The Inspiring Career of Denis Ricard

In this special episode celebrating our podcast’s second anniversary, Denis Ricard talks about the importance of continually learning, becoming an influential person both internally and in the business community, and acting as an inspired leader by surrounding yourself with competent people from a variety of backgrounds and experiences.

Ashleay: Welcome to the “In Your Interest” podcast. My name is Ashleay and as usual, I'm joined by my colleague and chief strategist, Sébastien Mc Mahon. And today's episode is particularly special as we are celebrating our second anniversary of our podcast. Indeed, we now have 97 episodes of the podcast, 39 guests and thousands of listeners every week. So, for this occasion, we are joined by a live audience in the lounge of our head office in Quebec City, and we are happy to have Denis Ricard, our President and CEO here at iA Financial Group, as our special guest. So, we're going to take this opportunity to talk about leadership as well as Denis’ personal and professional journey. So welcome, Denis!

Denis: I'm glad to be here.

Ashleay: Yeah!

Sébastien: Welcome, Denis. Great to have you. And before we get into the topic, you know, your career profile, getting to know you better, some tips… maybe Ashleay we could look back at a…

Ashleay: Yes!

Sébastien: …successful second season. I think we have a list here of the episodes that were the most listened to during the last year. The first one, of course, everyone likes a good crystal ball now and again.

Ashleay: Absolutely!

Sébastien: So we, on January 29th this year, episode 78 was the “Where to put your money in 2024”. I didn't listen to it again. I don't know if we were right in what we said there, but I think we said it was going to be an interesting year on the markets.

Ashleay: Yeah. We were. Yeah, yeah, yeah! Well, you were on it. I was asking the questions. You were answering.

Sébastien: Yeah. We're talking about the commodities. We're talking about Bank of Canada cutting rates at some point. We're almost there. So that was the most listened to. So that we talked about the FHSA, the first home savings account, last November. We had a few experts from the company just because it's a complicated product I think. So, we learned a lot there. And also we discussed whether Canadian real estate is in a bubble. The answer is no, but that doesn't mean that prices will not continue to rise. But it's not a bubble. That was in September of last year. My personal well, what was your personal favourite?

Ashleay: Well, I'm worried I'm going to steal it, but my personal favourite was when we were discussing with Maxime Houde about AI. I think seeing all the implications that AI brought into the world, that was very interesting for me.

Sébastien: Yeah. And how we got there!

Ashleay: Yes, exactly! Yeah!

Sébastien: And you know, the future, I mean, it's so hard to predict. We will discuss artificial intelligence, I think, here, but let's get started here. Ashleay, want to ask the first question?

Ashleay: Sure. So, Denis, what were your ambitions when you joined the job market?

Denis: Do my best and learn!

Ashleay: Good. Yes, learn. I love that.

Denis: Yeah, I like this concept of learning. It's followed me during my whole career.

Ashleay: Yeah.

Denis: Yeah. And it's a reason why today it's so important in my role as CEO to build even more an organization that is a learning organization. I truly believe that this is the way that we're going to outsmart all the others in the market, by giving our employees the opportunities to learn and to promote it and recruit people that are curious, also, at the same time. So when I started my career, the only thing I wanted to do, I mean, I would say at first, is to learn. Learn about the business, learn about my own expertise. At the time, I was an actuary by training. And so I was fortunate to land at iA because there was a lot of expertise in the actuarial world. So I learned so much from very, very competent people. And it's the reason why I stayed at iA, by the way, because in your career, sometimes, I mean, some people try to poach you. But I stayed here because I knew that there was a lot of great people here.

Sébastien: And learning is a lifelong journey. You just don't learn at first and then: “Right! Now I'm going to be the boss of this and that.” Learning is everywhere.

Denis: Yes. I mean… you need to have it in yourself. You want to be curious and my personality is that after, I don't know, maybe five years, it’s a pattern that I have, I get bored to some extent. Now, I've been the CEO for six years – I'm not bored, by the way…

Ashleay and Sébastien: Ha ha ha!

