After breaking barriers, Swanzy Quarshie is pulling others along with her
As a Director in energy sales at Scotiabank in Toronto, Swanzy Quarshie guides institutional investors in the landscape of energy. As a member of the bank’s Black Employee Network, she’s helping to mentor and inspire a whole new generation of rising financial stars.
By Shelley White
When Swanzy Quarshie first moved from Newfoundland to Toronto, she knew two things for sure: she wanted to be a portfolio manager one day and she wanted to work on Bay Street.
A Bachelor of Commerce graduate of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Swanzy had completed a co-op program as an analyst with an East Coast telecommunications company. During the program, her co-op supervisor encouraged her to pursue her dreams of working in the capital markets.
“He knew that I was really passionate about finance and he told me he thought I could do really well in it. He got me excited about my potential,” says Swanzy, now Director, Energy Sales Specialist, at Scotiabank in Toronto.
Swanzy flew to Toronto, stayed with family friends in Mississauga, and set out to get a job.
“But I knew so little about Bay Street. All I knew was that Bay Street was where you went if you were looking for a capital markets job. Unfortunately, I certainly didn’t know any of the right people to guide me,” she says. “And so I got on the subway and got off at Bay station.”
Finding herself in swanky Yorkville — more about high fashion boutiques than high finance — Swanzy asked someone on the street where the office towers were.
“They said, ‘You mean like the financial district?’ And pointed me south. I headed that direction on foot, entered office towers and handed in my resume to anyone who would take it.”
That first bold move was the beginning of an auspicious 20-year career in capital markets. Now, as a Director at Scotiabank and a member of the bank’s Black Employee Network, Swanzy is helping to mentor and inspire a whole new generation of rising financial stars.
Originally from Ghana, West Africa, Swanzy’s first experience with Canada was at eight years old when her family moved to Edmonton. Her father, a lifelong academic, had received a Canadian International Development Agency scholarship to do his PhD in the city. After three years in Edmonton, the family moved to the small island nation of Papua New Guinea where Swanzy attended an international school.
Swanzy says that she felt like an “outlier” in both those environments.
“In Edmonton, I was one of four black kids in my school and two of them were my sisters,” she says.
After that first whirlwind experience landing a job on Bay Street, Swanzy began to build her career in capital markets in Canada. She worked her way up to portfolio manager in the energy space within five years of being hired.
When the company she was working at was acquired, Swanzy found herself again at a transition point. Keeping an open mind to new opportunities and different career paths, she talked to oil and gas companies, analysts, private equity firms, investment bankers, and more. “It got me as excited about my career as I was that first day I got off at Bay subway station.” Except this time, she had a network of contacts who rallied around her.
“Anytime you can break a barrier or break a ceiling, you have a responsibility to also pull somebody else along with you. And I see the Black Employee Network as that group that will allow me to reach out to people that face similar barriers and to help pull them forward.”
When Swanzy was contacted by Scotiabank to discuss a new opportunity to join the bank as Director, Energy Sales Specialist, she went in with an open mind and quickly realized this new position was exactly what she had been looking for.
“My clients are institutional investors that invest in energy,” Swanzy explains. “As a representative of Global Banking and Markets at Scotiabank, I represent the research team and provide clients ideas and solutions on behalf of the bank. Whenever there’s anything noteworthy going on in the energy landscape, I reach out to clients.”
Swanzy says Scotiabank’s commitment to diversity and inclusion was a major factor that convinced her it was the right place for her. During the interview process, her potential employer expressed how diversity and inclusion was an integral part of the bank’s culture. Scotiabank is currently the only Canadian bank that has created a Diversity and Inclusion office with a focus on capital markets.
“I was searching for a new platform to launch the next phase of my career. The role, the fact that diversity and inclusion is an integral part of this leading Canadian bank’s culture and the opportunity for career progression and development told me this was the right place for me,” she says.
Another important change in her life has come from her involvement with the Black Employee Network at Scotiabank. Swanzy says that in the past, although she had worked with some associations and done some mentoring, she never explicitly attached herself to any one group.
“I’ve come to understand that I have a role to play,” she says. “Anytime you can break a barrier or ceiling, you have a responsibility to also empower others. And I see the Black Employee Network as that group that will allow me to reach out to people that face similar barriers and to help pull them forward.”
To celebrate Black History Month this year, the Black Employee Network is hosting a panel, moderated by Rania Llewellyn, Executive Vice President, Global Business Payments at Scotiabank, that will tackle the question “What does the future of Corporate Canada look like for black professionals?” Swanzy says that for her, Black History Month means a great deal.
“I take a lot of pride in who I am,” she says. “And I take a lot of pride in the collective black experience. A lot of the slave trade occurred through Ghana. Slave castles dot the country’s coastline, so I’m forced to think about this part of our history often. For me, Black History Month is about recognizing all the achievements that have been made by our shared group in the face of extraordinary and often insurmountable barriers.”
For young women hoping to succeed the way she has, Swanzy has this advice: Stop putting yourself in a box.
“I think as women we naturally assume really defined roles and we allow these roles to further define who we are and our career choices,” she says. “If you want to grow, it’s really important to erase the confines that come with definitions, so you can embrace new experiences and the mistakes and failures that inevitably come with them.”