Safe Harbor Financial
Sundie Seefried, CEO Safe Harbor Financial
A 35-year veteran of the credit union industry, in 2014, she saw that CRBs needed financial services and that Colorado communities would be safer if the new industry had access to banking solutions.
- What is your proudest accomplishment in the cannabis industry?
Providing uninterrupted banking services to an underserved emerging market, which took a great deal of regulatory compliance and diligence to create and sustain. The cannabis market is emerging and requires constant attention to ensure there is no interruption in our ability to provide seamless banking services for our clients. Surviving 16 state and federal examinations within seven years is no small feat. On a personal level, this took sustaining performance for eight years. Careers often allow for a ‘down time’ – when things slow down, one can think, recreate a path, etc. But I had no opportunity to relax on this journey and somehow, I kept finding the energy to sustain demanding performance and consistently delivering what was necessary to solve a major problem. Motive really matters and I had great motivation to right a wrong (limited access to financial services for this emerging market.)
- Do you feel that the cannabis industry has more opportunity for female-identifying people than other industries?
At this point, that isn’t really the case. In the early stages, I saw more female-led companies. However, as the market has emerged and we have seen a great deal of M&A activities, those numbers are decreasing quickly. However, the focus on diversity and social equity in the industry may very well set this on a positive trend.
- Do you feel you have to work twice as hard as male colleagues or do you think the industry has moved past that?
In the finance world, it isn’t about working twice as hard, but about working in the smartest manner possible. While the industry is still male dominated, no matter your gender, you must work twice as hard as the person next to you to succeed. It’s just part of the industry’s DNA. Old stereotypes and age-old networks that have excluded women do still exist. To share an example, I just finished approximately 30 to 40 investor pitches and other than the women that helped facilitate the calls, only ONE meeting had another woman listening to the pitch to raise capital. Having self-confidence and being aware of this inequity is the first step to overcoming the challenge. As it pertains to the cannabis industry, everyone has had to work twice as hard just to do normal business. Everything in this industry is an uphill battle due to the stigma attached to cannabis as well as the illegal status of cannabis not only at the federal level but also in certain states and in many international jurisdictions.
- What was your biggest challenge in business and how did you overcome it?
Finance is still very much a ‘man’s world’. Men often looked at me as the ‘loose cannon on deck’ not because I just shot off for no reason, but because I wasn’t afraid to call it like I saw it and could ignore people’s looks and comments. I had to let go of being liked and of being included in the inner circle of men’s clubs. They still do exist from decades of developing such support systems. Unfortunately, women who stand up and move independently get labeled in all sorts of ways, but that’s what I consider true leadership. I always tell myself that the board didn’t hire me to follow the men in the industry, but to lead with courage and that means breaking away and moving in a different manner when needed.
The last thing I will say about overcoming the ‘man’s world and their clubs’ is that the new generation of men aren’t following those old rules, nor do they see women as secondary achievers. They were raised by single, independent, capable, intelligent mothers and they are helping level the playing field for women in the workplace…. Time will correct some of the issues we face today.
- What has you or your company done to help give more opportunities for women?
When I took over as CEO in 2001, I made it a point to open a mentoring program and personally mentored several female employees to assist them with managing their career but more importantly, in teaching them to support other women in the workplace. There is often a harmful perception about women fighting and competing against each other in the workplace. But there is nothing stronger than a group of women that put their minds in the same direction to accomplish bigger things and I wouldn’t get in their way. The old ways are outdated, and today this is no longer the case when the right leadership promotes solid networking and support. I have seen some of the women I mentored moved into leadership positions and revert back to what I consider ‘high school games’, but the really successful ones learned the true lessons of networking and have gone on to build their own support systems and groom their peers for bigger things. I believe women need to buck that old system and take control together and help each other succeed.
At Safe Harbor, we have a culture of Relate, Educate and Appreciate, which has permeated our interactions with each other and the outside world. When one leads with relating, it’s difficult to step on each other and more likely to create the right environment for all to succeed. One doesn’t have to be on the golf course anymore to succeed because relationships can be created right in the workplace over lunch, coffee and corporate problem solving.
- What are your personal goals for 2022?
I haven’t had a vacation since 2016 as I have been hyper-focused on making Safe Harbor a success. The ever-changing industry demands complete attention to avoid any wrong steps. A misstep in this regulatory environment impacts a number of businesses and I felt it necessary to keep Safe Harbor as a reliable partner from the beginning.
Now that we have evolved to this next chapter of our company, and we have a strong and stable leadership team in place, my goal for 2022 is to give my family a little more attention and take some much-needed personal days. Another key personal goal for this year is to remain healthy. The last seven years have been extremely stressful, which has not allowed me to manage a healthy lifestyle. During the Covid shutdowns, I was able to focus on health again as it afforded me more time to eat well and exercise. I’d like to continue on that path as it helps in staying focused on the future endeavors at Safe Harbor.