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People First, Customers Second, and Shareholders Third

How ATB is Changing the Banking Landscape

ATB is a bank that serves only one province in Canada: Alberta. To date, they have more than 725,000 customers, assets of $48.5 billion, and more than 5,000 employees or as they call them, team members. They regularly receive rewards for the culture they’ve created - Maclean’s Magazine top ten list of Canada’s Best Employers, among others. 

In an interview with Lorne Rubis, their Chief Evangelist, we talked about culture, community and how they’ve crafted a workplace that is the envy of Albertans and Canadians alike. Perhaps the most startling thing is how freely Lorne shares the mantra, “People first, customers second and shareholders third.” It’s something you’d be pressed to hear an executive of a privately held company say publicly, and even more striking when you consider ATB is a crown corporation, in other words, it’s owned by the Alberta government. 

But Lorne, like the rest of the team at ATB, chooses his words and beliefs carefully and when he says people before customers and before shareholders he means it. It’s not an altruistic notion either. The executive team at ATB, including CEO Dave Mowatt, believe that putting their people first is what will enable them to best serve their customers, and return a profit. In other words, by serving their employees, ATB is best able to serve its customers and therefore its shareholders. And so far it looks like the data supports the claim. ATB has seen steady revenue year over year and also outranked the big banks from a customer satisfaction standpoint.

So what does people first mean? Well, it starts on every single employee’s first day. Whether it’s a teller at a branch, or a director-level hire, every person who joins ATB’s ranks starts with Culture Day. It’s a full-day immersion in the ethos, expectations and culture employees can expect at ATB. It’s attended by Lorne, and often Dave Mowatt and other members of the executive.

The fact that they allocate an entire day and that their CEO is often in attendance isn’t even the most remarkable part; at the end of the day if any of the employees in attendance don’t feel like ATB is a fit for them, they’re free to leave with one month’s salary and no questions asked. It’s a practice that has cost them a few thousand dollars in the short term, but in the long run, has likely saved them millions. 

The scale of what happens during Culture Day is well beyond the scope of what can be shared in a blog post, but the gist of ATB’s message to its employees is this; they should leave ATB richer than when they started, they have a right to great leaders while they’re there and in turn they should contribute their unique skills and talents to the organization. 

It’s that third point that ATB heralded as the Workplace 2.0 transformation in 2014. The organization’s view of it is simple: work in a way that suits you. Performance is what matters, how it happens is up to the employee. It translates into things like parents being able to drop their kids off at school, team members working part of the year in tropical destinations, and accommodating work needs of spouses. 

If that doesn’t have you digging through the computer archives to revamp your resume, or taking a hard look at the culture of your current employers, we don’t know what will. A great big pat on the back to ATB. Thanks for inspiring us and others to be the best business we can and thanks to Lorne for taking the time to share ATB’s incredible story. 

At A Glance: What ATB Is Doing Right

  1. Set the Right Tone From the Beginning: The effort they put into the onboarding process pays dividends over the long-term.
  2. Every Employee Is Different – Support and Acknowledge Them on Their Terms: ATB’s Workplace 2.0 isn’t about a prescribed set of work habits that gets rolled out to every employee. Instead it’s a mandate that encourages each employee to discover how they best contribute. 
  3. Treat Your Employees Like Your Most Important Client: When you put the needs of your employees first, you give them the time and space to serve your clients. And by serving your clients you serve your shareholders. In other words, by putting employees at the forefront you’re best able to serve all your stakeholders.

Kudos to ATB. Impressive job on your culture and team-first mantra. 

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