Curtis Stange brings the best of both worlds to ATB Financial. He’s a seasoned banker with extensive experience at one of Canada’s big five banks. And since joining ATB in 2009, he’s taken on challenges—big and small—and along with ATB’s leadership team helped shaped the company as we see it today. His first role at ATB was to create the highly successful Business & Agriculture area of expertise, serving the financial needs of Alberta’s entrepreneurs, small and medium sized businesses, and agricultural producers. He then shepherded the complex and massive conversion of ATB’s core banking system to SAP, a global first. He followed that by leading ATB’s strategic planning and the operational side of the business, including launching innovative approaches such as the world’s first full featured virtual banking assistant in Facebook Messenger, ATB LendR, Track It and Apple Pay, as well as championing the ATB team that sent the first real-time international blockchain payment from Canada to German.
At ATB Financial, we put people first. We’ve been doing it for more than 80 years. In that time, we’ve grown and changed from one small Treasury Branch to become the largest Alberta-based financial institution, with assets of more than $51.9 billion. Along the way, we’ve transformed people’s understanding of what banking can–and should–make possible. And we’re just getting started.
With $54.9 billion in assets, ATB Financial is an Alberta-built financial institution. But don’t let that fool you—we’re so much more than a bank. We got started in 1938 to help Albertans through tough economic times, and today we have 176 branches, 143 agencies, a Client Care Centre, four entrepreneur centres, and mobile and online banking. And did you know we’re fast becoming the digital bank and the bank for entrepreneurs? We’re already the place to work for our more than 5,500 team members who love to serve our 760,000-plus customers in 247 Alberta communities.
ATB was one of Aon’s Platinum Best Employers in Canada in 2017 and received Startup Canada’s Entrepreneur Support Award for the Prairies. We were also named Best Workplace in Canada for 2017 by Great Place to Work. Most importantly, in 2017 our team members gave us an engagement score of 91%, which tells us they’re excited to be a part of transforming the way people bank.
How do you believe your 30 years of banking experience has prepared you for your current role of President and CEO of ATB?
I am incredibly excited to be leading ATB Financial and I’m inspired to work with over 5,000 team members who are as committed as I am to serving customers and transforming banking.
My career has taken me across Canada, through all aspects of the industry, during both good and bad economic times. It’s provided me with the experience to successfully navigate a dynamic organization through the triumphs and challenges we often face.
When I first joined ATB in 2009, I was given the chance to build our Business and Agriculture area of expertise from the ground up. This drove us to focus our efforts on supporting the needs of Alberta’s entrepreneurs, SMEs and agricultural producers in a more substantial way—from the very beginning of their journey. Today, we see the impact with our Boostr platform which harnesses the power of crowdfunding for entrepreneurs to start or grow their business. We recently concluded the Build Her Business competition which offered crowdfunding, mentorship and support to help female entrepreneurs overcome some of the unique barriers they face.
Then, as ATB’s first Chief Customer Officer, I had a wonderful opportunity to listen more closely to our customers and eliminate what they can’t stand about banking, you know, all of those troubling bits that can have a real day-to-day impact on your business. One pain point I heard often was no call-backs. We established a 24 hour rule — customers who contact us get a thoughtful response within 24 hours whether they provide that input on social media or at a branch.
Throughout it all, I have never stopped learning.
You played a significant part in the implementation of ATB’s new banking system as well as a leadership role in several innovative approaches such as the first ever fully virtual banking assistant. What were some of the techniques you used to come up with these ground-breaking techniques?
I have always looked at how we can harness technology to improve banking for our customers. From the first-ever virtual banking assistant that you mention, to sending the first real-time international blockchain payment from Canada to Germany, my ATB team has moved the needle when it comes to innovation in a big way.
I am also a big believer in the adaptability quotient. It’s quickly becoming the most important quotient in business today. It’s that growth mindset which challenges your current thinking, changes previous paradigms and considers what’s possible in an increasingly volatile, uncertain and complex world.
Of course, none of this would be possible without excellent teamwork. Our successes at ATB can be attributed to a sharp focus on collaboration and a shared belief in the positive power of disruption.
What are some of the projects and initiatives you’re hoping to put in place in your new role of President and CEO of ATB?
I want to continue our pursuit to reimagine banking, making it work for people and continue to transform the industry. We’re focused on sustainability, being aware of the forces around us that impact what we do and being able to plan for it in a different way. That means doing our due diligence, listening to customers, determining where they will need us in the future and positioning ourselves there. That’s the thinking behind Brightside, our upcoming digital-only bank which has started subscribing early adopters who will have access to the experience later this year.
The future holds both challenges and opportunity. This is not the time to take a backseat or watch from the sidelines. To thrive, we all need to embrace innovation and the change that comes with it.
What sets ATB apart from other financial institutions?
We serve one important market: Alberta. Everything we do is focused on how we can make banking work for Albertans, how we can help them reach their dreams — whether that’s buying a house, saving for their child’s post-secondary education, starting a business or making day-to-day banking that much easier. We like to say we are customer obsessed and that doesn’t happen by chance. We take the time to get to know our customers and doing all we can to meet their needs.