Denis: But, you know, my career used to give me challenges, assignments, and let's say I delivered on them. And after maybe five years, I would raise my hand just to say: “Okay, you know what? I've learned so much over the last five years, and there are other challenges in the organization. I’d like to do this or that.” And it's the good thing about iA Financial Group. It's such a large organization. We are in various sectors. So if you want to change functions you don't need to change companies.

Ashleay: Yeah.

Denis: That's a great characteristic of our company.

Sébastien: Yeah. And you know, maybe some young folks listening to us thinking “Well, maybe I'm due for doing something.” How do you come up to your boss. You don't say: “Hey, I'm bored. I want to do something else!” How did the first one happen?

Denis: Well, I said “I got bored.”

Ashleay and Sébastien: Ha ha ha!

Denis: I pretty much said something like that. It's like, “Okay, you know, I've been doing this for a long time, or, enough time”.

Sébastien: Yeah.

Denis: So intuitively there must be a percentage of your time where you don't learn enough. I don't know what it is, you know, is it like 50% or 80% or whatever? Depends on people, I guess. But at some point, in my thinking, it was like, okay, I'm due to do something else because I've done enough of this. You know, I remember when I was the chief actuary of the company and my boss was Yvon at the time – well, he's been my boss for a lot of time, and I remember telling him: “Okay, I've been doing that job for 3 or 4 years. I know the drill. I know the reports we need to produce and the evaluations we need to do. But guess what? I hope you're going to come to me and say: ‘Okay, put that aside. We have an acquisition. You're going to work on it.’” Because that's new, something you learn. And so, um, and it happens during the whole lifetime of your career. 
And right now, I mean, I would say that in my role, I need to provoke it even more. I mean, I have to go outside in my role. I have to be outward as opposed to inward. You have to be curious about what's going on. Like this year; talk about artificial intelligence. That's my objective of this year to learn more about artificial intelligence. To see to what extent it's going to disrupt our industry, the financial industry. So to me, it's like at this point I need to provoke new things to learn. It was a bit easier at the very beginning of your career. It's easy because you know nothing…

Sébastien: Yeah!

Denis: But then you change jobs, you learn about other businesses and it's great. And there's a lot of things that I've done in the company that makes you a better executive at the end because you have such a broad experience.

Ashleay: Right.

Sébastien: And maybe for those maybe listening who are not employees of iA, when you say a learning organization, what does that mean actually?

Denis: Well, it means that we promote learning. We celebrate learning. And I’ll give you an example. Today we had a meeting, the executives, we have a 30-minute meeting every day. Or three times a week at least. And one of the executives came with, I would say, bad news. Something went wrong somewhere. Nothing major, but something went wrong. And we learned about it today. And the only question I asked was: “Okay, what are the lessons learned here? I mean, next time, how can we do better?” And that is a learning organization. I didn't blame anyone. I mean, everybody does mistakes, by the way, even myself. So it's more to learn and to promote openness about it. Talk about it. I mean, I want to see the problems. I don't want them to be hidden in the company. I want to see them. So we should celebrate, not the failure, but we should celebrate the lessons learned from mistakes or failures that we're going to have, inevitably.

Sébastien: Yeah, of course. And the question I've asked you in the past and I thought the answer was insightful. So, you didn't start your career by telling yourself: “Hey, one day I'm going to be the president here somewhere.”

Denis: No, I had no clue.

Sébastien: Yeah.

Denis: Absolutely not. No. In my career there are,  it's divided in, I would say two, at least two major parts. The first part is what I call the unconscious part from the beginning in 1985 to 1999, because my only, I would say, purpose at the time, intent or objective was to learn and change jobs and learn. Learn about the company, learn about the business, do my best. And that was as simple as that. I mean, to be honest. And also I would say, during that time I not only became, I would think, a good expert in my field, but I also became a manager because I learned about how to manage people, how to get the best out of people. Then in 1999, this is a, you know, like a pivot point there, where I said, and I will spare you all the circumstances, but I said to my boss at the time: “Here's my ambition. I want to become the chief actuary of the company. The number one actuary of the company.”

Sébastien: “I would be satisfied with that.”

