there was a time in her career when she felt selfish for wanting to be a marketer. “I envied those people in careers that were in service to others,” Laura recalls. “But, at this point in my career, I realize I can be a marketer and make a difference. It doesn’t have to be so binary, and I feel truly honoured and proud to be part of projects that continue to have real and lasting impacts.”
This article was first published in Women of Influence and is republished with permission.