Reimagining Our Financial Future

Reimagining Our Financial Future

An accidental banker is providing financial literacy training for women entrepreneurs one conversation at a time.
Shannon Pestun. Photo provided.

Shannon Pestun followed her own advice when she started her financial literacy training business: Know yourself. Figure out why you’re doing it. Who could you partner with? 

“The system is always telling women to fix themselves,” Pestun says. “But we’re making it about her first and foremost and what her goals are, and then building the company around that.”

The Finance Cafe is an Alberta-based incorporated for profit social enterprise that was formed because its two female founders understand firsthand the barriers that women entrepreneurs face, primarily around financial literacy and confidence. 

The Path to Entrepreneurship 

Pestun spent the formative part of her youth working in her parents office furniture company. She and her younger brother spent summers cleaning and doing accounts receivables for the family business in Alberta, Canada. 

She also grew up around horses and loved spending time at her extended relatives’ farms. In her first job she worked for free mucking stalls in exchange for riding the horses.

She fell in love with the animals and went on to become a competitive show jumper. 

Riding provided her with a sense of comfort and freedom and trust that is present to this day. 

“A horse will know how I’m feeling before I do,” she says.

Shannon Pestun with her horse, circa 1981. Photo provided.

But the outgoing, horseback-riding girl turned inward after she was sexually assaulted in her teens. Pestun dropped out of high school and ended up working two minimum wage jobs just to keep a roof over her head. There were times she had four hours of sleep between her shift selling hot dogs at a nightclub (while underage) and being a sales clerk at a Merle Norman cosmetics store. 

“I know what it’s like to be at the poverty line. I understand what it’s like to live in fear of finances.” 

Fierce tenacity and the generosity of others — like the Merle Norman shop owner and the guy at the night club who allowed her to work underage — enabled Pestun to get her life back on track. 

Pestun eventually went back to high school then on to college and university where she got a degree in management.

She landed a marketing job at ATB, a financial institution with a focus on small business owners. Before she became ATB’s first Director of Women’s Entrepreneurship, she jumped at the opportunity to become a lender even though she had little experience in finance. 

Her tenacity returned and Pestun taught herself how to be a banker after hours by going through finance and business rules to understand what the lending business was all about. Soon, a pattern emerged. She had no female clients. Where were all the women? 

Pestun took to social media under the alias @agirlsbizbanker to have conversations and learn why women weren’t coming to ATB, or anywhere else, for financing. 

“The banking system was never designed with women in mind,” she says. It was impossible to ignore the financial industry was not effectively serving women and systemic barriers were being upheld. 

As an advocate for women in business, Pestun is a mentor for Fifth Wave, Canada’s first feminist accelerator program for women in digital media.

Pestun knew of Shauna Frederick because they were both on the Board of Directors for Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Organization (WEDO). When Frederick, a respected chartered professional accountant (CPA) invited her to lunch in 2020, Pestun knew she’d found someone who shared her passion for supporting women entrepreneurs. 

The two finance pros knew that confidence and financial know-how impacts women’s emotional connection to their businesses. Together they realized their combined knowledge could help women overcome these challenges of confidence by creating a hub for business financial literacy. The two women holed up in a Canmore hotel room for a weekend in the fall of 2020 to hash out the details of new business. 

The duo officially launched the Finance Cafe in 2021.

Confidence is Key  

Pestun and Frederick teamed up to change the narrative about how women talk about money. They wanted to create a place where women could ask all their financial questions without being judged or feeling berated. How am I going to earn money from this? Will it be enough so I can pay myself a living wage? I don’t want to have investors or take out big loans. How else can I finance my business? 

“We have a very gendered focus on the curriculum,” says Pestun. “We’re aiming to make financial literacy not feel judgmental when it’s being led by two women, particularly an accountant and a former banker.”

A 2020 report by Scotiabank’s Women Initiative found that, “women business owners are 56 per cent  more likely to be ranked as ‘below average’ in financial knowledge than counterpart men business owners.” They are also less confident about their knowledge of small business finance. The full report — Financial Knowledge & Financial Confidence – Closing Gender Gaps in Financing Canadian Small Businesses — indicated that closing gender gaps in small business financial knowledge, financial confidence and financing will further women’s economic security. 

The report also revealed that fewer women are applying for loans, but when they do apply, they get funding. 

