This Scotiabank Executive Champions the Power of Daily Growth and Draws Strength from Life’s Greatest Challenges, Including Battling Cancer
Nanci York Brar, three-time cancer survivor, shares her remarkable journey.
By Sarah Kelsey
It’s extremely rare to meet someone who is so driven they start training for marathons while battling cancer.
“I don’t like cancer, but cancer likes me, and sometimes we do battle,” Nanci York-Brar, the Senior Vice President of Retail and Business Banking Operations at Scotiabank, says. “My first bout, I had kidney cancer, which resulted in my adrenal glands and one of my kidneys being removed. I felt awful and started to think, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’, because I felt so horrible. My dad was always my sounding board, and one day he said to me, ‘get up and go jog around the block.’”
Nanci initially pushed back, partly because it was a very cold February in Toronto, but her dad’s insistence persevered.
“I reluctantly strapped on my shoes, and though I didn’t feel better physically, I felt better mentally,” she says. That moment sparked Nanci’s journey of getting “one per cent better every day”: Instead of attempting drastic changes all at once, she started to make small tweaks to her daily habits and routines to accomplish something new and grow as a person.
Today, the three-time cancer survivor and IRONMAN competitor coaches her Scotiabank colleagues and team members to follow in her footsteps.
“Imagine what results you’ll see at the end of one year if you apply the one per cent rule to your day-to-day life,” Nanci says. “I remind folks they don’t need to swing for the fences to accomplish great things.”
Raised by two teachers in Toronto, Ontario, Nanci says she never expected to land at a big organization like Scotiabank, let alone sit at the helm of one of its most important and innovative divisions.
She studied history at the University of Toronto and then completed her Master of Business Administration at the Richard Ivey School of Business. Nanci started her career at boutique finance firms, saying she liked the size that went along with working somewhere small.
It was a call about a role in Scotiabank’s regulatory department that changed all of that.
“I had no desire to join a big organization,” Nanci recalls. “I thought I would be a pebble in a very big ocean. But my dad, being the wise gentleman he was, said there were a lot of different opportunities within big companies, so I considered it.”
Nanci ended up spending eight years in the role, supporting the Bank’s Wealth Management team to better understand the rules and regulations advisors and relationship managers have to follow with clients.
The only problem, she recalls, is the job was so good that she started to get comfortable. She and her colleagues knew exactly what had to be done every day, which led to complacency.
“Reflecting on that time now, I didn’t look for the growth opportunities across the organization that I could have during this time period,” she says.
When the growing need to feel challenged finally took hold, she decided to pursue an opportunity within Global Transaction Banking at Scotiabank.
Once she accepted the position, Nanci remembers “sitting on the floor in my kitchen in downtown Toronto thinking ‘what do I do now? What have I done?’ I felt like I had made the worst decision ever.”
But, as Nanci notes, with hard work comes great reward. The move ended up being one that opened up unique global opportunities for Nanci, overseeing transformative projects for the Bank and ultimately securing her current role — a position she had long aspired to — 18 months ago.
Now, Nanci leads a team of approximately 2,000 people who provide end-to-end customer onboarding, maintenance, and support for partners and customers in the Retail, Small Business, Corporate, and Commercial segments. She has overseen the implementation of the use of Artificial Intelligence to help employees reduce the amount of time they spend on administrative tasks and has been actively involved in GO WOMXN, a subset of Scotiabank’s Women & Gender Equity Employee Resource Group that encourages women to reflect on their leadership goals to elevate their careers.
She also speaks openly across the organization about taking care of oneself and utilizing the resources the organization has for its employees.
“Scotiabank has incredible benefits for Canada-based employees, and earlier this year we announced our commitment to ensuring a more consistent benefits experience for employees internationally through our Global Inclusive Standards of Care strategy,” she says. “In Canada, I’m particularly grateful for our increase from $3,000 to $10,0000 in mental health support in our benefits package. We are also working to ensure our benefits offerings are inclusive, enabling each employee to take care of themselves based on their unique needs. We, as senior executives, really want to make each employee feel comfortable and empowered.”
It’s why Nanci says she’s so open about the challenges she’s overcome in her life; she wants people to know roadblocks aren’t to be feared — they should be seen as opportunities.
“Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone,” Nanci encourages. “Really embrace challenges as an area of growth. I ran marathons for the longest time, but after my second bout with cancer I wanted to take on a new challenge to prove I was alive, which led me to IRONMAN.”
It’s that kind of positive mindset that she believes has fuelled her success, not just professionally, but also personally.
“I think people can rise above any challenge they face,” she says. “We all have grit and strength within us. Take everything one day at a time, and there’s no way you won’t succeed.”