Women of Influence: Heather Clarke

By Rosemary McCracken | August 18 2014 09:00AM

Heather Clarke

Mid-career switch proves rewarding

For Heather Clarke, making a mid-career switch was a scary proposition, but one that she now considers extremely rewarding. After 25 years in the financial services industry as an accountant, and then as a specialist in estate planning and cross-border taxation, she made the leap into insurance in 2006, heading up Investors Group’s insurance distribution arm.

“It was a major switch and I was terrified,” said the Winnipeg-based vice-president of IG Insurance Services Inc. “I didn’t very sleep much for almost two years. It was pretty much sink or swim, and there was a heck of a lot to learn. I didn’t even know the right questions to ask.”

After several years as a taxation partner at Grant Thornton LLP, Clarke arrived at Investors Group 17 years ago, where she continued working in cross-border taxation. Her youngest daughter was an infant at the time, and she said one of the advantages of moving companies was that it allowed her to work four days a week. When her daughter was about 10 and Clarke was looking for a new challenge, the company asked her to move to the insurance side.

Tax background

“They wanted new leadership and a new direction in which to move IG Insurance,” she said. “I was chosen because of my tax background and because I didn’t have a background in insurance. They wanted a fresh look at the operation. My one stipulation was that I wouldn’t have to travel because my family still needed me.”

Clarke, now 56, described the challenge she faced at IG Insurance as one of “forcing a square peg into a round hole. We needed to convince advisors to build insurance into their clients’ financial plans but, until then, insurance had always been treated as a sideline by Investors Group.”

Advisors were encouraged to understand the role that insurance could play in addressing two basic client needs: getting control of debt and managing risk. “These clients come from all walks of life,” Clarke said. “High-net-worth clients, especially, would find insurance products critical in transferring their estates to the next generation or to charities; in business succession planning; and insuring key people in their businesses.”

Clarke now realizes that the move to IG Insurance was probably the best thing she has done in her working life. “It was about taking a risk, and discovering how invigorating that can be. I’ve always been pretty risk adverse, but I’d now recommend seizing these opportunities and growing with them.”

Throughout her career, Clarke’s family has always come first. “I would walk away from my job at the drop of a hat for my children. I’m proud of the fact that I’ve been able to do well in my career while I raised a family. I owe a great deal to my husband who is self-employed and can set his own work hours.”

Now that her children are older, Clarke has started travelling for the company. “There’s no more efficient way to do business with colleagues in the insurance industry than face-to-face.”

She offers the following advice to newcomers to the financial services industry:

  • Take advantage of as many opportunities as you can.
  • Surround yourself with successful people and learn from them.
  • Align yourself with a company that has strong business ethics.
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