First National Financial LP

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Meet our leaders: a conversation with Rosa Dias

Rosa Dias is Senior Vice President, Risk Management & Internal Audit. In her role, she oversees our sophisticated risk management and internal audit programs company wide. Rosa joined First National in October 2012.

Please tell us about your career pre-First National.

I was with Wells Fargo Financial in Canada for about eight years. I started in their retail credit division, responsible for underwriting programs that large retailers used to help their customers buy products on credit and then shifted to managing a team of underwriters. It was at that time that I discovered a passion for detecting fraud at the application stage. When a role came up on their compliance team, I applied. Eventually, I helped that team build on their fraud program which covered a wide range of products including personal loans and mortgages.  Within that compliance role, there was a regulatory compliance team responsible for testing adherence to regulatory requirements, which is where I was exposed to regulatory risk and oversight.  From there, I transitioned to an Operational Risk role where I oversaw vendor management, records management, privacy, business controls and business continuity programs.  It was a great learning opportunity.

Why did you join First National?

From a career progression perspective, I felt it was time for me to move on and First National was hiring for the role of Manager of Quality Assurance. Luckily for me, I worked with Mark Van Stone at Wells Fargo. Mark had already joined First National about eight months before the quality assurance role came open. Mark had great things to say about First National’s culture, family environment and growth. He also felt very supported by all levels of management in his role, which was important to me. 

Do you recall the hiring process?

I interviewed with Scott McKenzie and he asked me for my opinion on how to manage a certain type of fraud scenario. At the end of the interview, he told me my idea was great and I thought to myself, this is everything I want in an employer…someone who asks for and values my input.  I had another job offer with an international firm but I turned it down because I felt I could have more of an impact here. I’m glad I did and I’m grateful that Scott hired me.

Your title is now Vice President, Risk Management & Internal Audit. Please describe your responsibilities.

It’s a new role within the company. After our previous Director of Internal Audit retired, we decided to change the structure and vest both responsibilities in one area. My mandate is to take our risk management framework and internal audit programs to the next level, company wide, to ensure we have the very best controls and monitoring programs in place across First National, along with all the right testing of controls to eliminate gaps and provide assurance. For the Internal Audit function, my vision is to see it become an advisory service, in addition to an assurance service, so we can collaborate more with each of the business units.

How different is a corporate role to what you did previously as Manager of Quality Assurance?

I get to interact with more people. I’ve been supporting the Residential Underwriting teams for my entire tenure here.  I now get to interact with and support more team members and departments.  For example, our Commercial Origination, Servicing, IT, Finance, Regulatory Compliance and AML teams. We also work very closely with First National’s training teams to assist with educational content and program development.

How many people work in Risk Management and Internal Audit?

There are 32 of us today including my five direct reports. As we build out our risk management framework, we will add to our workforce. I’m very lucky to have teams that are very passionate and committed to what they do. Practically speaking, one of the things our Fraud team does is find things that are supposed to be hidden from us. When the team makes a discovery and identifies the method used in an attempt to dupe First National, it’s very exciting for them. They feel proud to have a direct hand in preventing fraud.  Our Quality Assurance team is devoted to helping the entire organization and sees a deep responsibility for internal education and awareness. Our Internal Audit team consists of experienced CPAs who are smart and talented and very supportive of the idea of collaborating with our business units beyond the audit process to help with things like product design, technology implementations and new service offerings.

What sort of fraud attempts do you see most often?

In the mortgage space, we see what’s known as first-party fraud or fraud for shelter. This happens when an individual has a need to purchase or refinance a home and they fabricate information and documentation to qualify for a mortgage that  otherwise would be out of reach. Whether an institution is a Canadian bank with a branch network or a non-bank lender like First National, fraud attempts are an everyday occurrence. We’re fortunate in that mortgage brokers with whom we work are good at detecting fraud before it gets to us and warn us when something is amiss.

Risks go beyond fraud, correct?

That’s right, there is interest rate risk, regulatory risk, risk that arises from failed processes, risks associated with vendors and technologies, pandemic risks and social risks. Thinking about it holistically, anything that has the potential to disrupt operations or results in a financial, legal or reputational loss event is a risk. It’s a constantly emerging area that requires continuous adaptation. 

How does one become an operational risk expert?

Experience, and a desire for continuous self-improvement. To be good at it, one needs to understand the business to be able to create controls that are relevant, realistic and can be operationalized. My advice for anyone who is interested in operational risk management is to work in as many areas as possible within the company.  Learn as much as you can about how the organization operates. 

What are the most enjoyable and most challenging parts of your job?

Most enjoyable includes building and enhancing processes and policies and working with really talented people who want to do great work. I get to do both every day. The challenging part is finding solutions that can be operationalized in a realistic timeframe and collaborating effectively to arrive at solutions. 

Looking ahead, what would you like to accomplish in your role?

Creating a world where our Internal Auditors are seen as collaborators by all business units. Assisting the business units to self-identify issues and close gaps proactively before we find them and building out our risk management framework in ways that all levels of our organization can comprehend. Risk management is a complex area and I’d like to see us break it down into understandable components so it’s not necessary to be a risk management expert to engage and contribute. 

On the personal side, you are based in Nova Scotia.

That’s right, I grew up in Stratford, Ontario, worked in Toronto for almost 20 years and in 2019, pre-pandemic, my husband and I fulfilled a life-long dream by moving to the East Coast. First National was supportive of making that life change happen and I’m very grateful that they did. I live in the coastal community of Mahone Bay, which is home to less than a thousand people. To be honest, there is no better place to be.

Is it difficult to do your job outside the Toronto head office?

I interact frequently and video call technology has made it possible and efficient to do so with our team not only in Toronto but across Canada. I’m also in our Toronto office quarterly.

Any other thoughts you’d like to share?

I definitely feel that our teams in Risk Management and Internal Audit make a difference and there is a lot of satisfaction in being creative and finding solutions. I love what I do and where I do it.