Among study participants, 7 per cent  of women and 11 per cent of men had applied for a business loan in the 12 months leading up to the survey. However, among loan applicants, 88 per cent of women and 77 per cent  of men had their loan applications approved. 

Why don’t more women apply for loans? Financial literacy is a factor. 

For women about to put their savings on the line for a business, adding a loan can be scary. Knowing when a loan makes sense, what type of loan to apply for and basic loan terms is something training in financial literacy can help with. 

Women face additional barriers than men in terms of starting their businesses as well. This includes accessing social capital and political power to impact policy that would assist in unlocking potential opportunities. Male-centered entrepreneur narratives and stereotypes are another huge barrier for women entrepreneurs. 

One of The Finance Cafe’s goals is to help women understand the current mindset, system and how to wrangle it to meet their authentic needs. Things like being told that you need to make a certain amount of money to be successful. 

“Screw that,” says Pestun. “We want to give women the confidence to say I’m doing this on my terms and this is enough. Let’s quit treating women like they need to build  massive corporations. Because who wants to enter entrepreneurship with that being the guiding principle?”

To make the course as accessible to as many women as possible, the seven-module online program is priced purposely low at a one time payment of CAD$379 + GST or four payments of CAD$99 + GST. The program includes access to the course for a year, video tutorials, quizzes, worksheets and priority support. There’s even a free financial literacy quiz you can take to test your knowledge.

The lived experience between the two financial gurus is priceless. 

“We see some of the mistakes women entrepreneurs make and we share our own stories about mistakes we’ve made,” Pestun says. “We know the importance of role models for women so it’s about information, mentorship, capacity building, all those wraparound services.”

The New Return on Investment (ROI) 

But what if success was measured not only in terms of profit? What if it was about physical wellbeing, mental health and safety? What about environmental impact or community impact? How could we measure the stronger family aspects of your enterprise? 

Pestun is a proud Métis woman who credits her grandmother, a Métis elder in Manitoba in the 1930s, with learning about resilience and resourcefulness. As farmers, her grandparents lived off the land. They valued family and community and were always willing to share what they had. Pestun’s ideas for the future mean revisiting the past. 

“When we think about Indigenous communities and how they functioned, I think the principles are changing now. We’re seeing women entrepreneurs starting micro-sized businesses or working together to form co-ops.”

Greater accountability and different measurements of value are starting to happen with organizations like B-corporation and the rise of ESG reporting. Environmental, social and governance (ESG) is at the forefront for many organizations, even though the idea has been around for decades. 

Gro Harlem Bundtlund, Norway’s first female prime minister and Chair of the World Commission of Environment and Development (known as the Brundtland Commission), put sustainable development on the international agenda with the Commission’s landmark report, Our Common Future

Leslie Kern is a Canadian scholar, geographer and author focused on feminist cities, city-building and reimagining home and family

Guillermo (Gil) Penalosa is founder and chair of the non-profit organization 8 80 Cities and is the first ambassador of the World Urban Parks with a mission to create safe and happy cities that prioritize people’s wellbeing. 

Kate Raworth has been talking about doughnut economics for years. Accountability and social impact is being addressed in the finance community with Leanne Keddie’s research on sustainable accounting.

But profit is still a driver for banks. We live in a capitalist society and by its nature, capitalism is not inclusive. 

“If you look at the financial system or angel investors, venture capitalists or lenders, they all want to see how profitable the company is–or will be,” Pestun says. 

So what will it take for change to happen? 

A revised definition of success? Redefining value? More data to prove that women entrepreneurs are profitable? Agreeing that a micro-sized business can have major impact?  

Want Different Metrics? Ask Different Questions

Lenders use the traditional five C’s of credit to gauge the creditworthiness of potential borrowers. The five C’s are: character (read: credit history), capacity (debt-to-income ratio), capital (how much money you have), collateral (assets that act as security for a loan) and conditions (purpose and amount of the loan, prevailing interest rates). 

But what if the five C’s aligned more with values and purpose over financials. We need money, yes, but what if there was greater emphasis on why the enterprise was being created?

What if the business was going to create a healthier neighbourhood, or safer schools, or increase the overall wellbeing of a population? What if a product or service provided food, shelter or educational outcomes? What if a business was about art and creativity that was measured in community impact? 

What if it was a different system altogether?

Flash Forward 20 Years 

It’s 2041. Rural Alberta. Shannon Pestun is 65 years old. She is out riding her horse on the property she shares with six other women and their partners. A billion people died from the novel Ceasariovirus (CEASE-55) that swept the globe in 2032. Water is scarce in many regions. Border patrol is enforced. Global trade has come to a halt. There is life on Mars.

