By Hailey Eisen
Having worked in the financial services sector for 30 years, Alida Pellegrino is familiar with the biases that women have traditionally come up against — both in the workplace and as business owners.
“During the more than 20 years that I was a commercial banker, I would say that 80 per cent of the businesses I interacted with were led by men,” she says. “But things are definitely starting to change, and that’s why The Scotiabank Women Initiative is so important to me.”
Alida has been helping to address the challenges women face in her current role as Vice President, Credit Adjudication Canada at Scotiabank, and as an advisory board member with The Scotiabank Women Initiative. Providing information, education, and financing, The Scotiabank Women Initiative is committed to dismantling barriers for business owners who identify as women or non-binary, empowering them to take their businesses, careers, and financial futures to the next level.
“Gillian Riley, President & CEO of Tangerine Bank and Founder of The Scotiabank Women Initiative created the program after learning first-hand about some of the challenges that women experience when starting their own businesses. For example, it is more challenging for women to access capital than their male counterparts, and she wanted to help women overcome those barriers,” Alida says. “Because I oversee Scotiabank’s small business loan adjudication team, we are able to help small business owners meet their financing needs through assessing loan applications.”
“Oftentimes, entrepreneurs have a passion, and they jump right in with the resources they have available to them. It’s not until they realize they are ready to grow and need more money to do so that they truly think about finances.”
Alida personally provides financial education to The Scotiabank Women Initiative clients, and always stresses that a solid understanding of your finances is a critical factor for long-term business success.
“We know that business owners are typically experts in their trade but having a good handle on your finances is also an essential part of running a successful business,” she says. “Oftentimes, entrepreneurs have a passion, and they jump right in with the resources they have available to them. It’s not until they realize they are ready to grow and need more money to do so that they truly think about finances.”
If it’s an area you’re unsure of, she adds, there are many simple steps to take to get more comfortable with and take charge of your finances.
“The very first step is to understand your cash flow,” Alida says. That includes knowing what you’re spending and bringing in each month and following a budget to support the financial management of your business. She also advises that entrepreneurs understand the seasonality of their business, and how that impacts cash flow and to plan for it.
“I’ll give you an example,” Alida says. “Ramping up for the holiday season, a company producing a product has to buy inventory and start production a few months or quarters in advance— but they won’t have the cash flow from the sales of those products until November or December. Also, to take advantage of other sources of financing such as trade credit from your suppliers which female entrepreneurs tend to shy away from”
“Remember, it’s ok not to know. It’s those areas of uncertainty where you can really leverage other professionals to support you along the way.”
For clarification of your financial needs, you must also be able to identify what stage your business is in — start-up, sustainment, or growth — and how you should support it at each stage. Unsure? When it comes to finances, the more questions you ask and information you seek, the better. This is where a relationship with your accountant and banker can be especially beneficial, Alida advises.
“Knowledge is power. Don’t just meet with your accountant once a year to prepare your financials,” she says. “Befriend them so you can leverage their counsel throughout the year. The same goes for your banker.”
Alida’s favourite part of working in commercial banking over the years was getting to know her clients, learning their stories, and working with them through their challenges and successes- there are few jobs in the world where a business owner shares their trade secrets, info about their clients, suppliers and industry. “As a business owner, you can confide in your banker, tell us about your business and your plans, and we can assist you with your needs and wants and ensure we are a key partner in your success.”
If you’re hesitant to ask questions, “Remember, it’s ok not to know,” says Alida. “It’s those areas of uncertainty where you can really leverage other professionals to support you along the way.”
Relationships, in general, are also key to business success, and networking is something Alida advises all women entrepreneurs to spend more time doing. That’s one area The Scotiabank Women Initiative can really help with, she adds.
“We’ve been able to bring like-minded women together who might not have had the opportunity to connect — in person or virtually — and talk about their challenges, what’s working and what’s not, and build that network which can often prove invaluable,” Alida says. “Through workshops and education, mentorship opportunities, and networking, so far we’ve engaged more than 6,000 women entrepreneurs across the country.”
Providing access to capital and tailored financial solutions is another key focus of The Scotiabank Women Initiative, and since its inception three years ago, more than $3 Billion in capital has been deployed to women-owned and women-led businesses in Canada. Now, that help is needed more than ever.
“Women-led businesses already face unique challenges, but the COVID-19 pandemic and the ripple effect on the economy has put added pressure on women entrepreneurs,” says Alida. “In order for the Canadian economy to grow, we need to support all types of businesses, led by a diverse group of entrepreneurs, because diversity of thought is where true success comes from.”
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By Hailey Eisen