‘Challenger’ disrupts commercial banking with a more entrepreneurial approach

30 April 2024 by Globe Content Studio National Bank
Matt Macdonald leader at National Bank

Matt Macdonald was curious but admittedly “hesitant” when National Bank of Canada approached him nearly five years ago. The country’s sixth-largest bank, best known in Quebec, had an ambitious idea to reshape its commercial banking approach outside the province. It aimed to bring an elite suite of services for entrepreneurs under one umbrella: lending, cash management, risk management solutions, mergers and acquisitions and private banking. And it wanted Mr. Macdonald to head the effort and build a cross functional integrated team.

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“All large banks have these capabilities. But the challenge is coordinating different business lines, which have different leadership, to provide an exceptional and consistent client experience,” says Mr. Macdonald, who is based in Toronto. 

He caught National Bank’s attention with his leadership skills in commercial banking, his strength in business development and his deep understanding of the market. What drew him was the bank’s desire to disrupt commercial banking.

National Bank has a history as a financial institution for entrepreneurs, since its founding in 1859. Its leadership knew it could enhance what it provided to this market, and understood that any meaningful offer to entrepreneurs required an equally entrepreneurial team.

“When I combined the differentiated strategy, National Bank’s commitment to grow and the opportunity for me to build something new, it became a role I couldn’t pass up,” says Mr. Macdonald, now vice-president of Commercial and Private Banking 1859 at National Bank.

The power to make a change 

Mr. Macdonald says senior leadership has given him and his team autonomy to make the necessary changes to be successful. “That included creating a compelling vision and strategy to inspire team members and connect with clients.”

Central to the transformation was the bank’s strategic decision two years ago to merge commercial and private banking under common leadership. Much of the appeal for the team has been the opportunity to shape something new, and be part of a bank initiative that’s aiming for high growth.

“This is the only bank that I know of in North America with common leadership for these channels. We are unique in our delivery model and in the collaboration and coordination between our teams. Serving the client’s holistic needs is a competitive advantage,” Mr. Macdonald says.

That means offering a tailored approach to each client, with products, services and advice they truly need, in all aspects of their lives.

In addition to hiring top talent, the group systematically changed processes such as reporting lines and back-office support to improve the client experience.

Building a high-performing team

The group has grown its client base by 300 per cent since 2019, and assembled a team of 115 professionals that Mr. Macdonald describes as “talented, curious, ambitious and dedicated to our vision of growing across Canada.”

He says people are drawn partly by the chance to develop. “Most people are in search of a rewarding and fulfilling career. We are offering an opportunity to activate their inner entrepreneur. We significantly invest in our people strategy because people drive our success.”

Mr. Macdonald meets with every prospective employee to ensure that the team’s strong culture is preserved. That’s essential to him and to the bank. 

“I’ve worked hard to create and maintain an engaging culture of collaboration that is client-centric. We have reached a point where people truly believe that their success and the teams’ and bank’s success are one and the same. Having people work toward a shared vision is one of the most powerful things we have accomplished.”

He’s highly focused on creating an environment for his team to thrive. “It’s important that every team member understands how their role contributes to our overall success. Top talent thrives in an environment where they have the trust of their leaders and are empowered to make decisions.”

That’s helping them to satisfy their client base, which has grown organically, largely by referrals.

“In Quebec, National Bank has always been the market leader, but in Toronto and beyond we’re really a challenger bank, winning market share through elevated advice, speed and execution,” Mr. Macdonald says. 

He adds that continuing to hire the best will amplify the impact of his group. “We’re looking for talented people who want to be a part of a team that’s growing quickly and doing things differently. We’re expanding, hiring and offering best-in-class capabilities to Canada’s entrepreneurs, their businesses and their families all under one roof.”

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