Canada’s CFO of the Year™ Award 2019 finalist Pamela Steer
Taking the long view with a wide-angle lens:
Sustainability goes well beyond finances for WSIB CFO
Sustainability is an important issue for any chief financial officer, particularly when it comes to making sure the organization has the financial resources to stay in business. For Pamela Steer, sustainability goes well beyond the financial picture to encompass other issues, notably environmental (E), social (S) and governance matters (G).
“What sustainability means to me at its highest level is thinking beyond the quarterly reporting cycle. It means taking the hard strategic view and making decisions that ensure the long-term sustainability not only of the organization but of the organization’s impact on the world around them, whether it’s the E, the S, or the G,” says Pamela, the Chief Financial Officer of Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). Pamela is one of three finalists for Canada’s CFO of the Year™ Award.
Sustainability a hallmark
Pamela has made sustainability one of her hallmarks, whether through her work at the WSIB or through her involvement with The Prince of Wales’s Accounting for Sustainability project (A4S). She sits on the A4S Global Advisory Council and played a critical role in the launch of the Canadian chapter of the A4S CFO Leadership Network.
Sustainability has also been central to Pamela’s work at the WSIB, which she joined in 2012. At the time, the insurer was grappling with a $14.2-billion unfunded liability that threatened its long-term viability. As CFO, Pamela was a key part of the focused effort to eliminate that shortfall, which the WSIB was able to do in 2018 through disciplined premium rate pricing, strategic investments, an increased focus on return-to-work services and the support and commitment of businesses across the province.
While changing the financial picture was important, Pamela emphasizes the social side of the sustainability equation as well.
“We had a tragic story, one of many we deal with each year, of an 18-year-old who fell off a roof at a summer job and is now paralyzed,” she says.
“We need to support him and his family for the rest of his life. We need to know, he needs to know and his family needs to know that we will be there for him. That’s really the importance of digging us out of that financial hole. It means we are now in a position to know with more certainty we will be there for him for the next 70, 80—who knows how many—years.”
A champion for mental health
Mental health has been another priority for Pamela when it comes to sustainability in the social sphere. After reviewing the increased reports of post-traumatic stress disorder claimants and to support internal initiatives within the WSIB, Pamela focused on addressing mental health in the workplace.
She was part of the initiative to develop a support system for WSIB employees struggling with mental-health issues, which included the creation of the organization’s first policy around mental health in the workplace and mandatory mental-health training for senior leaders.
“It’s really important to have a mentally healthy workplace and then to make sure that everyone understands that help is here, there are resources available, we are compassionate,” says Pamela.
“Because it’s my belief that not only is it intrinsically good for our people, but it’s actually good business. If you have fewer people on short-term and long-term disability, if you have a more motivated, highly engaged workforce, you have less turnover, you have more productivity, and you have less absenteeism. You’re going to have a better business outcome.”
Pamela has since brought the WSIB’s work on the issue back to the sustainability conversation by presenting its efforts around mental health as a first business case on social and human capital to the new Canadian chapter of A4S.
Using analytics to modernize and drive strategy
From tackling the unfunded liability to being an important player in the launch of the Investment Management Corp. of Ontario, a new body that manages the WSIB’s investment funds, Pamela has been a driving force in transforming her organization. Also on her plate is a $90-million effort to modernize the WSIB’s premium rate framework, a project in which data and analytics are playing a major role.
“We at the WSIB have untold billions of pieces of data,” says Pamela.
“We can now use that in a much more sophisticated way than previously in order to set premium rates for our clients based on what we call predictability and their risk as evidenced by their health and safety record. So we can now take the data analytics and say, ‘If you are a well-performing large employer, you’re going to be basically in control of your destiny and you will pay a lesser rate than a competitor of yours who is not as careful with their health and safety and therefore will pay for their risk.’”
For Pamela, CFOs need to be keeping an eye on analytics, particularly when it comes to their own work.
“I believe that data analytics are going to be the defining feature of future financial professionals and CFOs,” she says.
“No longer will we be the people in the corner who keep score, tally things. That will all be done for us. But as we live in a world with floods and floods of data, it's about understanding and sifting through that data, and instead of keeping score, it's deriving what insights you can provide or you can find from that data. How do you look at the business with that data lens to then provide foresight and insight to the team as you create and craft strategy to really move forward?” - Pamela Steer
For Pamela, having a seat at the table to drive those sorts of strategic conversations is one of the biggest rewards of being a CFO.
“I really enjoy being that trusted advisor to the board and to the CEO for moving the organization forward in a really impactful way and having a sustainable, positive impact on the organization, its operations, its future and its customers.”
Canada’s CFO of the Year™ Award Gala
Presented by Financial Executives International (FEI) Canada, PwC Canada, and Robert Half, Canada’s CFO of the Year™ Award is given annually to recognize and honour the best in financial leadership.
The winner will be announced at our gala April 25, 2019.