Insurance Business Lights, camera, insurance: The life-changing career shift of one professional

Lights, camera, insurance: The life-changing career shift of one professional Insurance often gets a bad rap for being dull and uninteresting to young professionals. The film industry, on the other hand, sits on the opposite side of the spectrum, promising fame, fortune, and excitement to those who can make it big.

It sounds almost unbelievable, then, to hear about a young man who made the switch from a promising career in film to insurance – especially if he made the shift for the sake of a girl (which curiously sounds like something straight out of the plot of a romance movie). But for Chris Sutherland, director of distribution for Desjardins, it was the best decision of his life.

Now an accomplished insurance professional, Chris is leading an active and fulfilling life. In this exclusive interview, we find out more about the man and how he channels his passion in an industry some people call “unsexy.”

You used to work in the film industry; what can you tell us about that previous career path? What led you to make the switch to insurance?

This is a fun one.  I worked in the film industry when I first moved to Vancouver, and met my wife working on a feature production in my second year.  She refused to date a co-worker so I re-educated! I literally made a list of industries, from real estate to auto mechanics and assigned positives and negatives to each in categories like flexibility, industry growth prospects, income and impact.  Film production is a very demanding profession, no matter your role, and I was happy to seek out a career progression that would provide balance in my personal life and an opportunity to make an impact.  It was the best decision of my life and my wife has been by my side as I progressed from initial training at a career shop, to life as an independent and through learning opportunities with several entrepreneurial organizations, to my current opportunity to support Desjardins as an innovator in the insurance industry.

What tips do you have for those looking to start a career in insurance?

There is tremendous opportunity in the industry right now and we are ripe for a new generation to enter and leave their mark.  Do your research; educate yourself on the different players and distribution channels, and then interview potential partners.  If you have the personality, the drive and the network you will have many opportunities but it is important to quantify what the organization will do to support your development. I also think independence is extremely important to maintaining transparency and acting in the clients’ best interests.  Finally, partnering with an experienced and innovative organization will accelerate your business growth, add value to our practice and ensure your long term success.

What can you say about Western Canada’s insurance market? How does it differ from the rest of the country, and what specific challenges should the space address?

Specific to my role is the opportunity to tell the Desjardins story.  We are often thought of as a ‘Quebec’ company when we are truly a Canadian cooperative - born in Quebec. As we continue to develop recognition in Western Canada it is our roots and values that bring us closer to our advisors and their clients – especially outside of major metropolitan centers.  I’m excited to see the entire industry embracing technology, as we are with e-applications, to overcome the physical distances between advisors and clients.  Going forward it will be important for insurers to maintain an open dialogue with clients and ensure products are developed for today’s needs.

What are your thoughts on the independent broker space? Has your experience as an independent broker helped you in some way with your current role as director of distribution?

The independent space is getting a lot of attention right now.  One of the reasons I chose to work with Desjardins is my experience with the Desjardins Financial Security Independent Network, or DFSIN – which provides support and development to advisors along with the freedom to do business with other major insurers and investment providers.  With recent acquisitions by some large players in the industry we are starting to see others recognizing the importance of independence and I think we will see more insurers investing in the development of independent networks backed by the strength of a recognized brand.

Your LinkedIn profile states that you have accomplished numerous continued education programs. How important is continued education to you, as an insurance professional? Is there a trick to selecting the right programs?

When I first became an advisor I thought I had to know everything about everything.  I frequented lunch and learn events by investment wholesalers, attended budget reviews and read every piece of marketing material I could get my hands on.  I wanted to leave the industry after some of those sessions because I couldn’t picture myself reviewing fiscal policy 9-5 for the rest of my life.  What I realized is, in this industry, we have the opportunity to focus in areas that are meaningful to us and that passion is what will translate to your clients and associates.  I now seek out continuing education that enhances my knowledge but that also fits into the value proposition I want to represent.

Any interests, hobbies, or advocacies of note?

Among other things, I love food wine and travel - my wife and I have completed cooking classes in countries around the world and call the Okanagan wine region home when I’m not travelling.  When I need to turn off completely I am snowboarding in the winter and golfing in the summer; which allows me to un-tether from technology and get ‘off the grid’ for long enough to recharge. I am also a member of Advocis and GAMA and believe strongly in the importance of cooperative industry representation and ongoing professional development. 

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