Most Powerful Women to Watch: Sharon Haward-Laird, BMO Financial Group

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Head of North American Treasury and Payment Solutions

After being promoted in 2016 to lead North American treasury and payment solutions for BMO Financial Group, Sharon Haward-Laird asked the company’s chief executive, David Casper, what she could do to succeed in her role.

It was the first time that Haward-Laird, an attorney who had worked previously in communications, investor relations and government relations, was taking on a revenue-generating role, and Casper told her to start by thinking about what’s best for the customer, Haward-Laird recalled.

She has been pushing the unit to new heights since. Treasury and payment solutions is consistently generating double-digit growth and the highest return on equity among BMO’s business lines. Revenue was up 15% in 2019, while net income rose 18%.

Product innovations under Haward-Laird include a new biometric authentication platform for commercial banking and a simplified, lower-cost process for conducting small-value transactions internationally, called BMO Global Pay.

Haward-Laird has also been fine-tuning the way her division collects feedback from its customer advisory council. She changed the format so that BMO spends less time talking and more time listening. And she split the council into groups for larger and smaller businesses in a bid to make them more useful for attendees.

“Every year after we do the customer advisory council, we ask, ‘How did that work? Could we get more out of it?’ And we try to make changes,” Haward-Laird said.

When she was younger, Haward-Laird briefly considered becoming a writer. She still loves to read and followed her passion to a seat on the board of the Writers Trust of Canada.

Its founders include one of Haward-Laird’s favorite writers, Margaret Atwood, author of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” The two even sat together at a recent event.

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