Tracy Redies: Pushing the envelope pays off for Coast Capital chief

Growth has come from innovation and a focus on executing a core business strategy

Tracy Redies, Coast Capital Savings

Tracy Redies has challenged the status quo in financial services ever since she became CEO of Coast Capital Savings in 2009.

After more than two decades leading various divisions within HSBC, she knew that in order to grow the Surrey-based credit union, it needed to be a "financial services disruptor" to stand out in the highly competitive financial services sector in B.C.

And stand out it has. Canada's second-largest credit union has achieved a string of firsts despite operating in one of the most challenging eras in financial services. Over the past few years, Coast Capital has won numerous national industry awards for its services and products, like its You're the Boss mortgage and its Where You're At Money Chat. Those products have helped grow the institution's assets under administration by nearly 19% to $14.6 billion from $12.3 billion in 2009. The organization has also posted record profits despite the global recession that continues to linger half a decade on and is reflected in compressed margins due to historically low interest rates.

The innovations under her leadership have also helped attract more than 100,000 new members over the past five years, leading it to leapfrog Vancity as B.C.'s largest credit union by membership with 504,000 members as of December 31, 2012. Three-quarters of that growth has come from customers of the big five banks, she said, with the rest largely coming from immigrants or young people opening up their first account.

But perhaps the most memorable first for Redies is having a young couple ask to be married in a Coast Capital branch a year after staff in Victoria helped them turn their financial circumstances around after going through one of the credit union's money chats.

"In 25 years of banking, I've never heard of this happening," she said. "[But] if you are trying to change the way Canadians feel about banking forever, you've got to be a meaningful part of the member's life, so that's why I'm really delighted with what we are seeing with this particular service."

Redies' natural team-building abilities are among the key leadership traits that have led to Coast Capital's growth, according to Carlo De Mello, KPMG partner and national director of the firm's credit union practice. He said, "Not only is she highly intelligent, articulate, energetic and results-driven, Tracy has a natural ability to build and motivate strong teams. Tracy is also very forward thinking, a necessary trait for any successful leader."

Among Redies' longer-term goals is to see Coast Capital operate in other provinces. For years, Coast Capital has remained one of the strongest proponents for federal legislation allowing credit unions to operate beyond their provincial borders. Such legislation passed in 2010, and the regulations to allow for national credit unions were finalized last year. Over the past year, the credit union has also been forging industry partnerships across the country, including a co-operation agreement with Quebec's Desjardins Group, one of the largest financial cooperatives in the world.

"At Coast, we don't believe Canadians need another big bank, but we do believe that Canadians need more choice," she said. "Our value proposition has been very successful in B.C., and we would like at some point in time to have the opportunity to be in multiple provinces and bring our value proposition to more Canadians." •

What sort of character traits or leadership styles do CEOs have to cultivate in the 21st century?

Authenticity, the ability to communicate and the ability to get people inspired to believe they can do more than what they imagined possible is fundamental. If you inspire people to believe in what the organization is doing, marvellous things can happen.

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

Becoming CEO of Coast Capital Savings was a proud moment for me. To be entrusted with its future by a highly committed and talented board has been a real privilege.

I would also say that Coast Capital being recognized by Waterstone as one of the 10 Most Admired Corporate Cultures in Canada is right up there.

Finally, both my husband and I believe our greatest accomplishment has been raising our four wonderful children who are growing up to be very interesting, caring individuals in their own rights.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced?

The financial crisis and ensuing global recession were probably the toughest challenges faced by all financial professionals. The pace of those challenges was unlike anything I had experienced.

What career decisions would you make differently were you starting out today?

Although I wouldn't change any of my decisions, I have had a diverse and challenging career. If I were starting out today, I would be more focused on gaining challenging work experience in Asia, particularly China, as it will continue to be a driving force of the 21st century.

What's one business lesson that you'd like to pass on to others?

Be open to new possibilities and challenges, even if they are outside your comfort zone, and be prepared to take the road less travelled, as sometimes that's where the most exciting opportunities for growth lie.