How one international student’s struggle to make ends meet led to a promising career at a major Canadian bank
How did a first-generation university student who self-financed his entire education end up in the lucrative field of commercial banking?
Tristian Christie, native of the sunny island of the Bahamas, beams with a huge grin.
“If I look back at my journey from international student to permanent resident, and where I am in my career now, even I feel amazed to some extent. I didn’t always know my next steps, but it’s okay sometimes not to know and accept new challenges.”
As the youngest and one of the only Black people on his team at Scotiabank Commercial Banking, Christie is well into his career journey and soaking up all the skills he can in commercial banking. Most of the people on his team have MBAs or years of banking experience, but Christie chalks up his position to a combination of hard work and charisma.
His foray into banking is another interesting aspect of this story. During his first year of study in Economics at Dalhousie, he found it quite hard to make ends meet, being the sole financier of his studies and living costs. He landed in Canada in August and by October he was working 20 hours a week at American Eagle, the maximum hours you’re allowed to work on a study visa.
“I was always working; I couldn’t afford to miss a shift because that was the difference between me eating that week,” Christie says. “I am grateful for the friends who would sneak me into the university’s meal hall sometimes so I could eat off of their meal plan when I didn’t have food.”
Christie had to make those tough choices to forgo parties and socializing like other first-years, but he says embracing those hardships helped him come out stronger in life and helped him a lot in his career.
He started thinking how to get his feet wet in the banking sector and was successful in securing a position at the CIBC Contact center, where he was working unlimited hours in the summer, and the full 20 hours during his semester. This job compensated well above minimum wage which granted him more financial freedom.
“How I was able to juggle working and a full course load, I don’t know!” he says.
His school mate and close friend Ciaro Moxey, says Christie’s commitment to earning his way was evident to all.
“Tristian and I have a long-standing debate about the islands in the Bahamas. He’s from Nassau and I’m from Freeport, two [of the] major islands. Our friendship really blossomed then. [All of us] matured more around the third year, when everyone started thinking about co-op placements, part-time jobs, and life after university. Despite the apparent weight of the situation, we still goofed off all the time, but with Tristian it was different. You could tell it was a 24/7 commitment.
“I remember our conversation when he told me he was self-financing and how stressful it was for him due to rising tuition costs, inflation, and family issues back home. No matter how stressful his situation got, he always kept a smile on his face and took things in stride. And that’s just a testament to the type of guy Tristian is; he will go to hell and back with a smile on his face.”
Christie’s supervisors at CIBC recall a young man who was adept at climbing the ropes and establishing himself in his professional career.
During his time at the contact centre, Christie quickly proved he had a knack for making his voice known and displayed strong leadership capabilities, especially in team dynamics.
Post George Floyd’s death and the global eruption of Black Lives Matter protests, uncomfortable conversations started taking shape that had never happened in past years.
It was at this time that Christie wrote a story about his experience in the banking industry that went viral at CIBC. In light of this, his direct manager at the time was able to speak to his passion and drive for inclusivity, which resulted in an opportunity for him to share his story on a national call within CIBC’s contact centres.
Christie eventually transitioned to CIBC’s Commercial banking side, which is almost unheard of for someone in the contact centre, and was the youngest person on that team.
“A job I was just using to pay my bills ending up leading to a promising career path for me,” Christie says. “My passion for banking and the finance industry was intertwined with my own struggles financing my education, and seeing the trends in banking for minority communities. I felt it was a duty to become financially literate and learn how the Canadian banking industry works from the inside out so I could be a resource to my fellow young immigrants from historically marginalized communities.”
Being an asset to his community is a priority for Christie. He’s involved with Global Shapers Halifax, an international hub of young professionals championing social issues. He volunteers with them on various initiatives and projects relating to housing insecurity and systemic inequalities.
During Black History Month, they hosted a panel discussion with prominent figures in the Black community in Nova Scotia, including Donald Oliver, the first Black senator in Canada who is originally from Nova Scotia.
While he is a rising star in commercial banking, in the long-term Christie is interested in socio-economic policy and development. He is keenly interested in working at the national level in economic policy and exploring how banks can be beneficial for the community beyond only donations.
“My primary advice to international students would be this: Don’t put yourself in a box. Looking back, it may sound like my career journey was very structured, but a lot of the times I did not know where I would end up. I only had faith in my abilities,” Christie says. “A lot of international students think they need multiple degrees and qualifications to succeed. They may also have pressures from home. However, it is important to stay true to yourself. Your unique perspective will shape your experience, and don’t be afraid to admit your mistakes and ask for help.”