Women of Influence: Susan St.AmandBy Susan Yellin | August 18 2014 09:00AM
Too few women at the top in life insurance
To Susan St. Amand, founder and president of Ottawa-based Sirius Financial Services, the insurance and living benefits business is one of the best-kept secrets in the financial services industry.
A mentor will be there when you need somebody to call when you are having a bad day and they help to bring you in line and restore your confidence.
While that may have its benefits, it also has a negative corollary of keeping many young people away from the industry at a time when the average age of insurance advisors is at an all-time high.
For young women, it has the perception of being a particularly difficult field and isolating if they can’t find others with whom they can exchange experiences, says St. Amand.
“I think we women are good at what we do and I think we have a significant piece of value to bring in [in terms of] diversity and unique ideas that really bring richness to the process – looking at a team with both men and women is where I think you get your best results. But unfortunately I don’t see a whole lot of younger women coming into the business nor do I see a greater number in the larger case life insurance producer area.”
St. Amand believes women have made progress in financial planning and the mutual fund industry. “But I believe we see far too few women at the top in the life insurance business. It’s difficult to define what significant progress is but I just look at the senior people in the ranks of the industry and the top producers in any company, you will see far fewer than 40% females,” she says.
St. Amand herself started working in financial services in 1982 in management training with one of the big banks. She worked in seven branches in seven years, learning every job, including investments and money markets.
She particularly enjoyed working with estates and “got to see the good, the bad and the ugly – of which there were more bad and ugly than there was good.”
Allan Bulloch, then an executive at North American Life (and now newly retired from PPI Solutions), suggested she look into the insurance business and after six months of investigation, decided to start up her own firm.
To this day, St. Amand highly values Bulloch’s business relationship and advises all young women entering the business to find a mentor – or two or three. Bulloch encouraged her to seek out mentors and she counts Lawrence Geller, Joe Dickstein and Diane McCurdy as long-term mentors.
“A mentor will be there when you need somebody to call when you are having a bad day and they help to bring you in line and restore your confidence. They will also be there to help you celebrate your successes and…help you find answers to questions you had not anticipated on your own and help you grow.”
St. Amand has other words of advice for young women starting in the industry:
- A good attitude will drive you and bring you forward so that you can excel
- Listen, work hard, get involved, learn how to prioritize, don’t give up, show your confidence, don’t be afraid to work in teams
- Keep learning. St. Amand has her CFTP, CLU, ChFC, TEP and the new FEA (Family Enterprise Advisor) designations and is currently taking the Institute of Corporate Directors designation
- Be consistent and be different – do the things that others avoid.
Like many working women, St. Amand successfully balances her busy work life and taking courses with family life (she is married to husband Luc and has two daughters), as well as being active with CALU which she recently chaired.
But on top of that, she believes in giving back to the community. St. Amand sits as a director on the Ottawa International Airport Authority board. And she is actively involved in the Women for Mental Health campaign associated with the Royal Ottawa Centre for Mental Health, is a past chair of the Royal Ottawa Centre for Mental Health, Secretary on the board of the Community Foundation of Ottawa and on boards of the Ottawa chapters of the Institute for Corporate Directors and the International Women’s Forum.
“I have always felt that those who can, should, and those who can’t we’ll give a hand up.”