Despite their memories of long, hard days working in the mud, heat or cold, many ‘next generation’ members of farm families search hard for a career that offers the same sense of accomplishment and lifestyle they enjoyed working or living on the land.
They may be pleasantly surprised to hear how Scotiabank’s Agricultural Banking team-members applied their diverse backgrounds and education to stay connected with the land and bring value to Canada’s farming community.
A path back to your farm roots
“With so many career options for someone from an ‘ag’ background, people are often surprised how I combine my love for working outdoors with my financial and people skills at the Bank,” says Jason Warmerdam of Chilliwack, BC.
The Associate Director of National Accounts started out working summers at his uncle’s flower bulb ranch. After studying sales and marketing, he joined Scotiabank, where he now serves the commercial credit needs of a wide range of cattle, dairy and poultry producers, greenhouse operators and agri-service providers.
I wanted a challenging career connected to the ‘real world’ where food comes from, and this job ‘ticks all the boxes.’ I can wear a suit and tie one day, figuring out complex credit solutions, and wear jeans and boots the next, when I walk around a client’s farm."
“For me, it was never a question of ‘Will I stay in agriculture?’ but rather ‘How will I stay in agriculture?’” recalls Tanner Borsa, who grew up on the family mixed grain and cattle farm, completed a degree in agri-business with a field crop production minor, and worked in the crop inputs business. Today, he’s a Commercial Banking Agriculture Specialist, serving agricultural clients across northeast Saskatchewan while also working part-time on land he bought from his grandfather.
Fellow Saskatchewan-native Celeste Wilson followed a similar career path, from the family farm to ag economics studies (minoring in agronomy) to summer industry work. She happened to meet a Scotiabank campus recruiter who told her about the Bank’s Commercial Accelerate Program (CAP), a 9–12-month rotational program to introduce recent university graduates to commercial banking careers.
“I always pictured myself staying connected to agriculture on some level, but it was an internal struggle, because I had two brothers who were already managing our farm,” says Wilson, an Edmonton-based Relationship Manager, who now serves clients across northern Alberta.
I knew I had to go out and find my own way back to agriculture. When you‘re a farm kid, you have seen how much work it takes in this industry, so I was pretty committed to matching that level of dedication in my career.”
Meanwhile, Meghan Macpherson laughs that her first instinct was to get away from agriculture: “I had a lot of responsibility growing up on a farm, so I was searching for anything but ‘ag’!” recalls the Director of Scotiabank’s National Credit Unit, who grew up on a family dairy farm in South Mountain, Ontario.
However, Macpherson realized at university how much she missed farming, transferred to an agricultural business program, and held a series of roles in management, agronomy, and later at Scotiabank, which helped her get back to the family farm in eastern Ontario. Today, she leads a Global Risk Management team that helps Scotiabank’s agricultural bankers provide credit solutions to their clients. And, living just five kilometres from the family farm, she does the book-keeping on weekends while introducing her kids to farm chores.
From tractor to desk, serving ‘ag’ community:
Although Agricultural Banking team-members admit they spend more time at a desk than riding a tractor, their jobs provide plenty of opportunity to keep close to the farm community.
“People are surprised how much you can stay involved in agriculture with the Bank,” says Kelly Armstrong, a Renfrew, Ontario-based Senior Credit Solutions Manager, whose father was a sharecropper and input supply business operator. After studying agriculture science and working in industry and government, she joined Scotiabank. “As a Relationship Manager, you can balance your time between the office and meeting clients on the land. And, whatever your role, there are lots of ways to stay connected, since Scotiabank is so involved in this community, from 4-H clubs to industry events and fundraisers.”
Recent-hire Jocelyn Schill agrees, even though she is still settling into her role as a Client Service Associate in Listowel, Ontario, after completing business studies in Canada and Ireland. “Since I’m supporting Relationship Managers who are on the road, there are plenty of chances to join them on client visits, so I can make it part of my role if I want it to be.”
Schill proudly points out how she brings value to agricultural clients each day.
I’m often the first set of eyes to look at a client’s financial statements, so I analyze how their business is doing, spot problems and develop solutions. With my farm background and education, I can ask the right questions that make a difference for the client.”
Schill notes that she keeps up with farm community issues while living on the family cash crop and hog farm.
Jason Warmerdam recalls many ‘Ah-ha!’ moments where clients benefited from his advice. “I showed one client how their ‘feed-to-income’ ratio was higher than the industry average, to help them reduce their costs and become more profitable. The client thanked me and said, ‘No one has ever gone through our financials like that before.’ Another time, I helped a dairy operation turn their dream, ‘written on a napkin,’ into a spreadsheet. Now they have a successful, 1,200 head, custom-heifer raising facility.”
We are one of the only financial institutions with a dedicated Agricultural Credit Unit, staffed with people who really ‘get’ agriculture. Some other lenders send their larger credit applications to the corporate credit office, to someone who often knows nothing about farming. In contrast, I understand their business, so I appreciate what they need and when they need it.”
“We can really match the urgency our clients feel since we’ve been on the other side,” explains Celeste Wilson. “I’ve seen my parents’ operation, and how they needed answers and solutions in a timely manner. I know the business – from both the money-side and the operational side – so I can speak their language, advocate for them, and find the right solution.”
Finding your fit in agriculture
While these Agriculture Bankers don’t miss everything about farming – including calf bottle feeding, baling hay or cleaning combine filters – they’re glad where their careers took them, and they have great advice for the next generation.
“I don’t miss cleaning rotten grain out of a bin in 40-degree heat, but there’s no better lifestyle than being on the farm,” chuckles Tanner Borsa. “That said, my advice would be to leave the farm for a while and experience what else is out there.”
Kelly Armstrong acknowledges that it can be hard for a young person to narrow down all the career options in agriculture.
I often encourage my farm clients to include their children in meetings with their banker, so they get some exposure to the financial side of the family business and maybe learn about banking careers. I’m happy to introduce them to my industry and community contacts, since having a network or a mentor can help them figure things out."
“I’d definitely direct a recent grad to the Scotiabank CAP program, since I’m two years out of university and it gave me a straight shot to a Client Relationship Manager role,” suggests Celeste Wilson. She notes the program gives participants many options, whether that’s acquiring a ‘diploma in commercial banking’ to building a lifelong career at the Bank, gaining useful skills to someday take over the family farm, or even supplementing their farm income as an agricultural banker.
When Jocelyn Schill remembers that, “Agriculture really meant something special for me, but I didn’t know where to go.”
Scotiabank knows that farmers want to deal with someone who truly understands their business. So, if you’re coming from an agriculture background, the sky’s your limit.”