Interview Series: Perspectives of a Professional with stnce – Equitable Bank
Kim Kukulowicz, Senior Vice President, Residential Sales & Partner Relations, EQ Bank
Kim Kukulowicz is a finance executive with more than 25 years of leadership success in the Canadian mortgage industry. She is the longest standing employee at EQ Bank having served the Company for the past two decades primarily in mortgage operations.
In November of 2017, Kim spearheaded a brand-new initiative to promote financial confidence for women – stnce. stnce is a platform to educate, inspire and empower women with the mission of creating a community that’s self-reliant, self-assured and well-informed. With the support of an internal committee of enthusiastic ambassadors, Kim has brought together a group of knowledgeable financial experts and advisors to share their personal finance stories and inspire others.
Sarah Zandbergen, Senior Program Specialist, stnce
Sarah Zandbergen has 7 years of experience in the financial industry, having held a variety of positions. From compliance and broker relations to marketing and event planning, Sarah prides herself on her long-lasting connection to the industry.
As the Senior Program Specialist for stnce, Sarah is thrilled to participate in and grow a truly grassroots community of like-minded individuals. Her goal through stnce is to inspire Canadians to confidently take ownership of their finances, through open and informative conversations.
Suhaana Sidhu: Can you tell us a little bit about stnce and how it was founded or what inspired you to be a part of it?
Kim Kukulowicz: stnce started as an idea, really. It was originally sparked by a conversation with my husband about my investments. My husband is my financial advisor, and I realized I had been deferring ownership of my investments to him, not truly understanding what I was investing in. That conversation made me start thinking differently. I started opening up conversations with my friends, with my colleagues at the bank, and saw that it wasn’t just me. Equitable Bank prides ourselves on being Canada’s Challenger Bank, and as such, we realized we needed to do something to bridge this gap.
Sarah Zandbergen: My involvement with stnce started more behind the scenes. When the movement was born, I was in charge of planning the official launch event. After stnce’s first year, the bank realized there was a lot of weight to what stnce was doing, and they wanted someone to take on the program full time. I was honoured to have been asked to be that person. I’ve always been proud to work at EQ Bank, and the fact that they champion an initiative to bolster confidence in Canadians makes me all the more proud.
SS: What does economic empowerment mean to you and why is this important for women?
KK: Our research revealed that the financial literacy gap between the genders is actually not that expansive. In fact, it’s only about 10%. However, the confidence gap is huge. To me, economic empowerment means taking ownership of your own finances. It means shaking off the taboo surrounding financial conversations.
SZ: It is estimated that by 2026, women in Canada will control close to half of all accumulated financial wealth. That’s an estimated $900 Billion. It’s clearly a time to usher in change. Women are being underserved by an industry that should be reaching out to educate, inform and empower. It is my hope that we can accomplish that goal with stnce at EQ Bank.
SS: Has the establishment of stnce impacted EQ Bank’s corporate culture? Do you think other companies in the finance industry would benefit by creating similar initiatives?
KK: The culture at EQ Bank is collaborative, respectful, and hard-working. I’m approached constantly by my colleagues asking how they can help support stnce. It’s a testament to the incredible employee culture we’ve built over the years, something we are truly proud of. Empowerment is one of our core values at the bank, which has made stnce a perfect fit from the beginning.
SZ: I believe the financial industry would absolutely benefit from prioritizing education. Money is a common thread that intrinsically links us all, and yet it’s only been introduced into the educational curriculum this year. I think this is one of the big things being a Challenger Bank speaks to. We want all Canadians to be informed and to feel confident about their financial knowledge.
SS: As a woman working in finance, if you had the opportunity to tell all the men in the industry one thing what would it be?
KK and SZ: Learn how to effectively communicate with your female clients. One of the initiatives we’re proud to have spearheaded within stnce is to reach out to financial professionals with a seminar on effective client communication. A recent study revealed that 73% of women are unhappy with the financial services industry. That’s staggering. Many of these women are saying they feel that they are not being communicated to effectively, or that the communication clearly prioritizes a male spouse. We realize that we need to take a different approach. Part of being a Challenger Bank means challenging the status quo, and really examining what our client's needs are. Our research tells us that many women approach finances differently. The financial industry needs to understand that approach and offer realistic solutions. That’s what we’re doing at Equitable Bank. From supporting mortgage brokers to find clients the best mortgage, to launching our digital arm, EQ Bank to offer competitive returns on your savings, a seamless banking experience and no banking fees. It’s almost 2020, and the industry is changing. As a Challenger Bank, we truly believe we are part of leading this change.