By Josh Juhlke

Tamara Hendsbee’s storied financial career has humble beginnings—starting as a teller over 37 years ago. Since then, her journey has stops at two Canadian banks and a global bank, before eventually finding her way to a people-centric cooperative, as President of Envision Financial, a division of First West Credit Union.

“One of the things that drew me to the financial services industry is the value financial planning brings to individuals and families,” “Tamara declares. “Financial planning is a powerful tool to help everyone, regardless of their situation or how much money they have in their bank account. I truly believe everyone has an opportunity, with the right help and advice, to get ahead financially, and a career in this area enabled me to make a real difference in people’s lives.”

Throughout her career, Tamara has worked in many different areas, including retail banking, wealth management, and insurance, leading to her current role.

“Working in member-facing roles has given me an incredible insight into our members’ needs, fears, and concerns. The role trust plays in these relationships can’t be understated. I love that I can leverage the experience and knowledge I’ve gained in my career in my current role to make decisions that always keep our members at the center.”

Although she is grateful for all the stops she’s had along her career, she is incredibly grateful to have landed at a credit union over a decade ago. 

“Having worked at several financial institutions, I can truly say that credit unions have different approaches to helping people and communities flourish. I’ve witnessed this firsthand. In our interactions with team members across all levels, we constantly consider our members and communities and how business decisions will impact them.”

She quickly points out several recent examples that have stuck out to her. During the atmospheric floods in late 2021, Envision Financial provided $100,000 to support flood victims and recovery efforts. During the past few year’s rapid rate increases, her teams proactively contacted all impacted members to help them find the best solution. “When our members and communities need us most, we must be there for them.”

Another critical area is Envision Financials’ Back-on-Track program, which helps members experiencing financial hardships due to life events. “Investing in the community goes far beyond simply cutting a cheque. We look to be true partners and build up the organizations we align with—whether through monetary support, volunteerism, or finding unique ways for our organizations and teams to work together.”

Envision Financial provides team members with up to three paid days each year to volunteer with a local charitable organization. During 2023, team members volunteered 2,252 hours—the equivalent of over 300 workdays—in their communities. Many of these volunteer hours were possible through First West’s Lead Well Program paid-time-off-for-volunteerism program.

“It can be compelling when your organization encourages you to participate in your community. I’ve been fortunate to be involved with so many initiatives over the years. I can attribute much of that involvement to working in a community-focused culture.”

Tamara has deep ties to the community. She currently serves on the Run For Water Foundation Board. She is involved in local charities for women and children, including Ruth and Naomi’s, the Salvation Army, Rotary Club, Empty Stocking Fund, Christmas Bureau, and the both Abbotsford and Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce. She’s also facilitated multiple sessions of “Taking the Stage”—an empowerment program for Women as public speakers and leaders.

Another area Tamara has strong ties to is the equity, inclusion, and diversity (EID) space. Employee engagement is a core EID strategy at Envision Financial and First West Credit Union. A testament to this are the grassroots-formed affinity groups, united by shared lived experiences and working to help promote an inclusive workplace aligned with First West’s purpose and values. The first group formed—First West Women’s Network—in 2018, and since then, employees have started six more representing several marginalized groups, including the Indigenous Employee Network, Pride Network, Pan-Asian Employee Network, First West Young Leaders, Black Employee Network, and Poss-Ability Network (for team members with disabilities). “We believe that to be a genuine proponent of an inclusive, diverse, and equitable community, we must establish a strong foundation within our organization. We pursue this by creating and nurturing a culture where no one gets left behind: we are inclusive, compassionate, and collaborative,” she relates with warmth. “Being vulnerable and authentic has always been an important area for me. What I love about our organization is that being your true self at work is encouraged and celebrated. This is why I’ve been so passionate in my advocacy and allyship for our employee network groups, as I know that when you aren’t your authentic self at work, it creates so many unnecessary barriers and works as a detriment to the individual, the team, and the organization as a whole. We’ve built a culture where people can be themselves—whatever that may look like.”

The community can mean many different things to many different people, and another community Tamara holds dear is her family, in particular, her mother.

“My mother was such an encouragement. Her help and support—especially when my children were young—gave me the time and space to build my career. She was an amazing stay-home mom who took care of all the challenges that came along while inspiring me to think big,” she recalls with affection.

As the mother of three adult children and recently a new grandma, she aims to provide her family with the same support and encouragement. 

“Early in my career, I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do, but I was ambitious,” she discloses. “Whatever I was doing, I wanted to do extremely well, exceed goals, reach the next level, keep learning, and reach my goals, whether connected to sports, relationships, learning new things about people and culture, career, or family. I always wanted to learn and grow non-stop.”

She still applies those principles in all aspects of her life, even her spare time, as she jokingly shares her 2,000-day Spanish streak on Duolingo. Fast-forward to today, and she continues to take a more proactive and optimistic approach. “Strategically, every day, I wake up and believe the day will be great,” she says with a smile. “I choose optimism and visualize what will go well. I’m an advocate for building authentic relationships, surrounding myself with good people who I believe in and who believe in me.” She hopes to pass along some of her wisdom and learnings to the next generation of leaders.

“Be courageous, ask for help, ask for a mentor, and put yourself out there even when it feels uncomfortable. You don’t have to be an extrovert; do this in whatever way feels authentic. But create real and meaningful relationships. Be kind and stick to your ideals and values. Put yourself first when thinking about your career and take some chances.”