Senior vice-president of group and business insurance, Desjardins Insurance


Vice-president of business development, Desjardins Insurance

Marie-France Amyot and Amy Ferguson

Desjardins Insurance

Marie-France Amyot and Amy Ferguson are experienced and passionate leaders who both recently took on new roles at Desjardins Insurance. Seven months ago, Amyot was appointed senior vice-president of group and business insurance (GBI); and two months ago, she named Ferguson as vice-president of business development. In this article, they share their insights on organizational success, diversity, transformation and team building.


What strengths do today’s organizations need to succeed?

MA: The client, the offer and an organization’s talent must be aligned. The client is the most important element and at Desjardins we always want to act in their best interest. To make sure we never forget this, once a month every manager in the line of business—from the section manager and team leader up to the vice-president—calls a real client. It’s such a good way to learn how we can improve their experience, which is a differentiator for us. To reach that goal, our offer, including our products and services, must be simple, modern, high-performance and people-focused. It’s important for our organization that the performance of each Desjardins employee is evaluated 50 per cent on business results and 50 per cent on behaviours tied to those four attributes.

AF: An essential element when putting the client at the centre of everything is for organizations to provide strong health support for employees, particularly when it comes to mental health. There are a few tools that can be implemented to further strengthen an organization from a wellness perspective. For instance, offering an employee assistance program or support via virtual care are great places to start. Another very important piece is diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). We recently sponsored research by the Conference Board of Canada that found that many employees’ unique needs aren’t always being met by their employer. However, the good news is that it seems as though we’re on a better path. So many organizations are talking about DEI now. It’s not just a tagline, it’s really become a part of the culture.

How important is diversity within teams?

MA: It’s well documented that diverse teams are high-performing teams, and I’ve experienced that throughout my career. I strive to make sure my team includes people who are different and complementary in terms of training, skill set, background, experience, way of thinking, gender and culture. Not only does that lead to better decisions, but it also reflects the diverse world our clients live in. It’s not perfect yet, but we’ve come a long way.

AF: We recently developed new gender affirmation coverage and were fortunate to work with many community organizations. One showed us a powerful illustration of two sides: a team with everyone looking the same and offering the same suggestions, and a team with diverse backgrounds offering a whole range of different suggestions. They looked at every problem from a very different angle. That picture was an “Aha!” moment for me. To be an outstanding organization, we need to embrace DEI and make sure employees experience it.

What is your vision for your area at Desjardins Insurance?

MA: Our vision is to have a positive impact on the mental, physical and financial health of our clients. We want to act as a lever for plan sponsors to attract and retain talent—and make sure employees give the best of themselves while they’re at work. One of our main ambitions is to be a relevant player in the Canadian market through long-lasting partnerships and relationships with advisors across the country (half of our business already comes from outside Quebec). One way to achieve that will be to continue to modernize our systems and execute our digital roadmap to provide a flexible offer at a competitive price.

AF: I’ve been in this business for 26 years and I’m fortunate to be leading a business development team that’s one of the strongest I’ve seen. The client will always be at the forefront of everything we do. The idea of doing the right thing for plan sponsors, plan members and our advisor partners is at the core of every decision we make. We’re also working to make sure everyone understands that we’re committed to acting on what we say. And we’re truly taking the approach of one big team doing it all together, breaking down silos internally and externally.

What have you learned from leading organizations through transformation, Marie-France?

MA: I’m new to GBI, but not to the insurance industry—and I’ve been involved in major transformations at Desjardins, including the integration of State Farm’s Canadian operations in 2015. The most important thing, right from the beginning, is making sure your people (employees and managers) understand why we need to transform. You need to really explain and create meaning around the rationale. The second piece is to make sure your whole management team works with you, because executives can’t do it all on their own—they need support and positive leadership from management, and they also need support from employees. Finally, every employee must understand how their day-to-day activities are contributing to the organization’s strategic goal. Once they realize they have an impact on the client, everybody can embark on the same adventure with a shared goal.

How important is team building— internally and with partners—to your leadership approach, Amy?

AF: It’s absolutely essential. Internally, at Desjardins Insurance, we’re the voice of our plan sponsors and advisor partners. At the same time, we need to understand our internal team’s realities—such as what it’s like for an employee to pay a claim or for a team that’s implementing a new group. When we understand those realities, we can look for better solutions. Externally, it’s important for us to be a strategic partner with our advisors, consultants and intermediaries. I’ve learned so much from our advisor partners. They’ve taught me to open my mind and look at things from the client’s perspective. I’ll make sure we continue to do that because I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for all the wonderful people I’ve had the opportunity to work with.