Women of Influence: Micheline VarasBy Rosemary McCracken | August 18 2014 09:00AM
A strong believer in
the value of living benefits
Fluent in several languages, Micheline Varas’s first career was that of a translator, specializing in French and Spanish. Now she is fluent in the complexities of insurance.
I’m challenge-driven; if there’s a challenge, I’m up for it.
After the birth of her first child, Varas decided to make a career change and saw a newspaper advertisement for the position of office administrator at an insurance company. “I lasted a week in that job,” recalled the Vancouver-based managing partner and senior vice-president of CustomPlan Financial Advisors Inc. “But the president asked me if I’d heard about disability insurance, and it immediately made sense to me. As a young mother, I understood the need to maintain my family’s lifestyle ‘if something should happen’.”
Her first assignment was assisting an advisor in putting together a DI plan for the Canadian Association of Dental Hygienists. “There were no other living benefits available at that time, but when critical illness and long-term-care insurance came on the market, they became my babies as well. Again, a matter of giving people more control over their lives.”
In 1994, Varas joined CustomPlan, and credits its founder and president Karl Krokosinski with shaping her subsequent career. “Karl challenged me to learn as much as I could, to go the extra nine yards.” She acquired her Certified Health Insurance Specialist, Registered Financial Consultant and ElderPlanner Counsellor designations.
When she separated from her husband a few years after joining CustomPlan, Varas was the mother of two young children. She learned to juggle a business career with raising a family as a single parent. “I was fortunate that our industry offers a lot of flexibility,” she said. “And I’m challenge-driven; if there’s a challenge, I’m up for it.”
She cites her children, Marisa, 25, and Madison, 23, as her greatest accomplishments. Marisa has just completed a global master’s of business administration degree, and Madison is pursuing a career in the performing arts. “As a single parent, I sometimes wasn’t able to be at soccer games and other events. And I was riddled with guilt. But Marissa has said, “Mom, we appreciated what you did for us. You taught us about discipline, how to prioritize and how to manage our time.”
Now that her children are grown, Varas spends a considerable amount of time travelling across Canada to give training presentations and work one-on-one with advisors who have clients with complex tax situations. Public speaking has been one of the challenges she has had to master. “I’m still sickened whenever I have to speak to a group of people,” she said. “To be an effective public speaker, you have to connect with your audience, and that can be difficult to do with a large group.”
Varas makes herself available to newcomers whenever she can, and industry veteran Peter Speers has commended her efforts to give back “in the belief that we all need to help others…Micheline is a consummate example of a successful professional.”
“I’ve been fortunate to have had several people who took me under their wings along the way,” she said, “so I never think twice about making myself available to others. I think of it in terms of building strong friendships.”
She said that when she entered the industry 25 years ago, the insurance industry was a man’s game. “But the world has changed since then. Family structures have changed, and the roles of spouses have changed. Today, a young man starting out faces the same challenges that a young woman does.”
She offered both young men and young women the same advice:
- Gain as much knowledge as you can.
- Become a savvy generalist, and then specialize.
- Hone your time-management skills.
At the age of 51, Ms. Varas has no plans to retire. “If I have less energy in coming years, I can always cut back. That’s the beauty of the work I do. I can manage my own time.”