Two thousand kilometres away, in Tkaranto (formerly Toronto), purposepreneur Lee Ladybug puts the finishing touches on their info kit for the CEVO (Care Economy Virtual Office) where Pestun is an advisory board member. The bi-monthly review is in 24 hours. Applicants are judged blindly and most are approved and given a purposepreneur lender grant (PLG). 

Racialized barriers don’t exist. Capitalism is no longer toxic. There is no stereotyping. 

Lee Ladybug is one third of Insectifit, an enterprise that produces protein beverages from locusts. They have crowdsourced production of their test product, Beetlejuice, that won best new beverage at the Canadian Natural Exhibition (CNE). Predictive modelling shows that if Beetlejuice is distributed to learning centres and care hospices across the country, Insectifit will be able to create 100 PLGs to give back to CEVO. Their products are sold on a subscription-based model, sliding scale. Insectifit is made up of three sub-companies: Bug Out, the farming collective that grows and harvests the insects in an ethical manner; Venus Source, an electric energy enterprise that packages and ships the product; and Spidey Sense Marketing who promote the wellness, environmental and social stability benefits of Insectifit. 

Pestun arrives at the stable and watches the sunset. She dismounts the horse and lands on solid ground with her riding boots.

She loves what she does. 

She is grateful to have the opportunity to give back and to use her life experiences to pay it forward to the next generation. The Gifting Circle Bursary for Indigenous Women in Entrepreneurship at Mount Royal University that she started just celebrated its 20th anniversary. Pestun is honoured and thrilled there are now thirty-two other similar bursaries associated at post-secondary institutions across Canada. 

She reflects on The Finance Cafe and how it has grown into the hub for girls and women across the country and beyond. The original vision came to fruition.  

She thinks back to her fortieth birthday, twenty-five years ago, when she gave herself the gift of riding again. She remembers how her best ideas came to her when she was out riding. Solutions arrived when she was galloping in the field with the wind on her face, the sound of hooves on the soil, deeply connected to the natural world.

Pestun strokes the horse’s neck then lets it run free into the field.


Publishers Note: The Fifth Wave is a year-round program offered by CFC Media Lab and its partners to support the growth and development of women entrepreneurs in the digital media sector in southern Ontario. All enterprise founders in the Fifth Wave community are selected for both their potential and commitment toward weaving intersectional feminist ideals of equity and fairness into sustainable and scalable business growth strategies. Fifth Wave Initiative is committed to 30% participation by members of underrepresented groups. The Fifth Wave is a LiisBeth Media partner and ally. Apply here.

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Lana Pesch

Lana Pesch

Lana is a writer, creative producer, and story editor who has produced and directed countless videos ranging in subject matter from butter tarts to bionic hands, to her own book trailer.  She grew up in Saskatchewan and has also lived in Banff, Montreal, and on a kibbutz. Her debut short story collection, Moving Parts (Arsenal Pulp Press) was published in October 2015.
Lana Pesch

Lana Pesch

Lana is a writer, creative producer, and story editor who has produced and directed countless videos ranging in subject matter from butter tarts to bionic hands, to her own book trailer.  She grew up in Saskatchewan and has also lived in Banff, Montreal, and on a kibbutz. Her debut short story collection, Moving Parts (Arsenal Pulp Press) was published in October 2015.

One reply on “Reimagining Our Financial Future”

I am writing to commend this article.

I think that this is an important article on an important topic, especially since the most frequent reason for the failure of new Canadian ventures relates to poor financial decisions (Thornhill & Amit, 2003).

This issue is especially important for women. Women typically spend less time in the workforce than men and women have historically been underpaid: so women have been relatively less able to amass the wealth required to finance their senior years (and women tend to live longer). Financial literacy is essential if we are all to be goods stewards of our financial resources—but especially so for women.

I was also pleased to see the reference to the Scotiabank research which, like the most recent Statistics Canada data, reports that loan applications advanced to financial institutions by women businesses owners are more likely to be approved than applications advanced by businesses owned by men. The current under-reporting of this finding perpetuates the historical myth that banks are biased and discourages women-owned enterprises from seeking needed financial capital.

I think Lana Pesch’s article deserves wide circulation and I was delighted to see it.

Allan Riding
Professor Emeritus of Finance, University of Ottawa

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