5 Questions with Donavan Tildesley, 4 Time Paralympic Swimmer – Shifting Gears to Focus on Career in Insurance

Four-time Canadian Paralympian (and Canadian flag bearer for the 2008 Paralympic Games) swimmer Donovan Tildesley announced today he is retiring from the sport to focus on his insurance career.

Tildesley, who was born blind, has been working with Buntain Insurance in Vancouver since 2008.

Donovan at Computer-1“I started on November 3, 2008 after passing my Fundamentals exam. The first couple of years were not easy,” Tildesley explained. “Not only was I learning a new business, but I was also learning what office tasks I could and couldn’t do. 

“Being totally blind, I utilize a computer with a speech software called JAWS (Job access with speech), as well as a refreshable braille Display. I soon realized that not everything in the office was 100% accessible to my software. But over time, I learned to utilize the strong team around me to provide support on tasks I couldn’t perform. In turn, I’m happy to step up and provide support on the phones. I also came to develop a real passion for sales. I’m now in the process of developing a book of business of namely high-value clients.”

The statistics for blind Canadians being unemployed or underemployed are staggeringly high. According to the Canadian Federation of the Blind, the unemployment rate is about 90% for blind Canadians. Even with a degree from the University of BC, Tildesley knew he would face challenges in the business world.

Tildesley, 29, says he is grateful for the opportunity given to him by a long-time acquaintance, although admits, at first, insurance didn’t match his long term goals.

“I was initially reticent,” he says. “The idea of selling insurance seemed rather dry, and my first love has always been radio broadcasting. But, here was someone essentially handing me a job. I figured that it would be stupid not to take it!”

Sports can teach great life lessons, and Tildesley sites many things learned over a successful career as an international athlete that will help him in his insurance career.

Tildesley“My Paralympic experiences have taught me a great deal about goal setting, teamwork, and knowing how to work under pressure, he said. “All of these skills have been assets to me in the insurance world.”

As well, he says, being known as a Paralympic athlete has “allowed me to develop a unique personal brand.”

“Sometimes in sales you need a “wow” factor. I like to think that people look at me, and see this reasonably successful blind guy, who’s also just happened to compete for Canada. On the basis of that knowledge I feel they’re more likely to give me a chance.”

ILScorp is pleased to have been Tildesley’s chosen insurance trainer.

“I’ve done my Fundamentals exam, and CAIBs 1-4 with ILS Learning Corporation (www.ilscorp.com.) They’ve gone out of their way to make any materials and exams accessible to me!” he explained. “A highlight was taking the CAIB IV class with the effervescent and always entertaining Todd Hochban (ILScorp’s training partner at West Coast Training). I had failed the CAIB IV twice when I only studied using the ILS videos, so I figured I needed more of a hands-on approach. If anybody can make insurance fun, it’s Todd!”

And while retired from competitive swimming, Tildesley will still be in the pool on a regular basis, now using his time in the water to relax.

“I still love the sport. If I’m not in the pool at least 2-3 times per week I have more trouble handling stress,” he explained.

Clearly never one to be held back (he’s also an avid skier, and co-founder of two Whistler radio stations), Tildesley is making the most of his new role.

“I feel incredibly humbled and blessed to be where I’m at today. I work for a great company with a strong team and a keen vision for the future. I owe a great deal to Gordon Buntain. He’s a visionary, who doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘can’t’,” Bailey told ILStv.

“There are challenges, but equally as many opportunities. I’ve come to realize that there’s always a way to make things work. Now that I won’t be competing, I intend to focus my attention on three main areas: building my book of insurance business, building my brand and reputation as a keynote speaker, and finding more ways to give back to the community. Who knows, I may even write a book!”

Learn more about Donovan Tildesley at limitlessvision.ca.

Follow him on twitter at @donovanspeaks or Buntain Insurance at @BuntainIns

By Mia Heitland, ILScorp Blog

Stay tuned to the latest in Insurance news by subscribing to ILStv’s daily or weekly newsletters.