Denis: Yeah. The CFO, chief financial officer, Chief actuary. That's what I want to do. For the first time, I looked at myself. I said: “This is what I want to do.” And you know what he did? Great thing that he did: he got me out of that sector saying, “Okay, you're going to go to another sector”, marketing at the time, marketing of our individual products. “You're going to learn about the business and then you'll become a better chief actuary”. And he was right. He was right at the end.

Sébastien: Did that put you off a bit?

Denis: No. It was a great experience. I learned about the business and to be honest with you, I had a great time. It was scary because it was the first time that I left my expertise as an actuary or financial, you know, it was, there were more about sales, about products, marketing, software. And I learned so much. Then the chief actuary, took his retirement. I replaced him at the time, so I was, I mean, that was my purpose. I mean, my ambition was met, which I thought at the time was the end of it. Okay. I'm going to do that for my whole, the rest of my career. But then in 2010, my boss at the time, Yvon again, Yvon Charest, he came to me and said, “Okay, maybe one day, have you thought about maybe one day, maybe becoming the CEO?” I mean, no promise, it was just like he was probably with the board preparing to give options. I was one option amongst others. And so, to me it was like, okay, I had not really thought about it as seriously. And I said, okay, if that's the case, I have to move out of my job. I have to do something different. Going back to the business. And there's another, great people that I work with, Normand Pépin. And I said: “I want to work with Normand.” Normand was the, I would say, the chief growth officer of the company at the time. And I said: “I want to learn from him.” And so I was put in a situation where I had a blank page, developed new business. You do cold calls to other CEOs and things like that, develop businesses and getting prepared for the day that if the board decides that, you know, I can replace Yvon, that I would do that. So those are the, I mean, the two big moments were 1999, when I named, really, my ambition, and in 2010, when I basically pivoted to the business to eventually come back as a better CEO.

Sébastien: And along the way, at some point, you left Quebec City, right? I think you spent some time in Vancouver.

Denis: Yes. I left twice in the beginning of my career because I couldn't speak English like I do. I was pretty minimal, I would say. Basic.

Sébastien: Growth opportunity.

Denis: It was a growth opportunity. In fact, it's funny because there was a guy, Jacques Parent - he was an actuary and went there from 1985 to 1987. And then he was coming back. And then I raised my hand. I said: "Oh, you know what? I want to go there!" So I left with my family. We went in Vancouver two years just to learn my English at the time. And then also I moved in Montreal, actually it was half, I had a condo in Montreal when I became, you know that business development time in 2010-plus, I became the president of a life insurance company there called Excellence. It was specialized in disability insurance.

Sébastien: Okay.

Denis: So I became president one year, after a year, I did a lot of changes in that year. Then I replaced myself by appointing Pierre Vincent. So Pierre replaced me, and then I was able to join the dealer services business, had the dealer business in Canada. So it was a great time.

Sébastien: Okay.

And when you started on the job market, you were kind of part of the new recruits. What did you do to stand out from the crowd? Obviously raise your hand, but...

Denis: I would say that I tried to develop a brand, I would call it, a brand, being recognized for, I mean, if you put that down, let's say that you are newer to an organization, maybe at some point you should write down something like: "I want to be recognized as, you know, three dots."

Ashleay: Right.

Denis: Okay. And then you have to fill it. And at that time, I wanted to be recognized as, let's say, the expert, at the beginning, as the expert in various areas of the company that I felt I was lacking expertise, for example, like on the tax side, I mean, the mix of taxation and the actuarial was very, very complex. And I was asking people and I couldn't get that many answers. So I decided that I would be the main guy. And so that's an example of that. But that changes over time. I mean, that was at the beginning of my career.

Ashleay: Right.

Denis: But this whole idea of "being recognized as" is something that evolves. And I would say that maybe eight years ago, or, I would say, ten years ago, it was more like I wanted to be recognized as someone who could do anything at the executive level. When I say anything, I could lead any business, in fact, if need be, because in my mind, the move that I made in 2010 was also to prepare myself for any job, if it was not CEO, that I could do in the organization to serve the organization wherever it was needed.

