Michael Fisher is responsible for new market development and community initiatives at COUNTRY Financial. As Vice President of Community Business Development, Michael develops grassroots relationships with key organizations focused on financial literacy to support local programming and event sponsorship that drive community engagement and client growth. 

A member of the ILDC since it first expanded into Illinois, Michael enjoys “taking advantage of the knowledge of other corporate partners involved with the ILDC who are further along in their DEI journey.”  Over the years, he has integrated DEI principles when spreading COUNTRY’s mission to consciously build more diverse pools of prospective job candidates.  

Michael began his career in 1981 as a credit analyst trainee with BMO/Harris Bank where he spent the next twenty-five years working in different capacities, including commercial lending in the small to middle market business market, bank operations, and branch management. He learned a key skillset he would bring to COUNTRY while working on a team that identified new branch expansion opportunities in Chicago: the art of building relationships at the residential, community, and local government levels. 

When the banking industry went through turbulent times in 2007, Michael accepted a position in new market development for COUNTRY at a time when the organization was looking to expand its presence in large urban markets in Chicago. After succeeding in the Chicago market, he has grown to oversee seven of the company’s largest markets spanning from Portland to Atlanta.

I sat down virtually with Michael to discuss how he applies DEI principles to his work, and to discuss his company’s response to COVID-19.  

David Sanchez-Aguilera (David): How did you navigate and build a career that centers DEI work?

Michael Fisher (Michael): D&I has always been a passion for me. I have been blessed with a great career. I want others to have the opportunity to enjoy success in their career and life ambitions. It all starts with equal opportunity, and being valued, developed, and supported.

Working across numerous communities in my current role and throughout my career has fueled this passion. We are committed to making a difference in the communities that we serve and making sure we have a workforce that mirrors these communities. We value the diversity of thought, perspective, and life experiences that allow us to serve our clients better. We want to be the company of choice for our clients and also for those seeking a fulfilling career in financial services.

Having diversity of thought requires diversity of people. This includes gender, sexual orientation, culture, ethnicity, occupational type, and the list goes on. All of that has to be part of the melting pot to create diversity of thought. We need to make sure we have representation around the table to go to that diversity of thought. 

 

David: Have you seen attitudes or buy-in around DEI change over the years?

Michael: There is definitely more of a buy-in because companies are no longer trying to figure out the business case for diversity. When you think about the changing demographics, you have to make sure that you are staying relevant in all of the consumer segments you are trying to serve.

David: What is one DEI topic right now you would like to draw more attention to?

Michael: I am concerned that some organizations have moved to the position that being intentional in the DEI space is incompatible with being inclusive. Some organizations have done away with diversity councils, ERG’s, etc. DEI is not just a fad but table stakes for long term success in any business.

David: How has COUNTRY responded to COVID-19?

Michael: COUNTRY Financial implemented social distancing measures in early March to help slow the spread of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). This included encouraging employees to work from home, restricting non-essential business travel for employees and insurance agents, and restricting all future travel until further notice. Employees who have young children in the home can work a flexible schedule since Illinois schools are closed. 

At COUNTRY, our vision is to enrich the lives of the communities we serve. We want to ensure our clients know we are here for them and their communities, especially right now and in the months to come. We have increased access to new and virtual technologies to give our financial representatives and insurance agents the ability to continue to meet their clients’ needs. We have attempted to look at ways we can be more accommodating to clients with payment extensions, fee waivers, and reminding them of all the channels that are available to them aside from face-to-face.

I’m proud of how our financial reps and corporate employees have done some amazing things to support those on the front lines in their local communities. We continue to invest in the communities we serve through donations to local charities and support for local first responders and healthcare providers.  

David: What advice would you give to leaders who are navigating a crisis of this scale for the first time?

Michael: It’s an unprecedented time in our nation’s history. Leaders need to prioritize the health and safety of their team members above everything else. While the spread of the pandemic has had a major impact on the global economy, it has had a similar impact on the health and wellbeing of employees. Leaders should consider alternative work arrangements and schedules to allow employees to continue to work and take care of their families at the same time. They also need to make sure they monitor the local environment to anticipate solutions ahead of time.

About the Author

David Sanchez-Aguilera

David is a Human Resources Professional in the Chicagoland area. He holds a master’s degree in Critical Race and Ethnicity studies from the University of California, San Diego and is committed to using this knowledge to make workplaces more inclusive spaces. On his downtime, David enjoys rock-climbing and listening to podcasts.  

 

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