BMO looks to redefine its purpose

Head of marketing Catherine Roche writes about the vision and process that led to new commitments at the bank.


By Catherine Roche

Setting out to determine a company’s true purpose is more than a feel-good boardroom brainstorming exercise or a marketing tactic  it directly connects to improving competitiveness and a company’s bottom line and impacts every aspect of an organization.

Research and the experience of some top-performing companies demonstrate that there is real business value in embracing an organizational purpose. Purpose-driven companies deliver better financial performance, have more engaged employees and more loyal customers, and are even better at innovation and transformational change.

A 2018 study by Harvard Business Review Analytics Services and EY Beacon Institute, “The Business Case for Purpose,” surveyed 474 executives globally and found that companies with a strong sense of purpose transform and innovate better, delivering consistent revenue growth. The survey further found that nearly 90% of respondents said companies with a shared sense of purpose would have greater employee satisfaction. However, while most executives surveyed said they believe purpose matters, less than half said their companies currently operate in a purpose-driven way. More sobering, researchers found only a few companies have embedded their purpose to a level where they can realize its full potential.

With that in mind, BMO recently undertook a process to clearly define its own purpose to mobilize on its strategy and fuel growth.

That journey of articulating the brand’s purpose has been truly energizing. Over a 10-month period, we spoke with more than 18,000 employees, held 24 sessions with customers including business leaders across industries, and reached out to communities where we operate. We also engaged some of North America’s top thought-leaders such as professors of anthropology, biology, environmental science and theology for their perspectives on the unique needs BMO fulfills.

The engagement process helped us identify and unlock underlying strengths and areas where we have leading capabilities. We uncovered strategic bets within our DNA where we know we can do more  challenging ourselves where we could be bolder and expanding in specific areas of impact.

Last month, we considered all of this as we articulated our new purpose, “To Boldly Grow the Good in Business and Life.” This purpose reflects a focus that has always been at our core: driving positive change for our customers, employees and the communities where we do business.

As a manifestation of this purpose, we have announced new commitments to support a thriving economy, sustainable future and inclusive society. By 2025, BMO has committed to mobilizing $400 billion for sustainable finance, increasing support for small businesses and women entrepreneurs, and pledging to zero barriers to inclusion, including doubling the size of our Indigenous banking business.

Unlocking our purpose has helped us sharpen our focus in these specific areas of growth and that is good for our customers, our shareholders, our employees, our communities and, yes, for our business.

Catherine RocheCatherine Roche is head of marketing and strategy at BMO Financial Group.

Photo credit (above): Gerald Lau via Flickr.