The Immigrant Advantage
President & CEO
RBC Financial Group
The Greater Halifax Partnership
Halifax, Nova Scotia
October 12, 2005
Good afternoon, and thank you Stephen, for that kind introduction.
Id like to congratulate the Greater Halifax Partnership
on the release of your new immigration strategy today.
I was given an advance copy and was impressed by the breadth
of vision and tactics you have recommended. Its right
on the money.
And for those skeptics in the crowd, Id like to say
that any similarities between the strategy and my remarks
are strictly a function of how whole-heartedly we are in agreement.
I know our entire team here in Halifax is looking forward
to our partnership with the GHP in helping make the strategy
For an employee of RBC Financial Groupeven one from
Montreal by way of Torontoa visit to Halifax is like
coming home. We opened our very first branch here in the 1860s,
and now we are Canadas largest financial institution
and operate in 30-plus countries worldwide.
On a personal note, I also have family roots in Nova Scotia,
as my grandfather grew up on a farm in Truro, and my daughter
is in her 3rd year of the Commerce program at Dalhousie.
Royal Bank is truly a Canadian success story, and our performance
ranks with the best in the world. Im proud to say weve
accomplished it all from a Canadian base, and we greatly appreciate
the support and business we receive in Atlantic Canada.
So I am here today, representing one of the countrys
largest employers as well as a financial institution, acutely
concerned about Canadas future.
Canadas standard of living not only lags behind the
United States, but our real per capita GDP growth is sliding
relative to many other countries and our productivity growth,
which is measured by GDP per person employed, is also slipping.
So while were starting from a reasonable economic base,
a strong fiscal position and a high quality of life, we cannot
be complacent as we are losing economic ground in an increasingly
competitive world. We must address our future economic policy
if we are going to live up to our potential.
The bottom line is you cant have a well-intentioned
social agenda without a sound economic agenda.
It is only with a strong and globally competitive economy
that we will have the foundation for improving the quality
of life for Canadians and investing more in healthcare, education
and social services.
- In my view, there are three ways for an economy like Canadas
- The first is to improve our peoples skills by investing
in education, training, and in the most advanced technologies.
- The second is to pursue international markets, investing
in those areas where we can compete and where we can attract
- The third way is to stimulate economic growth by promoting
innovation and entrepreneurship.
New immigrants to our country have an important role to play
in all three of these areas, and thats why my topic
today is The Immigrant Advantage.
Canada is standing at a crossroad. We must not only attract,
but improve how we accept new immigrants. In an increasingly
competitive and global world, our future depends on it.
I gave a speech in Toronto recently, focusing on the role
immigrants play as employees. Thats one important link
in the prosperity chain.
But immigrants also play a critical role in Canadas
economy as consumers, business owners and taxpayers, as well
as through their rich cultural contributions to our communities.
Today, Id like to focus on why we must welcome newcomers
into our workplaces, our marketplaces and our economyfor
the advantage of Canadas entire prosperity chain.
Immigration has historically been critical to Canadas
growth, yet there has seldom been a time in our history when
it has been so important.
Our competitive advantage cant be driven by the resource
industry, and is no longer dominated by capital assets like
plants, equipment and machinery.
It is being driven by human capital.
But Canada is a small nation. Our national birth rate just
hit an historic low, and our workforce is aging. Clearly,
if we are to succeed at home and abroad, were going
to have to import talented people to make up the gap. We are
already facing a skills shortfall in many parts of Canada
and in the years ahead, we will be counting on immigration
for all of the net growth in our labour force.
But theres going to be a global war for talent. Countries
like Italy, Spain and Germany are seeing birthrates fall as
dramatically as ours, and a workforce going gray as quickly
as ours. Well be going head-to-head with them for talent,
as well as with powerhouses like China and India, who are
literally pouring investments into higher education, technology
For every one engineer graduating in the United States, there
are three graduating in China. And many Chinese immigrants
are now moving back to China, because they see better opportunities
at home than here.
In Halifax, this situation poses a serious economic risk:
you face a shrinking workforce, a smaller business-economic
base, and a declining tax base. There is no question that
this will have a significant economic impact on the rest of
Nova Scotia, and on all of Atlantic Canadaa point clearly
raised in the GHP strategy.
The Canadian government has set a target of welcoming 300,000
new immigrants to our shores each year. Right now, new Canadians
make up about 70 per cent of the growth in the Canadian labour
force. But by 2011, they will account for all the growth in
Halifax alone has set an aggressive target of attracting
2,800 newcomers annually, and, more importantly, keeping 70
per cent of them here.
Our success depends not only on our ability to attract new
immigrants, but on providing an environment where new Canadians
can maximize their potential. This can be Canadas competitive
advantage, but we have to work harder both to attract and
maximize the potential of talented people.
Historically, we dont have the best track record. A
Statistics Canada report found that our most recent immigrants
had higher levels of education than people born in Canada.
