Tue | Jun 6, 2023

The formidable Audrey Tugwell-Henry

Jamaica and the Caribbean’s top-notch banking boss

Published:Sunday | March 6, 2022 | 12:11 AMErica Virtue - Senior Gleaner Writer

“This is a fabulous time and I very excited. I am also excited about what it holds for women, having watched the banking industry over three decades and seen that shift”: Audrey Tugwell Henry, president and chief executive officer of Scotiabank
“This is a fabulous time and I very excited. I am also excited about what it holds for women, having watched the banking industry over three decades and seen that shift”: Audrey Tugwell Henry, president and chief executive officer of Scotiabank
Audrey Tugwell Henry, president and chief executive officer of Scotiabank
Audrey Tugwell Henry, president and chief executive officer of Scotiabank
Audrey Tugwell Henry, president and chief executive officer of Scotiabank
Audrey Tugwell Henry, president and chief executive officer of Scotiabank

Audrey Tugwell could have held down an evening or night job as a radio announcer among some of the finest female voices to have graced Jamaican radio in the early 1980s. The alluring voice was, still is, as captivating as it is convincing.

Instead, the pretty teenager with the perfect dark skin tone and ready-made broad smile entered Church Teachers’ College (CTC) in September 1982 with the sole intention of becoming a teacher. She did just that, majoring in English (Language and Literature) and Physical Education.

At CTC, she would become part of the college’s debating team, played netball (a sport she loves dearly) and volleyball. After graduation, her entry and stay in the profession would be brief, however, as she could not secure a permanent position. She worked for a teacher on leave for a year and when that ended, she was asked to work for a teacher on maternity leave for three months.

But fate intervened.

With the need for permanent employment, a friend told Tugwell that a bank in Montego Bay, St James, needed tellers. With no business subjects, experience or godfather in the industry, and on her way to the teaching job, she made a bold move.

Tugwell stopped to make enquiries at the bank, which turned into an interview and job offer. She was now in a small dilemma, as she was committed to her teaching but with a permanent job now in hand, she made the only choice she could – take the banking job. Despite her love for teaching, from the moment she began working as a teller, she knew this was where she wanted to be.

This would not be the only bold move she would make.

“The whole energy, the professionalism, the whole deportment, the way they delivered the service, how they managed the business, the whole environment – I just absolutely fell in love with the job,” she told The Sunday Gleaner.

That was 1987.

Fast-forward nearly 35 years later in 2020 when international banking corporation Scotiabank announced the appointment of Audrey Tugwell-Henry as president and chief executive officer (CEO) of its Jamaican group operations, effective January 1, 2021.

Her responsibility in the North and Central regions also covers the islands of The Bahamas, Cayman and Turks and Caicos.

This is how the Canada-based multinational banking and financial organisation described Tugwell-Henry when it announced her appointment:

“A seasoned executive with over 30 years of financial services experience in Jamaica, Tugwell-Henry has been responsible for retail banking since 2017. Audrey is uniquely suited to lead Scotiabank Jamaica. She is a transformational leader who has consistently demonstrated that she is a catalyst for our performance culture and customer focus,” said Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Deschamps, group head of International Banking and Digital Transformation, Scotiabank.


The road between 1987 and today was paved towards an upward trajectory for Tugwell-Henry, and she grabbed it with both hands. Hurricane Gilbert would intervene shortly after her tenure in banking and the decision to do further studies at The University of the West Indies (UWI). Her university acceptance necessitated a transfer to a Kingston branch of the then Mutual Security Bank. With plans in motion for the move, not even the devastation caused by the Category 5 hurricane stopped them.

Armed with a suitcase, which included a kerosene lamp (Gilbert knocked out electricity for much of the island for an extended period), the determined young woman headed to Kingston. She began to read for a degree in Management Studies in 1988 (part-time) and work full time. In 1990 when she finished her first year, she opted to work part-time and studied full time.

A serious illness and recovery helped to put things into perspective. Audrey was now fully focused on her career and she credits a nurturing environment and excellent female supervisors for that growth.

The now seasoned banker examines industry changes over the decades.

