Breaking the glass ceiling in Puerto Rico’s male-dominated financial services sector has been one the career highlights for Enid Pico, who continues to strive for gender equality and female empowerment in her current role at Scotiabank.
Her journey from the financial institution’s Puerto Rico operations to her role heading up its global shared services in Toronto began more than 25 years ago, taking her through practically all of the bank’s operations.
“I wanted to be a sports caster, but back then there was no ESPN and few opportunities, so I took a job in the bank,” Pico said. “I loved it! I started in finance, which was a great place to start because, when you are in finance, you see everything.”
Early Days in Puerto Rico
Pico emphasized that she was fortunate to be in Puerto Rico when it was a growth market during the nineties. “We were able to do a lot, not only for Puerto Rico but for the whole Caribbean basin,” she said.
Once being trained as a certified public accountant, Pico’s interest in the operational side of the bank grew. After finance, Pico moved into the business side of the bank and was appointed to run the automotive finance sector. “It was one of the coolest jobs I’ve had,” she explained. “Before that, I didn’t know much about cars — only how to start my car and that it needed gas — so it was a great learning experience.”
Pico then left the bank for a year, but realized that the grass is not always greener, so she was grateful when they re-hired her. At this point, she started working in the strategic and operational side of the bank, before being appointed President and Chief Operating Officer of Scotiabank’s Puerto Rico subsidiary, and working on acquiring a bank three times the size.
When it came time to move to Canada, Pico says it was right for her, both personally and professionally. Her son graduated from college and decided to move to the United States, and Pico felt she had achieved plenty in Puerto Rico, so she felt empowered to do whatever she wanted.
Pico’s first role at the Scotiabank head offices in Toronto was taking charge of shared services for Caribbean and Central America. “It gave me the opportunity to expand my scope and have a more global mindset,” she said. “It was not only about Puerto Rico; look at the Caribbean, with its 22 different islands that run as countries. Look at Central America and all the diversity there.”
The customer has always been at the center of Pico’s focus. “Learning about different cultures helped me to realize that we are more similar than we think,” she said. “If we really focus on how similar we are, we can have that global mindset to really service our customers, because, throughout the geographies we serve, they have basically the same financial needs.”
Pico was in the role for three or four years before becoming head of shared services for Scotiabank’s international line just over 18 months ago. Pico’s experience across almost all functions at Scotiabank is one of her greatest strengths and reflects her philosophy that “careers are not linear, but are more like tennis ladders with lateral and linear progression”.
“Getting to grips with different customer and employee cultures starts with attitude,” Pico said. “It’s about the acceptance of the power of inclusion and diversity.” Pico spent a great deal of time touring the countries under her leadership, and cites some interesting examples of customer engagement. “Our team in Peru posed as taxi drivers and asked people how they wanted their bank to serve them,” she recalled. “We make sure to go out into the world in order to talk to clients and to our staff.”
Pico’s chief observation about the difference between Puerto Rico and Canada – apart from the weather – is that Canada takes a broader approach. “It’s easy when you are on an island – or any state actually – to only think about what’s between your borders,” she explained. “I love the openness of Canada; Canadians don’t think only about Canadians.”
Scotiabank has five priority markets: Canada, Mexico, Chile, Peru, and Colombia. “We look at these markets and these clients as being the same client we want to service,” Pico said, adding that the bank has opened digital factories in each of these countries. “We believe firmly that our customers have the right to be better off.”
This ethos runs right through the company. Recently, Scotiabank held an employee jam, in which it opened its intranet to 85,000 employees and asked them to think about the bank’s value. From that, they developed four core values that inform everything they do.
Despite her own success, Pico has struggled with confidence at times. “As women, we tend to lack the self-confidence to believe in ourselves, but, these challenges are relative,” she said, pointing to a recent experience at a Corporate Social Responsibility event for adolescent mothers in Costa Rica. “There were girls between 10 and 15 years old who have babies – that’s a challenge! How can we in the bank touch these girls’ lives? There were 61 girls and 68 babies. Who teaches these girls how to dream? How do they get out of this? These challenges are so different to what I faced; mine pale in comparison.” Pico has committed herself to this kind of corporate social responsibility and is striving to make a difference.
Pico is far from done yet. “Life is a marathon, not a 100m sprint,” she added. Breaking the glass ceiling in Puerto Rico was a significant milestone for her. “When I started out and went to the bankers’ association, it was all men. When I left, it was all women and just one man. Having been part of a change when we start to see more gender diversity and having banks recognize the value of having different voices and diversity that has been one of my biggest highlights,” she said.
Pico said that Scotiabank is one of the top employers in terms of supporting women and being very conscious and deliberate about creating an inclusive environment. “Even in Puerto Rico, that message trickles down,” she said. Pico is focused on developing women in her own team.
“I have about 5,000 people on my team, 65% of them are women. To me, going out there, visiting them, learning about them, and learning about their challenges, and then having the opportunity to support them and provide them advice on how to advance their careers, is one of the best parts of my job.”
Pico is looking forward to helping Scotiabank achieve its aspiration to be the world’s best digital bank, and sees the importance of operations within that goal. “I feel very confident in all the work we have done,” she said. “We have just launched five digital factories. I see the role that we are playing continuing to grow as we grow in our markets.”
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