Yet, many more are working in jobs below their level of education
and earning less than those born in Canada. And they experience
higher unemployment rates.
But I hope that is going to change.
The federal governments Internationally Trained
Workers Initiative is a step forward for our nation,
yet no level of government can bear the burden alone. Governments
can attract skilled immigrants to Canada, but once they have
arrived, businesses have to pick up the ball.
But we have not.
In fact, were dropping it--at least according to the
Public Policy Forum.
In a survey conducted with over 2,000 Canadian employers
in 2004, the Forum found three pieces of discouraging news.
- First, employers overlook immigrants in their human resource
- Second, they dont hire immigrants at the level at
which they were trained; and
- Third, employers say they face challenges integrating
recent immigrants into their workforce.
The Conference Board of Canada goes one step further, saying
that Canadian companies are myopic about the one-two punch
thats on the way: Canadas aging workforce on the
one hand, and the impending skill shortages on the other.
They strongly recommend that businesses need to pay attention
to maximizing the talents of visible minorities and immigrants.
This solution will bring untold benefits up and down the
for our businesses, our communities
and our countryand it will have a profound human impact
Id like to share a quick story with you about Binoj
Binoj emigrated to Canada from India in April of 2004 with
a Bachelor of Commerce and an MBA in his back pocket. Hes
is 34 years old, speaks three languages, and has 8 solid years
of financial services experience.
He also brought with him the spirit of an entrepreneur--because
Toronto wasnt his final destination: Halifax was.
It takes real courage to come to a place where your cultural
community isnt well established. Of the 100 or-so Indian
families in Halifax, Binoj didnt know a single soul.
But thats exactly why he chose to come. With fewer immigrants
here, he felt there was a greater opportunity to build a future.
The bad news is that education and enthusiasm arent
In fact, if Binoj had landed in Canada even five years earlier,
you could almost predict how his story would go. He would
likely be underemployed now, working somewhere in a job unrelated
to his training. He might feel like he was wasting his education,
and not contributing to Canadian society.
In fact, his first job interview was at a grocery store for
a cashiers job, which he lost to another immigrant.
The store actually did end up hiring him, and while he spent
his days working as a stock clerk, he spent his nights working
towards his Mutual Funds license.
And Binoj had another ace in his pocket: MISA, the Metropolitan
Immigrant Settlement Association.
Within a week of arriving in Halifax, he had already connected
with MISA. In fact, MISA helped him find that grocery store
job as a quick way for him to get some Canadian experience.
But everyones end goal was to find a position that tapped
his professional training in financial services.
MISA eventually connected RBC and Binoj. Right away, we knew
he was a high-potential candidate, and we hired him as a Personal
Financial Service Representative at our Spring Garden Road
branch in January.
Im happy to say that Binoj has joined us today. I will
only embarrass him for a moment by telling you that hes
a tremendous asset in attracting new business to RBC. Clients,
especially new Canadians, love to deal with him. He even spends
two hours every week with the Nova Scotia Nominee program,
helping educate newcomers about how to navigate the banking
system in Canada.
I wanted to share this story because it's a win for everyone:
for Binoj, for RBC and our clients, for Halifax and for Canada.
RBC sets a high premium on diversity. I chair our Diversity
Leadership Council, made up of senior leaders from across
our businesses. Just to let you know how important this issue
is, I can tell you that it is the only committee other than
my executive committee that I sit on.
This Council sets RBCs strategy and goals for diversity
and employment equity, as well as monitoring our progress.
Currently, about 23 per cent of our workforce is comprised
of visible minorities.
But that number drops to about ten per cent for our executive
management team, and we know weve got to do better,
so were taking action.
One of the largest barriers to employment for skilled immigrants
is in the area of foreign credentials. The governments
Internationally Trained Worker Initiative has
an entire program dedicated to thisbut businesses can
do their part as well. For example, weve contracted
specialists to evaluate the Canadian equivalents of foreign
credentials, so we can make sure were not overlooking
good prospective employees.
While I do want to spend a few more minutes today talking
about the importance of immigrants as prospective clients
and as business owners, I want to make one last point about
the employee link in the prosperity chain.
I mentioned that I gave a speech on this topic in Toronto
a few months ago, which we posted, as usual, on our websites.
Now I have to be frank with you: I dont tend to get
a lot of feedback from my colleagues when I give a speech.
My critics might say its because of my stage presence:
and no one wants to be the bearer of bad news to the CEO
or maybe its because topics like economic policy or
financial services reform dont exactly keep an audience
on the edge of their seats, or even awake!
In any case, I didnt expect much feedback from my immigration
But the topic really struck a chord, and I was surprised
when so many employees thanked me for talking publicly about
something that really matters to them.
Heres an excerpt from an e-mail I received:
I can totally understand the stress a qualified immigrant
goes through. I came to Canada from India and have a Masters
of Commerce Certificate in Banking & Finance from Bombay
University. The only company that gave me an interview was
Royal Bank, where I have worked for close to 7 years now.