Five Questions: Janine White, VP, Marketplace, Kanetix.ca

JanineWhiteKanetixIt has been a busy year for Kanetix.ca, an online marketplace for insurance and financial services. In February, the company announced a new insurance quote service for commercial vehicles. In April, it introduced commercial insurance quotes for Alberta businesses. In May, car insurance quotes from The Co-operators became available to Ontario drivers and in October, the company launched a mortgage rate comparison service. Add to that November’s acquisition of Insurance Hotline and the company continues to grow. We caught up with Janine White, VP of Kanetix’s Marketplace to find out more about what’s happening at the company.

Last month, Kanetix.ca announced it had acquired Insurance Hotline, an auto insurance comparison website owned by Torstar. What does this acquisition mean for Kanetix, consumers and your insurance partners?

We’re very excited. It’s a great opportunity for us and Insurance Hotline to grow the online channel.  The acquisition won’t impact the consumer because we don’t anticipate changing anything with the business models or the brands themselves. They attract a slightly different consumer and they have different partners and fulfillment models behind them, which makes the offerings slightly different as well. We want to make sure that the consumer has as much choice as possible.  The difference for our insurance partners is that together we can grow the online channels faster. On both sides, Insurance Hotline and Kanetix, we always have partners who are looking to grow their business.”  Now we can be more efficient and better about how we work together increase business. The main point of Insurance Hotline and Kanetix is to help our insurance partners grow their new business. This acquisition will help us help them.

There are currently 15 different products available through Kanetix, ranging from auto insurance to travel insurance and most recently, mortgages. How does Kanetix stay on top of market trends?

We have very close relationships with the insurance partners that we show on Kanetix. We’re in contact with them consistently to make sure that the rates are correct and that the business they’re getting is the business they’re looking for. Mortgages are fairly new for us, and get us more into the financial services aspect of our business. There will definitely be more on the financial services products side. In 2013, I think we could see ourselves expanding into those products; GICs, for example, or potentially other deposit-type accounts. It’s not unusual from where you would see other financial services comparison services go. A lot of our partners offer both insurance and financial services, and we deal with many of the banks today on the insurance side. I’m not sure if we’ll ever get to where the U.K. is where they’re comparing utility bills and cellphones. It’s not exactly where our strength is – never say never, but an expansion of financial services is that next step.

Kanetix was launched in 1999, when e-commerce, especially in Canada, was still new. We know how much technology alone has changed since then, but is there anything about Kanetix’s business that hasn’t changed in the last 13 years?

In this specific industry what hasn’t changed is that a lot of people still want to talk to a live individual at the end of the day. We always work to support that in our processes, to make sure that they always have the ability to talk to an advisor when and however they’d like. That hasn’t changed. It’s an online process that does not remove that human element.  There are companies that offer full-buy online but at the end of the day, many people want to talk to someone; they want to make sure that the coverage is right for them as well. Consumers can get blinded by a lower price but part of what we do is to educate them, get them to understand what in fact they’re seeing. As a case in point, we’re always testing new initiatives on Kanetix to understand if it’s a better offer for the consumer. One of the things we’ve just launched is called the Shoppers Pick where we rank by price as a default – that is the thing that most people tell us they want to see – but we now have the ability to click on a new tab where you see the Shoppers Pick which shows what people in similar situations have bought. What it does is change that listing to sort by factors other than price. We’re trying to offer that perspective so consumers have more choice.

You mentioned educating consumers. How important is that when it comes to service offerings in the insurance and financial services sectors?

I think at the end of the day, we’re trying to help consumers save on insurance and financial services by offering them choice. We do that through providing educational content but we also do it through our rates. We try to be as informative as we can because it is an industry where consumers tend to have less knowledge than the industry. We’re trying to bridge that so that with that knowledge, consumers can understand what they’re buying and make sure that they’re getting the best rate available. The best rate isn’t always the most important thing, but it’s a mix between that and “am I getting a good value product?” That’s all we’re trying to do. We’ll do that hopefully with mortgages, credit cards, GICs and more in 2013. We look forward to that.