You have extensive experience working at one of Canada’s top five banks. Why do you believe business owners should choose ATB for their financing needs as opposed to larger financial institutions?
We take the time to listen to our customers because we know that’s critical in understanding a customer’s business—and in helping them achieve their goals. We look at both the business and the person behind it. We feel a responsibility to consider their personal financial needs — you can’t separate a business from the life of an entrepreneur.
With that understanding, we add real value to SMEs in our ability to share custom insight and guidance that will help to grow their companies and their success. We’ve seen this when it comes to business planning (in the traditional sense of the term). We’ve heard from our customers that many small business owners don’t have a plan, so often; we work with them to understand their goals and tailor a plan to meet their specific needs.
We also listen when our customer’s plans change—we all know entrepreneurs need to be agile and adjust to constant changes in the business environment—and when they do, we’re here, with a full understanding of how to help, all because we take the time to listen.
ATB has an incredible infrastructure to support entrepreneurs and small businesses. We offer not only relationship managers but a circle of experts both internally and externally. Our experts are there to listen when challenges arise—whether it is cash flow or marketing—and help business owners and entrepreneurs overcome any aspect of the business that creates a barrier to success. We genuinely care about our customers and look for innovative solutions, many of them unique for Alberta entrepreneurs.
In your expert opinion, what are some of the challenges that entrepreneurs face when it comes to their financing needs?
For some entrepreneurs, a lack of resources is a huge challenge and makes it hard for small businesses to develop a well-thought-out business plan. A lack of working capital poses another challenge at the time of start up or expansion. We understand all of these challenges and we can help find the solutions. ATB has a fiduciary responsibility to our customers to listen and ask questions to better understand their plans to ensure their business is financially viable and sustainable. We are also familiar with several programs offered outside of ATB involving partner organizations that can provide solutions including Alberta Innovates, Business Development Centre and Alberta Women Entrepreneurs, to name a few.
You were ATB’s first-ever Chief Customer Officer. What was the most challenging part of that position?
People believe banking is all about profits and money but it’s actually a people business. When I took the role, one of the first gaps I identified was around how we listened to people, specifically our customers. I knew it was crucial to have a deeper understanding of our customers. I wanted to know what keeps them up at night, what motivates them and how ATB can help make banking work better. So, I developed the Listening Post as my first order of business, to do this. I expanded our customer care hours so we now have people available around the clock to help customers whenever they have questions.
I also went on a tour from the top to the bottom of Alberta to hear what was on the minds of our team members, customers and community partners and to understand how ATB is transforming banking and making it accessible. It was eye-opening and continues to help inform my decisions.
Do you believe that being ATB’s first Chief Customer Officer had a positive impact on their customer service?
Absolutely, although being customer obsessed means our work is never done!
We have learned so much through our Listening Post. We honed in on ensuring a consistent standard of service and realized that what may work best for a bank does not always work best for our customer. This was a turning point for us and enabled us to begin driving a culture of customer obsession including implementing the 24-hour rule I mentioned earlier.
We know money is deeply personal and emotional for people. They aren’t just numbers or credit scores but people with dreams and ambition. We’ve brought the customer perspective to everything we’ve done since. And I bring it every day as President and CEO.
You have a strong connection with the community through the several organizations that you take part in. What inspires you to play such a huge role in charitable organizations that benefit the community?
At ATB, we have a strong philanthropic and volunteer culture. Every year, ATB sets aside money to match 15 per cent of each dollar donated to Alberta charities through the ATB Cares program. Through charitable donations, fundraising, grants and sponsorships, ATB contributes millions of dollars every year.
What I’m probably most proud of is how ATB team members volunteer thousands of hours to community initiatives outside of their day-to-day—it speaks to who we are, the values we share and our commitment to our community.
One of my personal passions is wellness — physical, mental, spiritual and financial. I’m a board member of the Canadian Mental Health Association where we are advocating to reduce the stigma and translate that into a healthier community. Far too many people are struggling with mental health and don’t feel comfortable talking about it. I’m also on the board of the Edmonton International Airport and MasterCard Canada, as well as co-chair of the Children’s Wish Foundation. I know we can make a difference by truly listening and using ATB’s expertise to help change people’s lives for the better.
On a final note, you have a pretty active lifestyle with your wife. How do you manage to find time through your busy schedule to stay in shape and do all these activities with your wife?
Physical activity—whether it’s cycling, golf, hiking or skiing—has always been an important part of my and Shannon’s life and a crucial part of my family’s overall wellness. I believe physical wellness is deeply connected to mental, spiritual and financial wellbeing. When one of those elements of our lives is not fed or properly nurtured, it throws our overall mindset out of balance.
This not only motivates me to maintain an active lifestyle but also inspired me to establish Wellness Wednesdays at ATB where every month I dive deeper into topics around mental, physical, spiritual and financial wellness and how we can get there. We know our people are the beginning and the most important component of our promise to Albertans. We can only deliver remarkable customer experiences if our team members are all in. That means taking care of our overall wellness.