I am proud to work for an institution that values diversity.
This is definitely a ' win-win' situation for everyone.
I agree: welcoming newcomers into the workplace is a win-win
situation, and we must all work towards this goal.
From RBCs point of view, every new Canadian we hire
helps us build institutional knowledge about our key cultural
markets both here and abroadand thats invaluable
in the global marketplace.
Newcomers to Canada quickly become consumers of goods and
services as well, and thats the second link in this
prosperity chain Ive been talking about.
According to Dr. Jeffrey Gandz of the Richard Ivey School
of Business at the University of Western Ontario, visible
minorities possess $76 billion worth of combined purchasing
power in Canada. While visible minorities and immigrants arent
always the same group, this does gives you the sense of the
scope of opportunity.
Demographically, businesses simply cannot ignore the opportunities
presented by immigrants as consumers.
RBC has about 11 million clients in Canada. Right now, almost
15% of them represent a cultural marketnew
Canadians and visible minorities. Much of our future growth
will also come from cultural markets. So, what does that mean
Imagine you are a newcomer, starting virtually from scratch.
- You have no Canadian I.D. You have no Canadian credit
history and no work experience here, so you cant get
a credit card
- Without a credit history, you have trouble getting a loan
- You dont have a permanent Canadian address, so you
probably cant get an apartment without pre-paying
several months rent in cash.
- And on top of it all, youre having to learn to navigate
a whole new banking system at the same time.
So financial services companies have a unique role to play
in easing the way for newcomers.
RBC is often a first choice for immigrants because of the
strength of our brand. But our policies and procedures have
tended to make it difficult for them to do business with us.
We are committed to making it easier: in fact, we believe
we cant afford to get it wrong.
Thats why we recently developed a comprehensive strategy
for cultural markets. Our goal is to put the right products,
people and training in place so that we can better serve diverse
markets right across the country. For example:
- We reviewed our credit policies, and created a secured
VISA card so that new immigrants can build their credit
- We simplified our mortgage process to ease up on
an immigrants credit requirements.
- Well be providing easy-to-understand application
forms and information in multiple languages.
- Were even developing a way for immigrants to
open bank accounts before they arrive in Canada.
Were also launching a comprehensive Newcomer
to Canada website in a few weeks, targeting the first
priorities faced by newcomers: housing, employment and education.
Here in Halifax, weve beefed up training so that key
people in our branches know exactly what an immigrant requires
to open an account. We want to be sure that no newcomer is
turned away because were unfamiliar with the process
We also work closely with Cornwallis Financial and the Nova
Scotia Nominee Program, to make sure that newcomers have access
to all the information they need, in plain language, about
the financial services business in Canada. This is where Binoj
volunteers every Monday.
The net result is that RBC is now the bank of choice for
immigrants in Halifax.
I dont want to turn this speech into an RBC commercial,
but I did want to give you some concrete examples to show
how we are adapting to the realities of a new marketplaceand
to remind you that new Canadians have high potential as clients
and consumers. I cant emphasize strongly enough: this
is not just about social justice, this is also about business
New Canadians are also bringing a wealth of creativity and
ideas to our country, creating jobs and driving economic growth
through the creation of small businesses. And increasingly,
the business community in Canada will depend on the talents
and energy of immigrants.
Canada is moving towards an era of unparalleled diversity
that will transform the face of our small and medium-sized
enterprises. In an economics report released last year, RBC
found that the next generation of Canadian entrepreneurs will
represent the single biggest shift in the makeup of our business
community in the last century.
Todays small business owners look a lot like me: white
males, 40-65 years of age.
But tomorrows entrepreneurs will be cut from a different
Theyll be better educated, and more diverse as well:
in fact, most small and medium sized businesses will be run
by women, visible minorities and new Canadians.
This new landscape can be a challenge for financial services
companies. If we want Canada to grow and prosper, we must
support what Peter Newman calls The New Canadian Establishment:
that emerging business sector being created by new Canadians.
I want to thank you for inviting me here today, and to commend
The Greater Halifax Partnership for the leadership and foresight
you have shown in your immigration strategy.
As I said at the start, Canada faces many economic challenges,
and there are a number of policy issues that must be addressed.
We are competing in a world where significant economic shifts
are occurring. Countries are actively competing against each
other for talent, capital and investment.
If we are going to succeed in this new world, our politicians,
our business leaders, our labour leaders and our academics
must work together to address policy issues and ensure our
businesses have every competitive advantage.
We must do more than open the door to new immigrantswe
must make Canada the destination of choice for talented people
with skills, energy and drive.
The bottom line is that, unleashing the power of diversity
and capitalizing on immigration can help forge Canadas
prosperity chain, and given the inherent strengths of our
country with respect to immigration, it can, and should be,
one of our best competitive advantages and to those of you
who run businesses, it will provide an opportunity not to