Young recruit sees links between lifeguarding career and financial services

par Alain Thériault | January 24 2012 09:59PM

A young recruit at Sun Life Financial, Christiane VanBolhuis was a swimmer who saved lives before plunging into her career. When she took the leap to financial services three years ago, the 27-year-old was named recruit of the year.Before creating value for clients, Ms. VanBolhuis learned the rules of safety the hard way, by saving lives. She even launched her own business at age 18: a course that trains some of the best lifeguards in the world.

This camp, held in Hawaii each year, trains 36 lifeguards certified in ocean lifesaving. Only about 60 Canadians reach this level annually. SN Hawaii, short for Sauveteur National Océanique Hawaii, is already in its 11th edition. Offered as part of a travel package, the course is accredited by the Lifesaving Society and recognized by the International Life Saving Federation.

Ms. VanBolhuis was bitten by the life-saving bug at age 13. Baywatch had nothing to do with it. The hit series in the 1990s starring Pamela Anderson attracted a gigantic audience, but bears little resemblance to reality. “Being a lifeguard is a lot more than just sitting on a chair and getting a suntan,” she underlines.

In a presentation to attendees of the 2011 Insurance and Investments Convention, held in November in Montreal, Ms. Vanbolhuis began by screening a riveting video. Lifeguards on the job speedily rescue extras “in distress” and hoist them onto a small motor boat.

After this powerful introduction, Christiane addressed the convention goers humbly and simply. “I am not here to talk to you about statistics and numbers. I'm simply here to share with you my vision of the career today in 2011,” she says. “I would like to draw your attention to the impact we have on our clients’ lives every day.”

She sees a parallel between her lifeguarding career and the financial security and planning profession: both involve rescuing and security. Life-saving’s ultimate goal is to save lives, Christiane points out. It requires specific techniques and first aid knowledge, she says,“Just like the financial security advisor profession requires us to acquire knowledge and update our training.”

Each day, advisors help someone secure their family’s financial situation and stay on the track that will let them realize their dreams. Advisors or planners help clients maximize their retirement income or save on taxes. They must also be good communicators and forge ties. “Our profession requires us to constantly renew ourselves”.

At first, Ms. VanBolhuis did not know what she wanted to do in life. She did know what she wanted to be: a self-employed worker who created value. Contact with her financial advisor was pivotal. During their conversations, she began to feel drawn to the field. She realized that her role would let her express herself fully while creating value for clients.

During the last term of her bachelor's in international business administration studies, she completed the process of becoming an advisor at Sun Life.

Firmly convinced of the need for renewal, she also worked toward earning the title of financial planner. As she puts it figuratively, “Financial planning is a bit like a car trip. We are our clients’ GPS and roadmap.”

Not only is training important, but successful advisors are actively involved in the industry, Ms. VanBolhuis believes. For her part, she is active with the Montreal section of the Chambre de la sécurité financière. She has twice served as vice president, communications, of the section and is currently completing her first mandate as section president. “I'm also involved with the succession committee of the main Chambre,” she says.

With financial scandals mushrooming, she emphasizes that all advisors must strive to extend the reach of the profession. “Making small individual gestures is enough,” she says, adding that “It is equally important to be involved with oneself. “My greatest challenge at the start of my career was not to forget about myself, to maintain an equilibrium and to invest in myself, which means creating value for yourself, too,” she says.

Ms. VanBolhuis also believes in sharing. “Sharing our knowledge and professional vision with other advisors will promote the profession.”