Ashleay: Very nice. And how do you see the new generation today?

Denis: They're great! We have a lot of succession in this organization. We have established a very thorough succession planning process in the organization because, I mean, 25 years ago, you could manage succession in an office with a couple of executives and discuss that there. But nowadays we are spread across North America. I mean, the executive committee we are 12, four are in Quebec City, three in Montreal, three in Toronto, one in Ottawa and one in the US. So you need, because of the size of the company today, we need to have structured processes. And we have a succession planning process that is very, very thorough. Every quarter we review a list of, and I'll give you an example, just for the VP position, we have what we call a VP pool. So a list of individuals in the organization that we review on a quarterly basis amongst the executives. Because not all executives know all of these people because they are spread across North America. So for each of those individuals that are potential successors in various jobs, we rate them or we talk about what is needed, where they are in their career, who is their mentor? I mean, the mentor talks about them or their coach, what should be their next assignment? For example, how can we stretch them into a new assignment? So this is a process that is very, very thorough that we have. Not only do we have great people, but we have a great process to help them grow in the organization.

Sébastien: So you gradually work your way up to CEO. You mentioned that, you know, you want to learn this like five year clock or something like this that happens internally. But did you have any specific goals in terms of maybe achievement along the way that motivated you?

Denis: Well, I guess it's nothing different from what I said already. I wanted to, like I said, be recognized as someone who can deliver, in anything that I would do. So the depth of the analysis that I would do, although we have to be careful sometimes, you know, you can analyze forever, but it's the good balance between being recognized as somebody that has depth in analysis versus being able to deliver. So it's always that balance that I needed to juggle with. And so, to me, it was really the element that was fundamental.

Sébastien: Okay, good. Maybe getting to know you a little bit better. We’ve been playing music together since 2018. I know you have a great passion for music, and I know that that was another interesting story that I know about you, that you considered studying at the Conservatory just to specialize in music, but you chose actuarial science instead. Can you tell us that story a little bit?

Denis: Yeah. After, let's say, college, I had to choose because I knew that I would go to a university. So I had to choose and my choices were, I mean, I was split into two things: either I go into music or I go into actuarial science. And I consulted my father, who's a wise man, I would say. And he told me that if I go into actuarial science, I could do music all my life. But if I go into music, I’m…

Sébastien: …Not going to do much math.

Denis: It would be much harder to do actuarial stuff. So that was enough for me, to convince me. And I never regretted it, by the way.

Sébastien: Yeah. Okay, so is music still plays a big part of your life?

Denis: Well, yes. Obviously I raised my family and didn’t play that much during that period. But I started again, after maybe 20, 25 years, I learned the piano and also the guitar. Not as good as you are, but I like to learn. So I learned those two, basic, obviously, but I really enjoyed it. But then lately, like I joined the iA band and also play in a stage band music. So it’s certainly something that I will do up to the end of my life.


Ashleay: Fantastic. And what is a typical CEO’s working day like?

Denis: I try to have a balanced life. So, like, this morning, I was running at 5:30 on the Plains of Abraham. I do that every other day. So it’s like, well, this morning I did 40 minutes, so 7K, let’s say, ish. That’s what I do. And then, I obviously have my day of work. But, you know, I don’t consider myself as a workaholic, because, I read a lot, at night, I would read and even during the weekend. But it’s things that are, you know, I’m curious about new things that I read, you know, Financial Times, I read some of Wall Street. I would read The Economist every week, The Globe, La Presse every day. So I read a lot. So it opens my mind on, you know, trends and things like that. But there are things that I don’t do. For example, I will not do emails, I will not send emails in a weekend. And the reason is: I don't want people to give me work during the weekend, because if I send an email to you, I think you will feel that you have to give me an answer right away. Okay?

Ashleay: Absolutely! Ha ha!

Denis: And I don't want your answer right away because I want my weekend, okay?

Ashleay: Right!

