iA Financial celebrates 125th anniversary as CEO reaffirms commitment to life insurance market

by David Keelaghan20 Jan 2017
Celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, iA Financial Group is marking the occasion with a coast-to-coast outreach program seeking to reward charitable Canadians.

The giving-back tour begins with iA staff travelling to the streets of Quebec City, Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto, where they will reward people who have demonstrated a spontaneous good deed with a cash prize of $125. In total, the firm will give away $125,000 in cash prizes up until mid-February. Later in the year, iA will also host a philanthropic contest where one Canadian-registered charity will receive a donation of $125,000 to help fund a specific project, while nine other charitable organizations will each receive a donation of $12,500.

iA Financial Group, a marriage of Alliance Nationale and Industrial Life in 1987, now has total assets under management of over $126 billion. While making its name as a Quebec-based life insurance company, it has since morphed into a financial institution with nationwide reach, providing a range of insurance products, mutual and segregated funds, savings and retirement plans, as well as a host of other financial services. The firm achieved this in part through an aggressive acquisition plan where it purchased more than 50 companies since the year 2000, most recently HollisWealth from Scotiabank.

While wealth management is certainly a growing part of its business, that does not mean the firm will be neglecting its life insurance roots, according to President and CEO of iA Financial Group, Yvon Charest.

“In terms of new insurance policies that are being sold in Canada, our market share is 15 per cent, which is second in the industry,” says Charest. “We are extremely present in the family market. Our average policy might not be as high as elsewhere in the market, but the number of policies we have is huge.”

Such results are impressive, especially considering the competition iA has in the Canadian life insurance market. Charest views the presence of the Big Three as a positive for his company, however, in that it ensures iA must maintain the highest of standards in order to thrive.

“Every day we have to compete with three organisations – Sun Life, Manulife and Great-West – which are way bigger than us,” he says.” The only way for us to succeed is to outperform them over the long term. So competing with bigger players, and the fact we want to increase our market share – these are two very important forces for change.”

Increasing market share and outperforming rivals with resources like Sun Life, Manulife and Great-West is easier said than done of course, but Charest is confident that iA will continue to do so. A key reason for that, he says, is the firm’s commitment to being an agent of change in the industry. In particular, that means the face iA Financial presents to consumers is reflective of the changing Canadian demographic. 

 “In Canada, not only are we aging, but we also have a lot of immigrants,” he says. “That is why it is extremely important to connect with MGAs of different ethnicities, and that our agents come from different roots.”

The iA head identifies age as a major issue for the industry, and in particular, how older agents can sometimes struggle to connect with younger consumers.

 “In terms of the aging population, the issue has more to do with the distributors than the customers,” he says. “If you look at the data in Canada, you realize that the penetration of insurance has decreased during the last two decades. The main reason for that is we have a lack of distributors. I think a lot of agents have decided to be more active in wealth management instead of life insurance.”

Addressing this problem has become a priority for iA Financial, which has instigated a push to encourage more millennial-age brokers to enter the industry. Only then will the penetration levels for life insurance start to trend back to what they were previously, says Charest.

“In our organisation we still have a full-time carrier network and 40 per cent of those people are age 50 years or below. That should help us with millennials and to grow our network. We also try to attract entrepreneurial MGAs that might be smaller, but are willing to recruit new brokers. We think that will improve our distribution network across Canada.”

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