“I have personally seen a shift. I think Jamaica still stands out on the world’s stage as a country that has the most women at the management level. Most of my supervisors were women and there were a few managers. But once you got to that C-suite, it was all me. Now what you are seeing is a shift where you go all the way up to middle management level, and it is still largely dominated by women, but now you are also seeing a better shift in the C-suite where we now have women as well. So Jamaica is in a very unique place today where about half of the deposit-taking institutions are run by women,” Tugwell-Henry told The Sunday Gleaner, adding that about half of the institutions supervised by the central bank have a significant number of women in chief executive positions.

A decade ago this was not so, and today she knows it is a remarkable place for Jamaica to occupy. While there have been positive changes for women’s role in the banking industry, the shift is not yet happening in the boardroom where women are neither chair nor directors.

That balance will come eventually, she said, even as she encourages young women to enter the industry.


Tugwell-Henry said the support of other women in the banking industry was critical to her success, even though she did not tick all the boxes of requirements. The industry, she said, benefits from the diversity of thought women bring. She encouraged them to take a leap of faith and be bold.

Leadership, too, she said, is very important for growth and she pledges a commitment to provide the same nurturing environment afforded to her.

“You are not expected to succeed as a single individual. You succeed with a team of persons, and so if you bring certain attributes to the table, you can work with your team to achieve great success. And so I encourage women to step forward and be bold, and take their careers to the highest level that they want personally for themselves,” Tugwell-Henry told The Sunday Gleaner.


As the first child of her parents’ five children to attend university, she saw the change it brought to the trajectory of her entire family. Education, she said, is the best tool to develop human beings.

Now Tugwell-Henry’s nephews and children have received tertiary education, which is “so important in driving poverty alleviation and advancing the development of poor people”. Professionally, she is driven by her ability to influence change in not just her family but others.

Acutely aware of her role as a large employer of labour, she believes in continuing to create value for her internal and external public so that they can create their own value for their immediate and extended circle.

“We create value for businesses, so they can create value for the economy and when it comes together as a direct value creation as a sector, that gives me a lot of satisfaction,” she said.

“Even though I am head of the bank, I still interact with customers. I see first hand the impact of COVID-19, both at the individual and business, at an aggregate level, and see the value we have created in the Jamaican economy, something we have been doing for 132 years.”

Scotiabank is the only financial institution in Jamaica that has remained in the same hands and retained the same name in 132 years of operation. With risk management as one of the bank’s core competencies, it was testament to its integrity and longevity that is has prevailed despite earthquakes, hurricanes and local and global financial crises, she said.

Tugwell-Henry said she is excited to be leading the operations at this time and is very pleased with the level of rigour from the central bank headed by Richard Byles.

Banking operations around the world have changed dramatically, including in Jamaica, where 97 per cent of retail business operates digitally or on an electronic platform. Further changes are coming, too, she said, as accepting digital as a way of doing business is very much here. Opening an account, an exercise which normally took weeks, now happens in five minutes using the bank’s app. Credit card offers and pre-approved loans are also done digitally. However, while this is the future, there will still be branches and personal bankers to advise customers.


Tugwell-Henry is excited to be where she is.

“It is a fabulous time and I am very excited. I am also excited about what it holds for women, having watched the industry over three decades and seen that shift. In my early days all my supervisors were women, but once I got very senior, all became me. Now for the first time my supervisor is a woman, who heads the Caribbean, Central America, Uruguay region,” she said.

That woman is another Jamaican, Anya Schnoor, who also grew with the bank up to the global level.

“Jamaicans will never be left off the world stage. The shift is happening, but I would love to see greater opportunities for women to support some of the challenges they face. For example, child care, which sometimes keeps them out of the workplace because they are caregivers. This is an opportunity I believe for the State to look at affordable child care options to allow women to work, knowing their children are safe, especially in the formative years,” she said.

Tugwell-Henry is especially proud of the special women’s financial initiative, the Scotiabank’s Women Initiative – a multibillion-dollar programme that lends support to women and women-led businesses to drive greater financial and economic stability among them.

“In doing that, we know we are lifting up families and supporting communities,” she said of the programme which is a global initiative and first launched in Jamaica.

Audrey Tugwell-Henry – family woman, mother, wife of Peter Henry, executive, professional – continues to lead the way in banking in Jamaica and the region.

With high levels of admiration for the role of the central bank, she may just be the first woman to become Bank of Jamaica governor.