Denis: But sometimes you might receive an email Monday morning at seven because sometimes, yeah, I do work in the weekend and I do send some emails, but they are like programmed to be sent on Monday morning. But it's really an intent that I have, that in terms of the culture of the company, I don't want people to think that it's important to work at night, up to 11, or let's say that you have to work during the weekend. To me, it will not be good for the organization. I wish that all of us can have a balanced life, and I consider myself to have a balanced life. I would call it an integrated life.

Sébastien: Yeah. So you want to set that culture. And when you talk about an integrated life, how do you manage that or how have you managed that along the way?

Denis: Staying balanced. I had a family and it was important to take care of my kids, for example, and I coached hockey for ten years as an example. Some of my kids followed music courses and I practiced with them, and I learned from that as well. But anyways, it's, I guess it's a mindset. And I see today with the Work From Anywhere, I can see the advantages of being able to be flexible. I mean, sometimes there are times where you feel you're not productive, okay, you should do something else. And that's what I do. But then there are other times where you feel that you're really productive. It doesn't matter when it is to me. Okay? I don't feel like I'm working from 9 to 5. It's not my intention. Sometimes I work very, very early in the morning, sometimes at night, sometimes during the weekend. I could be 24/7, okay? My job, it's easy to be 24/7, but I try to be to be balanced.

Sébastien: And to do that you need to learn to delegate. I mean, that's a big thing with you.

Denis: Well, my job, sometimes, I can say it's easy because you surround yourself with great people and you let them work.

Ashleay: Right.

Denis: Then you focus on what nobody else can focus on that only the CEO can do. You focus on that. And this is where you should, I should spend my time. So things that are important for a CEO, are not necessarily urgent.

Ashleay: Right.

Denis: And I'll give you two examples. Succession: It's never urgent, unless somebody leaves and, you know, you need to replace him tomorrow. But planning for the executive committee in five years, for example, is something that is never urgent. So to me – I'm working on that right now – I'm thinking about, okay, what will the executive committee look like in five years? What will be my succession in whatever number of years, you know? So I need to work on that now, because there are moves that we're going to make over the next months that we've done recently that is really like you're placing your pieces together…

Sébastien: On the chessboard.

Denis: On the chessboard to get there. And so recently we made some changes at the executive committee. And when we went to the HR committee of the board, I mean, they were very pleased because the comment was: “Oh, no surprise.” I mean, this has been planned for a long time.

Ashleay: Right.

Denis: So I wish that we can do that for… So that's one area, succession. The other one which is important is setting strategy for the future. So last year we tabled the new strategic plan to the board, the 2030 plan, we call it. And it's been a work for a lot of people in the company. But to me, I put a lot of my effort, energy and thinking on that plan. So that we can deliver for 2030.

Ashleay: Very interesting. And if we follow up with a few tips, could you share some leadership tips with us?

Denis: Sure. I would say that you should create an environment of trust, and it's consistent with the learning organization because in a learning organization, you need trust to be able to be transparent, be vulnerable. We make a mistake, well, let's talk about it. Okay? So if we have trust to each other, I think it's important. And that's one characteristic in the executive committee. I want people that can trust each other, that give each other the benefit of the doubt. If you are an executive and one of your people comes in and says: "Oh, you know what? This sector, that sector, they've done something like this that doesn't make sense, blah, blah, blah." As a leader, you have two choices: You can feed the beast and say: "Oh, you're so right. They're wrong!" And then you're feeding the beast. I mean, trust will not install. Or you can say: "Wait a minute, we're going to have the conversation. Have you talked to the other people? Really? What was the intent?" I would say 99% of the time, well, usually people don't come back to me with that because now they know what I'm going to say and they solve the issue themselves. So to me, that's certainly an advice that I would give. The other one for leaders is really to be outward, like be curious, getting out of his comfort zone. Because as a leader you have a responsibility to look at what's going on in the market. You cannot wait for your people to do that. I mean, some might, okay. But most of them are busy operating their sector. But as the leader you need to step out and just look at the big picture. So that's another one that is very important as far as I'm concerned. And also as a leader, maybe the last thing I would say is look for a mentor or be a mentor. Because, I mean, we can have different roles in our career. We can be a mentor for some, but it's good to have a mentor in… I mean, you were talking about all my career. I've always had a mentor in my career, and they have not always been the same. Depending on the topic, they were different. But be proactive. People are happy when you ask them for help. They're happy when you ask them to help them getting better. Especially if you have a plan, if you know why!

