2015 BC CEO Awards: Tamara Vrooman

Vancity chief, named top CEO in BIV's major private company category, helps build financial institution on ethical foundation

Vancity CEO Tamara Vrooman has helped keep concern for the public good front and centre in her corner of the corporate realm | Rob Kruyt

When Tamara Vrooman became president and chief executive officer of Vancity in 2008 during the global financial crisis, the credit union had taken a hit like many financial institutions. The company’s profits had fallen 37.8% from the previous year, and Vrooman’s appointment as its new boss came at a time of relative disdain toward – and heightened scrutiny of – the banking sector.

Vancity’s new leader had formerly been the deputy minister of finance for the provincial government, secretary to the Treasury Board and CEO of the Public Sector Employers’ Council. However, many doubted her ability to function in the fast-paced private sector.

But it wouldn’t be long before those doubts were laid to rest. As of 2015, Vancity has cemented itself as one of Vancouver’s top financial institutions, luring locals away from the Big Five Canadian banks with a novel idea: financial services based on global values and ethical initiatives.

Under Vrooman, the company was invited to join the Global Alliance for Banking on Values, an independent network of banks and banking co-operatives following principles of sustainability. Last year Vrooman participated at a Vatican summit hosted by Pope Francis called The Global Common Good: Towards a More Inclusive Economy, and she also spoke with the Dalai Lama at the 2014 Heart-Mind Summit in Vancouver.

Vancity has also become a carbon-neutral financial institution and is one of the largest private-sector living-wage employers in Canada. Vrooman credits all these initiatives as part of an overall vision for both Vancity and herself. 

“Certainly growing up I came from a working-class background,” Vrooman said. “Neither of my parents went to university and they’re both hard-working people, so I definitely understood the value of hard work and its relationship to money. But I must admit I think I’ve always seen money as a means, not an end.

“An early mentor of mine said that if you do what you love, the money will follow. And we spend so much time working, it helps that our work is something that we love. So I don’t really see work as a chore. I do see it as a pleasure, and that’s because I’ve been lucky enough to align it with the things that I believe in and I value.”

In 2011, Vrooman received a YWCA Women of Distinction Award. YWCA Metro Vancouver’s chief executive officer, Janet Austin, said the values-based approach that Vrooman brings to Vancity extends outside of work as well.

“Despite daunting professional demands, Tamara also finds time to contribute to her community,” Austin said. “She has served as a director of numerous public and charitable organizations, and she lends her voice to issues related to women, families and children with a particular focus on equality, inclusion and empowerment.”

Taking that concern for the greater good inside the corporate realm is where Vancity goes the extra mile, Vrooman said. She points to a recent initiative the company introduced – the Vancity Fair & Fast Loan. The goal is to offer an alternative to the predatory payday loans that have caught some people in financial hamster wheels. Vancity offers anywhere from $100 to $2,500 within the same day, with no fees and a much lower cost of borrowing than that offered by typical payday lenders.

A day in the life: Tamara Vrooman describes her typical timetable

7 a.m.: Breakfast with family

7:30 a.m.: Check emails

8 a.m.: Drop my son off at school

8:30 a.m.: Teleconference call with the Global Alliance for Banking on Values

9:30 a.m.: Meeting with our Vancity executive leadership team

10 a.m.: Town hall meetings with employees in our branches to share progress on our three-year plan

Noon: External board meeting at Vancouver International Airport

2 p.m.: Presidents Group meeting with the advisory committee to government to champion employment for people with disabilities

4 p.m.: Vancity future proof meeting

5 p.m.: Invest Tech BC meeting

6 p.m.: Family time

8 p.m.: Follow-up emails

10 p.m.:  Some light reading (board materials!)

11 p.m.: Sleep

Join us to celebrate on November 3 when Business in Vancouver and MacKay CEO Forums present the 2015 BC CEO Awards at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel. For more information or to register for the event visit our events page.