A month ago, Techvibes managing editor Knowlton Thomas proclaimed that “Canada has a disease called risk aversion” in a story that suggests that “risk aversion has made our banking sector the envy of the world.”
Peter Aceto, CEO of Canadian online bank Tangerine quoted Thomas’ article in a keynote presentation to a room full of business leaders and students at a Maclean’s Magazine event in Toronto earlier this week. “As a banker, I can say that risk aversion is still such a hindrance to Canada. We need to find a way to support risk takers in our community,” he says.
Aceto, who is probably the only CEO whose mother attends all of his event presentations (she also went to all of his basketball games when he was a kid) shared his insights on what Canadian businesses must do in order to become more innovative and remain entrepreneurial as they grow.
He began his presentation by suggesting that Canadians need to dream bigger. “Canada is one of top eight countries in the world to live. And we rank number six overall for salary, job satisfaction and safety. But when it comes to innovation, we can do much better as a country,” Aceto says. “From a competitiveness perspective, we rank 14th overall and underperform in the innovation category.”
Aceto recommends that we look at Israel as an example of an innovative country. “Israel ranks second in the world for the highest number of startups per capita. That’s because the government plays a large role in supporting the collaboration between businesses and investors,” he says.
He also suggests that Canadian businesses should foster their employees’ pursuit of passion and that they must continually change or die. He used the example of Blockbuster and Netflix as a cautionary tale. “The best way to predict the future is to invent it,” he says.
Aceto wishes that more Canadian businesses would embrace a sense of urgency. “We all need to push each other to look ahead and shake things up in our country,” he says. “Organizations need to envision what is possible and then find ways to make it happen. Real innovators feel a sense of urgency, passion, energy, confidence and have an insatiable curiosity.”
Tangerine is a bank that takes pride in being nimble which, according to Aceto “allows for R&D without hierarchical impediments.” And it has remained that way – even after the Scotiabank acquisition. “Canada needs more organizations that are nimble because change is a friend,” he says.
Aceto, who started his career as a lawyer, explained that “it’s human nature to adhere to rules.” He discovered early on that people often don’t understand certain rules and regulations well enough and that is what constrains them from taking risks or trying to change them. He used the example of photo cheque depositing with a smartphone which wasn’t an option for Canadians twelve months ago. But Tangerine worked with the government to change the regulations to make it possible.
In closing, Aceto proposed a challenge for Canadians: “Don’t sit still. Fight not to lose.” He says that the five to ten year strategy is dead; there is no linear path to success anymore. This leaves more room than ever for risk taking, innovation and entrepreneurialism.
He suggests that the power of positive thinking will help to push us forward. “Thoughts cage or unlock potential for individuals. At Tangerine, talking about the negative kills productivity. Instead, we focus and celebrate the small victories and progress,” says Aceto.
Likewise, he says that Canada needs to focus more on the businesses and individuals who are doing well to lead all Canadians to a bigger dream.