Ashleay: Right.

Denis: And I'll just give you an anecdote. One year, it was in 2012 I remember, I wanted to improve my skills of negotiation because I was negotiating with someone who was difficult. And I was part of a leadership program, and I had the opportunity to choose a mentor amongst other some people, and one of them was an expert in negotiation between government and the Aboriginal communities. And I met him and I said: "Okay, I would like to be better in negotiation. Any advice? You know, I like to read, by the way”. And he said: "Well, here's the book that you should read. If there's only one book, that's the book." And then I came back to the office and I said to my boss, Yvon. I said: "Okay, well, this is what I would like to improve." I didn't say what he told me. And I said: “Well, do you have any book that I…” And he said the same book!

That was the book.

Ashleay: That is the book. Ha ha!

Denis: That's the book. But my point is that to be proactive and ask for help. And I'm telling you, this book has helped me big time and is still helping me years after.

Ashleay: Fantastic!

Denis: "Getting to Yes" is the name of the book.

Ashleay: You saw where I was going with this.

Sébastien: We had to have it.

Ashleay: We had to have the name there! And if you had three pieces of advice to give a young person at the start of their career, what would they be?

Denis: I would say: "Be curious." And also, especially in this organization, I think what we like of young people is when they go deep enough in the analysis that they're doing. I mean, not only going on the surface. I mean, you want to be recognized for something, you don't want to be recognized for somebody that is only on the surface.

Ashleay: Right.

Denis: So, whatever you do, take the time, do a good job, be recognized as someone who can deliver. And if you are curious and you broaden your network, you're going to come up with things that others won't know. So you're going to get more credibility when you make your point. So, I think this is really something important. The other thing I would say to young people is to basically live their dreams. Okay, what do you really want? Because I read a book on regrets, I mean, the five biggest regrets at the end of life. And it's what you don't try that you regret. So in your career or in your personal life, if there are some things that you want to do, well, you know what? You should do it. I mean, we're going to live only one life, right? So that's another message. I think it is very important. And the last one for young people is: “Be proactive to get a mentor or a coach!”

Sébastien: Yeah. So, when you first did that, go to get a mentor, was it like implicit or was it explicit? What was your experience?

Denis: I've been so lucky in my career. By the way, you know what the definition of "lucky" by Seneca: it is when the opportunity meets the preparation. I've been so lucky in my career! I started in this company and Yvon Charest was already a mentor. He was my first boss. Already helped me on a lot of things, gave me a lot of reading, and he's always been there whenever I needed someone. So for that, I mean, I would say for my general, let's say skills, he's been fantastic, especially developing people, I would say. But when I needed something in particular like negotiation, then I would, like in this case, you know, I proactively looked for someone. That's pretty, by reading and by reaching out to people that I did that. But I was lucky at the beginning of my career.

Sébastien: With just knocking on doors and "I need help on this. Could we build a relationship here?" People tend to say yes when you have…

Denis: Oh yes! They're so happy to share their experience. You would be surprised. I mean, if you have never tried it, try it. And then you will develop a different relationship because you become vulnerable. And I mean openness brings openness. You're going to learn that that person that has the great huge team, that they made a mistake. And then you said, okay, I can make a mistake myself, and it's not the end of the world.

Ashleay: Exactly. They're insecure too, about things.

Denis: Yeah!

Ashleay: Yeah, exactly.

Sébastien: And ideally you come with like: “I'd love to learn this thing.” So you need to do your homework. You don't say; “Please mentor me. You're going to shine on me.”

Denis: It's not a social club, okay? It's not like a meeting to have a free dinner, okay? It's like – well, sometimes you pay for it – but the point is that you go there for a real reason. You might say: “I have difficulty in motivating my people, my employees. Okay. Do you have any tricks and things like that?” We have co-development here also, which is good for that. Okay.

