Go Back

A Bank with A Spark

In Focus
NAME:Gillian Riley
POSITION:President & CEO
LOCATION:Toronto, Canada
Tangerine President and CEO Gillian Riley inherited a pioneering digital bank famed for its savings accounts and has successfully turned it into an everyday bank competing with Canada’s big five.

When Gillian Riley became President and CEO of Tangerine, she discovered a digital bank with a firm foundation of savers enjoying attractive rates, low fees and solid customer service. But she also saw opportunities for growth and capturing market share from the big five banks dominating Canada’s banking sector.

“The opportunity to grow it into an everyday bank was enormous,” she tells The CEO Magazine from the bank’s headquarters in Toronto. “We’re the little guy trying to make a difference, the bank that’s going to make things happen.”

On the Rise

Tangerine has experienced impressive growth over the past five years. It has transformed from a digital bank serving savers to an everyday bank with an expanded product line, ranging from its Chequing Accounts to no-fee credit cards loaded with perks from Mastercard Canada and investments such as exchange-traded funds.

Tangerine’s technology remains cutting edge, too – it became the first Canadian bank to onboard customers with virtual tools and AI to authenticate and sign up an individual in five minutes from their living room, Riley explains.

In collaboration with


Harnessing innovation to power economies and empower people. Harnessing innovation to power economies and empower people.
Read More Below

Customer service at Tangerine, meanwhile, consistently wins awards in an industry not always perceived as customer friendly. For the 12th year running, Tangerine won the top spot for Overall Customer Satisfaction among the mid-sized banks in the J.D. Power 2023 Canada Retail Banking Satisfaction Study.

“But this year was the best because we went up 14 points and were specifically ranked number one in the Client Trust category in a year where our competitors struggled,” Riley says with a smile.

Tangerine expanded robustly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as people embraced digital and mobile technologies. That growth has only accelerated with the return to normalcy, with mobile sales increasing by an eye-popping 159 percent since 2020, according to Riley.

Another factor for Tangerine’s success can be attributed to a focus on mobile, which Riley prioritized upon becoming CEO.

“I think one of the key things that we did was we created a mobile-first environment, building off the ethos of this being a telephone bank,” she says. “Mobile adoption has gone up 35 percent since 2020.”

“We’re the little guy trying to make a difference, the bank that’s going to make things happen.”

Riley’s reference to “a telephone bank” draws on Tangerine’s origins as a pioneer in virtual, branchless banking. The bank began in 1997 as ING Direct, a subsidiary of Dutch bank ING Group. It proved popular with Canadians for simple and straightforward savings accounts with attractive rates and low fees.

Scotiabank, Canada’s third-largest bank by deposits, purchased ING Direct in 2012 and rechristened it Tangerine in 2014 – picking a name that leveraged the existing colors used by ING Direct, while connoting a bold and fresh approach to banking.

Tangerine remains a separate unit but seeks to differentiate itself from Canada’s big banks and other virtual players. Its separate identity, Riley says, has been very helpful to its success.

An Orange Spark

Employees have embraced Tangerine’s color, along with a corporate culture of customer service.

“There’s an orange spark, as we like to call it,” Riley says. “They love the brand that they see in the market, and so they feel that as they work here, that they’re making a difference for clients.”

The Tangerine culture also involves agility, which allows the bank to bring products to market quickly – up to twice monthly, according to Riley.

“We try to be nimble,” she says, explaining that many employees work in technology and in what she calls ‘the agile’.

“The client has always been at the center of everything that I think about.”

“As we work in the agile, you work across the business in agile delivery, which means marketing and product and technology and design. They’re all there trying to solve a customer journey or a new product development together, as opposed to one group doing the requirement.”

Tangerine’s culture champions diversity, reflecting the demographics of Toronto, one of the world’s most multicultural cities. “We’ve got a huge diverse base here at Tangerine,” Riley says, proudly pointing to the fact that people of color make up more than 50 percent of the company’s staff. “My management team is now 50 percent female and male and the board of directors at Tangerine skews 63 percent female.”

Riley moved to Tangerine after 24 years with Scotiabank, where she held senior leadership roles in retail, small business and commercial banking. Prior to heading Tangerine, Riley served as Executive Vice President of Canadian Commercial Banking.

“A thread through my entire career that I think is an important starting point is that the client has always been at the center of everything that I think about,” she says.


Along with a passion for clients, Riley has championed women in business and female entrepreneurship. She founded the Scotiabank Women Initiative in 2018, which is “helping women grow their businesses, advance their careers and invest in their futures, so they can succeed on their own terms,” according to Scotiabank.

“It became apparent that female entrepreneurs were not getting the funding that they needed to both start businesses and grow businesses,” Riley says.

“I founded the program to be about providing access to capital, education and mentorship. And it wasn’t just about getting the money that was needed, but it was also about providing support in asking for the money, in helping to provide support and building business plans and providing mentorship for women so that they would have the confidence to ask for the funding, but also invest in their business and also have people they could talk to.”

The initiative aimed to deploy US$500 million in capital.

“We long surpassed that,” she says. “Fast forward to 2023, we’ve facilitated US$8 billion in capital for women-led and owned businesses in Canada, nearing a goal to mobilize US$10 billion by 2025.”

Enormous Opportunity

Tangerine has grown substantially under Riley’s leadership; it now serves more than two million customers. But she envisages further and faster growth in the coming years.

There are substantial tailwinds with the Canadian government setting ambitious immigration targets. But Riley says performance will come down to the bank building on its strengths and innovating to meet customer needs.

The first strength for Tangerine to build on is customer service.

“Point one is to continue to maintain that lead and grow it by creating ‘wow moments’,” Riley explains. “So customers can continue to have the most seamless and uncomplicated journeys that you can bank anytime, anywhere, and it’s easy to do business with us.”

“We think partnerships and ecosystems and marketplaces are something for the future that could be quite powerful for us.”

Another strength is personalization.

“We want to be able to really personalize for our customers, providing them with insights and information and tools that are unique just for them, our data, and we have a 360-degree view of our customers,” she says. “Our data is simple and easy to use, so we think we can be a leader in personalizing the information for our customers and adding a lot of value.”

An integral part of building Tangerine’s brand has been forging a 20-year marketing partnership with the Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, parent company of the NBA’s Toronto Raptors – the 2019 NBA champions and a franchise popular with Canadians across the country. The bank also sponsors bicycle sharing programs in Toronto and Montreal.

“We think partnerships and ecosystems and marketplaces are something for the future that could be quite powerful for us,” she says.

“We’re a brand that resonates. We’re a brand that people trust.”

Under Riley’s leadership, Tangerine has also deepened its long-time commitment to giving back to the community. Riley calls it being “very values-based” – an ethos dating back to the bank’s previous incarnation as ING Direct.

“The opportunity to be empathetic, to be values-based is something we can actually do with a lot of credibility,” Riley says.

“We’re a brand that resonates. We’re a brand that people trust. The opportunity to deliver and execute on providing that superior customer service, that personalization and that differentiation is there because of those things that we have in our ethos; we’re not seen like the other banks.”

Back to top