While the pandemic has buffeted most parts of the economy, Canada’s farming and agricultural business sector has shown great resilience. With a long history of operating challenges - from foul weather to rocky commodity prices - Canadian farmers and processors have learned to adapt, alongside partners they trust to deliver flexible solutions whenever the weathervane spins.
“Although COVID-19 has affected each sector of agriculture in different ways, those clients who’ve been impacted, have been hit pretty hard,” describes Darren Mohle, Associate Director, Agriculture National Accounts, who lives on his family’s broiler chicken and cash crop farm near Listowel, Ontario. Mohle has witnessed the impacts, by reviewing the client needs of his cross-country clients and his neighbours.
Farmers are not strangers to hard times:
Although COVID-19 is the latest challenge, farmers are used to being hit by exogenous events, from weather to trade disputes, over which they have little control,” notes Janice Holzscherer, Vice President and Head of Agriculture at Scotiabank. “They are better prepared than many other parts of the economy to deal with a pandemic, and they’ve learned to work with partners who ‘get it,’ and who want to help position them to deal with the next unexpected event.”
Ryan Wig, a Saskatoon-based Senior Client Relationship Manager for Manitoba and Saskatchewan, agrees, pointing out that, “Many of my customers are recovering from several years of tough commodity prices and unfavorable weather, so they are trying to balance rebuilding their balance sheet against the need to expand their land or facilities to gain growth and efficiency.”
He adds that his clients must regularly consider new technology investments. And, with equipment prices rising faster than the average commodity index, they need advice and credit structures to find the right balance: “We help them take a longer-term view than just the immediate challenge or opportunity, and we help them plan forward, with projections for their working capital, equipment or labour needs down the road.”
This mindset of providing strategic advice means that, for example, if a client seeks a mortgage for a new piece of land, their Scotiabank relationship manager might instead suggest a revolving term facility. That way, as the loan is paid down, the farm is freeing up available credit for expansion or investment in their operations.
“The type of advice we offer is much wider than what clients might expect,” says Edmonton-based Rob Gibbs, Senior Client Relationship Manager. “We’re not just talking about today’s rates but helping them think through what might come next.”
Such personalized solutions make a difference, whether the Bank is helping an ambitious farm pursue aggressive expansion, or simply to bob and weave in a pandemic. “We don’t provide ‘average solutions’ that work for the ‘average client’,” adds Mohle. He recounts how he moved quickly to provide a longer-term solution to one client when they faced spoiling inventory, and substantial losses, after the pandemic stunted demand for their product. “Instead of simply sending them a letter in the mail that offers payment relief for six months, we’ll drive out to meet them and ask, ‘What are your actual needs for the next 12, 18 or 36 months?’”
Walking in their boots:
Each of Scotiabank’s agricultural bankers note how their own backgrounds in agriculture help them serve clients better. “When I’m talking to a client about an urgent concern, I sometimes imagine that this could be my mom or dad sitting on the other side of the table with their banker,” says Wig, who grew up on a mixed grain and cattle operation in southwest Saskatchewan.
If you come from the farming business, clients trust that you get what they are working towards and you understand their challenges,” explains Kimberly Ross, Director of Agriculture in Abbotsford, B.C. who grew up on a Fraser Valley dairy, beef and landscape nursery farm.
Ross says she enjoys the chance to put on boots and visit clients across B.C.: “They appreciate that I ask the right questions, to get to the heart of their issues.” Her team also brings in specialized partners from across the Bank, from mergers and acquisitions advisors, to wealth management experts who can assist with sensitive succession planning matters. And, Scotiabank is the only Canadian bank with a dedicated agricultural credit group that focuses exclusively on responding to the distinct needs of the farming sector.
Driving miles to respond when they want us:
“Responsiveness is what our clients want most,” says Gibbs, whose team serves a range of clients across northern Alberta, from small family farms to large scale producers and processors. He adds that a willingness to hit the road is critical since his clients work long hours, and deals come up quickly, requiring a banker to turn transactions around quickly. “We’re happy to drive six hours to make sure a client can see a familiar face, and they can talk to us when they like.”
“Since our clients have many things on their mind, we design very flexible solutions that work for them even when conditions change,” adds Ross. “However, we let them know that, when they need us, we’ll be there.”
With Canadian Ag Day celebrated on February 23rd, Janice Holzscherer reflects on the character of Scotiabank’s clients from coast to coast: “These are individuals and enterprises who really demonstrate their resilience. They face many challenges, and they just get on with it. In return, we celebrate the farmers who feed our nation and we want to show them how ‘We get agriculture,’ and we want to support them, in the ups and downs.”