Colleen Johnston, FCA, TD Bank Group
Name: Colleen Johnston
Current Title: Group Head Finance and CFO, TD Bank Group
City, Province: Toronto, Ontario
Years Working in Industry: 30
What are the challenges and advantages you face in your industry?
The business of banking is vital to the strength and growth of the Canadian economy. At TD, we are leaders in retail banking with very strong businesses in Canada and the United States. The current environment presents opportunities for well-run, well-capitalized banks to take market share and continue growing organically. TD also has a great franchise delivering great growth, but if there is an opportunity that makes sense financially and strategically and fits within our risk appetite, we would consider it. The current environment is challenging, with low interest rates and slowing loan growth, combined with regulatory uncertainty. At TD, the strength of our lower-risk, retail-based business model and a focus on delivering legendary customer experiences and unparalleled convenience will power our future growth.
What is the best part of your job?
I spend a lot of my time talking to investors (existing and potential) and analysts who cover our stock. It’s a real privilege to represent the bank and tell our story – dealing with every aspect of the bank’s strategy, performance and people. One of TD’s guiding principles is living the value of transparency and I believe this has helped me build deeper, trusted relationships with our investors.
The other best part of my job is leading a phenomenal team – the best finance team in banking. I take tremendous pride in their accomplishments.
What is your biggest business or career accomplishment? What are you most proud of?
In 2012 I was named Canada’s CFO of the year. It was a huge honour for TD, for my team and for me. An award like this is only possible if you have a world-class team and work for a world-class organization. I am proud to lead such an excellent team – I am humbled by their talent, hard work, and dedication.
Is there a book you recently read or movie you say that you would recommend?
I loved the movie ‘Game Change’ – an HBO movie about Sarah Palin and her Vice-Presidential run in 2008. There was so much more to the real-life story than met the eye back at the time. The acting was excellent and the actors closely resembled the real people. HBO also put out a movie called ‘Too Big to Fail’ – same attributes. It was also enjoyable but terrifying – as bankers we lived through it.
Has there been a defining moment in your career? Perhaps when you know you were on the right path?
This story happened back in the mid 1990s. I was CFO of the Domestic Bank at another leading Canadian bank. One part of the bank’s business was under-performing. Most people in the business thought they were doing OK because many of the fundamentals were performing well. But when you stepped back, the business was losing money. I spent a lot of time with the senior executives in this business to help them understand the numbers and come up with a game-plan to become more profitable. This kind of assessment was challenging for the team at first, but eventually I built some strong relationships and was viewed as a key advisor.
After all of this, I was asked to be the keynote speaker at their annual conference. The head of the business entrusted me to address the group and explain the facts about the business and its under-performance. I was ‘unveiling’ the truth for them. When he introduced me to the group, the head of the business said – “Colleen has the steel knife but the velvet glove”. His trust in me to deliver a tough message in a humane way and his trust in my business judgment made me feel great. I knew I was on the right track in my career.