Women of Influence: Brigitte ParentBy Donna Glasgow | August 18 2014 09:00AM
Passionate about helping Canadians protect their financial futures
Brigitte Parent had no plans to make a career in the insurance industry when she took a job with Prudential of America after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration from École des Hautes Études Commerciales in Montreal. Her goal was to learn to speak English.
Canadians need a lot of help in terms of their financial affairs. Less than 20% of Canadians have written financial plans and people are worried that they’re going to outlive their money into retirement.
The opportunity involved a one-year training program in Toronto. “I thought this will be a great opportunity for me to go to Toronto for a year, learn English and return to Montreal…Little did I know that 30 years later I would still be in the insurance business and still be in Toronto having a great time. I met my husband-to-be in Toronto and I’ve been here ever since.”
Parent has worked at Sun Life Financial since 1995. “It’s been a great career in the insurance industry. I didn’t think I’d be in this industry for so long, but I’ve found tremendous opportunities.”
She currently leads Sun Life’s largest business unit in the Canadian market – individual insurance and wealth. She has also held other key roles in the company such as senior vice president, client solutions, a position she held prior to her current role. Parent also led the Group Benefits business from 2004 to 2008.
She says she is proud to be working with a dynamic team of employees, leaders and advisors (in both the company’s third party and career channels) who are helping people achieve financial security. “What keeps me going to work with a smile on my face every day is seeing how our employees are making such a difference in the lives of Canadians and their clients.”
She is passionate about her work. “Canadians need a lot of help in terms of their financial affairs. Less than 20% of Canadians have written financial plans and people are worried that they’re going to outlive their money in retirement. So to be able to bring some great solutions through the advice that our advisors are bringing to the table is really something that fires me up.”
Asked whether she has seen women making progress in the industry, Parent says most definitely. “I can tell you that there are a lot of women today who are taking more senior roles in organizations.” She also says there are an increasing number of women advisors. For example, at Sun Life “42% of our new recruits are women advisors, which is great to see. Women are really finding their place in this space of providing financial advice and doing a great job at it.”
She adds that studies are showing that in many households, the woman is the person who is making a lot of the financial decisions, so “a woman advisor can connect very well.”
Leadership development is an area where Parent spends much of her time. “When you lead a business the size of the individual business, you need to ensure you are attracting and retaining great talent. Whether they be men or women, I encourage young leaders to develop themselves and look for opportunities to get stretch assignments.” This enables young leaders to put themselves out of their comfort zone, show what they can do and learn in the process, she explains.
To be a leader, you must have a sense of responsibility, adds Parent. “I think leaders play a critical role in creating an environment that enables people to shine and to be engaged and to want to contribute and make a difference. As a leader you have to have a passion for this and be able to adjust your style to each individual, so that you can ignite the flame in your team.”