Mary Falconer: Ahead of the curve

CFO has helped her financial institution stay on top of sweeping changes in the industry

Mary Falconer, senior vice-president, chief financial officer and corporate secretary, Westminster Savings Credit Union | Chung Chow

When Mary Falconer considers what her role used to look like five years ago when she joined Westminster Savings Credit Union as chief financial officer, she can’t help but notice how it has evolved.

“The CFO role, if you think back 20 years to what the role was, everyone thought a CFO was someone who was in the back corner in an office somewhere producing numbers and reports,” Falconer said.

“The skill set has completely changed. I think the expectations have changed with respect to being a strategic adviser, and also … the leadership qualities, the personalities of CFOs and what’s required have shifted as well.”

Westminster Savings has grown to become one of the largest credit unions in Canada, employing over 400 people and serving more than 67,000 customers. The company provides financial services from retail and commercial banking to leasing and wealth management. Last year, it recorded more than $4 billion in assets under management, up 12.2% from the previous year.

Falconer’s changing role as CFO has been driven by broader disruption as digital technology transforms the financial services industry.

“[Falconer] needs to be well on pace with what’s happening like electronic channel development and payment’s capabilities and new ways of serving customers,” said Westminster Savings senior vice-president Maury Kask. “Her role as CFO is one piece of it, but her ability not just to understand how the industry is changing but how we need to change along with it is impeccable.”

Standard banking functions such as loan originations, peer-to-peer money transfers and identity validation are being taken out of the hands of the adviser and placed solely at customers’ fingertips, Falconer said, but she doesn’t see her role as threatened.

“I still think people want a financial institution in a physical location, but I think the nature of that physical location is shifting to a lot more advice oriented.”

“I have [information technology] within my division, I have the corporate secretary side, I have risk, I have traditional finance and treasurer aspects and contract and legal work within my responsibilities, so it is very broad,” she said. “I love it for that reason because it gives me an opportunity to challenge myself every day with new things, which I think is extremely important in whatever stage of career you are at.”

Falconer has embraced lifelong learning not only in her career, but also outside the workplace.

At one point in her career, Falconer realized it was time for her to take a step back and enjoy a bit of a sabbatical.

She and her family moved to Bangkok, where she spent a few years thinking about what she wanted and where she wanted to be, which ultimately led her back to financial services and the CFO role. But the time to reflect was exactly what Falconer needed.

“I think it is good to take the opportunity to reflect, especially when you are really wrapped up and working hard and you are burning out,” she said. “People need to make the tough choice and take a step back and make sure you are taking the right step for yourself. But it is scary – it is scary to just stop.”

For now, Falconer is happy where she stands, though she always has an eye on the future.

“I think you are always thinking of progression. I am doing the Institute of Corporate Directors’ designation at the moment so I do see myself in the longer term sitting on corporate boards. I have never done an operational role so that is something I might be interested in.”

Falconer is the mother of two young boys. In addition to her role in the charitable commitments made by Westminster Savings, Falconer is an active backer of research by Diabetes Canada – one of her sons has Type 1 diabetes – and helps in whatever ways she can to support the cause.

In her free time she can be found exercising, gardening or cheering her sons on from the sidelines of a soccer field. 

Business in Vancouver and the Chartered Professional Accountants of British Columbia will honour the province’s top CFOs at the BC CFO Awards gala dinner, being held June 7 at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel. For more information or to register, go to biv.com/bc-cfo-awards.