Sébastien: Yeah.

Denis: So that's another way you can learn. But proactively look for help in whatever you need to improve. By the way, you have to know what you need to improve.

Sébastien: Yeah.

Denis: And feedback is important. Go get the feedback and people will be happy also to give you the feedback. It might be uncomfortable, but it's much less uncomfortable for someone if you say: "You know what, I need you to give me some feedback to improve." You'll be surprised what you hear.

Ashleay: Yeah, communication is so important both ways. So it's perfect.

Sébastien: Yeah. And maybe a question on hiring or choosing candidates. So you've hired a ton of people through your career, including executives. So, what are your criteria and how have they evolved through the roles for which you've been recruiting?

Denis: Well, it evolved a lot because at the beginning of my career, it was more strictly on the expertise and, like I said, depth in analysis and things like that. But I would say that today, and especially in my role as a CEO, what I look for is the cultural fit first. And in our company, since 2018 in particular, there is much more need for transversal, I would say, work between various leaders. So, collaboration, teamwork is even more important today. So I look at, you know: “Am I in front of someone who can really be a team player or not?” That's the first thing. And if I call like a referral or someone that knows the person, that's the first thing I'm going to ask that person. The second one would be about being able to develop their people, because if you are an executive, you know, those are my very close people. You're an executive and you are not able to develop, you know, below that, there's a huge problem here. Because again, it goes with this whole idea of building a succession pipeline in the company. And if someone cannot grow their own people, we have a problem. And, at the end, I would say, the third thing is being able to be reflective enough. A deep smart mindset is very important, whether it's on the business side or even on, you know, on the risk management, on the finance. I mean, when I say deep smart it's deep smart in what you're doing.

Ashleay: Right.

Denis: And being in front of what's going on in the market, you know, like having a network, then you are much more credible.

Ashleay: And how do you see the coming years, short term? Long term?

Denis: I am very optimistic about the future. When I look at the organization where we come from, which, we have outperformed our peers since demutualization in 2000, and with the, I would say with the recent performance over the last five years and the plan that we set for the next six, seven years, I'm very optimistic. We have an ambitious plan. We have the people to do it. And we are in a business where we can generate growth, and we have the capital to do that. So I see more reasons to be optimistic today than, let's say, ten years ago, which was in a more, different macroeconomic environment. The macroeconomic environment today, even if there is inflation, is, I would say, more positive today than ten years ago. So I'm very optimistic about where this company is going, going forward.

Ashleay: Very good. Now we're going to turn the mic over to the public if we have any questions, Jean-François?

Jean-François: Sure, I have one.

Ashleay: Yes!

Jean-François: Denis, could you tell us of an interesting experience or a satisfactory experience you've had in the past year from a professional standpoint, and why?

Denis: It's really when we tabled the 2030 plan, and there are various reasons for that. Well, just before I give the reason, I mean, the board was very enthusiastic about it. It was like a big wow. And it's really the result of the work of all the various sectors, there's a lot of employees that were involved in setting those ambitious goals. It needed, it has required a lot of work transversally, like the teamwork that I was talking about amongst the executives. I mean, you could not only do your own strategic plan for your sector only for that seven-year period. You need it to work with the other players. For example, the global CX, which we call the Global Customer Experience Hub. It's a growth hub that needs the collaboration of all the sectors. So, we have ambitious plans for that growth hub. It will be realized with the participation of all these sectors. So, for those reasons, I think that's, you know, the element.

Ashleay: Very good. I think we have Dorothée here that has another question for us.

Dorothée: We know that there are a lot of negative aspects to social media, such as the disinformation and the unhealthy usage of the different platforms. Now that news cannot be shared on social media anymore, do you believe, as the CEO of the company, that it is even more important for iA to be present on said platforms as a way to educate others?

Denis: Thank you for the question. The answer is yes. We need to be on social media. It's pretty obvious, because if we are not on social media, we will not be able to talk to a large proportion of our clients, employees. So it's a no brainer. Now, if you ask me, I mean, I've got two views on social media. I mean, for an organization, it's a no brainer. We’ve got to be there for the reasons I mentioned. I would say that socially speaking, for the society, the net benefit to me is not great. When I look at the propaganda, when I look at the polarization of the society, when I look at our young generation, the pressure that they support, that they have to live with, I see a lot of negatives, to be honest with you. Hopefully there's going to be some safeguards that we will be able to adjust over time. I mean, I'm confident that at some point we'll find a balance there. But definitely for our organization, we need to be there, if only for recruiting, for example. I mean, people are looking at us. I mean, and that's why we are in the social media. We have to show, I mean we are a great company, and we have to show it. People need to see it!

Sébastien: And you know, maybe I have a question about, you know, you said that you were learning about artificial intelligence. And when we had our management meeting this year, it was AI all over the place. What have you learned so far and what do you expect there?

Denis: Okay. Now, there's a big buzz about artificial intelligence and even my board members, they read the same stuff that we do and they get excited about it. They want to know how it's going to change or disrupt our industry. And I feel the same. Now, this is why this is my objective for this year to learn more about it, to see, to consult others in the industry, to see to what extent it's going to change our industry. Now, with that said, so far what I've learned is that it's another technology, okay? Yes it's going to improve on the efficiency side, for example, it might improve us also on the revenue side, bringing more revenue at some point. But it's using technology like we did in the past. There are other technologies that happened in the past that we use. I mean, I started my career with a small calculator that had been in the industry for not a long time. It has revolutionized the industry. When you think about it, a small calculator. Well, AI will, but different. For us, the idea is not that, we're not creating AI, we're going to use AI. It's augmented intelligence for our employees. Our clients will be better served. It's to be smart enough to invest where it is that it's going to bring more value to our clients, to our distributors, and to our shareholders.

Sébastien: Yeah. And one thing that we often hear is that AI is not necessarily going to replace jobs, it's going to replace those who don't use AI to augment their capabilities. So, like the recruiting or the succession plan that you mentioned, you have to prepare for it now for when it's going to come. It’s one of those.

Denis: No, no, you're right. It's something that you need to prepare in advance.


Ashleay: Great. Well, I think that concludes this great episode of our podcast. Thank you very much, Denis, for participating and enlightening us on your role of CEO of a big insurance company and for the leadership tips as well. And it's always interesting to learn about your vision of the current job and the job market, the company. Thanks also to Sébastien and everyone who helped us take place with this live edition of the podcast. Don't hesitate to drop us a line if you have any questions, and we will talk again next week. Loved this podcast? Want to know more about economic news? Follow our “In Your Interest!” podcast, available on all platforms, visit the economic news page on or follow us on social media.


Sébastien has nearly 20 years of experience in the public and private sectors. In addition to his roles as Chief Strategist and Senior Economist, he is an iAGAM portfolio manager and a member of the firm’s Asset Allocation Committee. All of these roles allow him to put his passion for numbers, words, and communication to good use. Sébastien also acts as iA Financial Group’s spokesperson and guest speaker on economic and financial matters. Before joining iA in 2013, he held various economic roles at the Autorité des marchés financiers, Desjardins, and the Québec ministry of finance. He completed a master’s degree and doctoral studies in economics at Laval University and is a CFA charterholder.

Sébastien Mc Mahon and Denis Ricard

This podcast should not be copied or reproduced. Opinions expressed in this podcast are based on actual market conditions and may change without prior warning. The aim is in no way to make investment recommendations. The forecasts given in this podcast do not guarantee returns and imply risks, uncertainty and assumptions. Although we are comfortable with these assumptions, there is no guarantee that they will be confirmed.

Share prices

2024-07-19 12:31 EDT
  • ^TSX $22,690.39 -$36.37
  • $CADUSD $0.73 $0.00

You are signed up

In a few minutes, you will receive the most recent iA Newsletter at the following email address:

Stay on top of the economy with our weekly newsletter.

I agree to receive emails and other electronic messages from iA Financial Group about their products and services.

You are signed up

In a few minutes, you will receive the most recent iA Newsletter at the following email address:

An error has occurred. Please try again.