By nature of your business as an online marketplace, it’s essential for Kanetix to build an online brand. How much does the online space, including social media, matter to the company?

We recognize the fact that we’re an online service. What we want to make sure of is that we’re easily found for those who are already online. That’s a much more connected way of trying to reach someone than convincing someone who is not online today to not just go online but to get quotes and transact online. That’s a longer relationship that takes longer to build. We do a little bit of that but online is our space. There’s that natural affinity between people that are already online whether it’s social media or using their mobiles – those are huge growth areas. We need to be in that online channel to make sure that they know that our service offering is there.

Five Questions: Malcolm Smith, Partner, Thunderbird Commercial Insurance

Thunderbird Commercial Insurance (TCI) is the only aboriginally-controlled insurance broker in Atlantic Canada and is a founding broker of Aboriginal Insurance Services Inc., a national insurance provider that’s 51 percent aboriginally-owned. Launched in Halifax in February 2012, by Malcolm Smith and Ryan Ginnish, the firm offers insurance products, programs and services tailored to address the unique cultural, commercial and lifestyle needs of Aboriginal communities, businesses and non-profits across the country. In this installment of Five Questions, we caught up with TIC partner Malcolm Smith to find out more about his career in the insurance industry.

How did you first get started in the insurance industry?

Like many people in insurance I entered the industry by accident. In 1996 I accepted a position of General Manager in a friend’s large heavy equipment sales & service company to assist him automating his sales & marketing system and rein in his increasing expenses. His insurance premium was one of his largest expenses, and growing annually. I read through all his policies, reviewed the coverages and did some research into rates. After grilling the Branch Manager of my friend’s insurance brokerage over the limits, deductibles and premiums the manager told me I really had a handle on insurance and did I ever think of getting into the industry.  Two months later I had a Level II license and was hired by the same company the Branch Manager worked with.

Thunderbird CI is the only aboriginally-controlled insurance broker in Atlantic Canada. How important is it for the local aboriginal community to have an aboriginal broker?

There are very few secondary and post-secondary educational institutions that have a program for graduates to enter the insurance industry. ILScorp is providing excellent training opportunities but there is little information on careers in the insurance industry that are available to aboriginal students and graduates. As a result there are few aboriginal employees working in any area of insurance including insurance companies, brokers, or adjusters as well as in life insurance and financial planning. There is another area of an insurance related work – risk management – that could be a great career path for aboriginal students graduating from secondary education, university and community college.

Cultural sensitivity is very important for any service related industry and insurance is integral to operating any organization, be that a business or a non profit association. There are many aboriginal lawyers who understand the history and culture of their aboriginal clients; this is very similar to the insurance industry.

What are some of the biggest challenges – and/or opportunities – in the insurance and risk management market today?

There is a great deal of consolidation in the insurance industry with insurance companies purchasing other insurance companies as well as brokerages, and larger brokers purchasing the small independents. There is still a great deal of competition in the market but this could change if a series of events caused the market to harden.

The biggest challenge and opportunity is the need for young people to enter the insurance industry. Many insurance agents, both in property and casualty as well as life insurance are looking at retirement and there is a need for trained and experienced staff to take over their book of business. This provides huge opportunities for not just a great career but participation in ownership and equity.

You’ve had a hand in insuring some large sporting events as a broker for the 2008 North American Indigenous Games and the 2011 Canada Winter Games. What was your experience like with these events?

Being directly involved in the 2008 NAIG was one of the highlights of my working career. I was involved from the awarding of the games to Cowichan Tribes to the wind-up of the Games society. Attending the Opening Ceremonies was absolutely awesome and inspiring; a day I will never forget. Watching all the teams from across North American enter the circle was quite spectacular.

There is a wide spectrum of risk management and risk transfer involved in hosting a large sporting event which requires tremendous organization and the work begins as soon as the games are awarded. It is fun and exciting to work with the people putting these Games together who are providing a venue for athletes of all ages to complete in sport which promotes a healthy life style.

You’re attending the CANDO conference this week  and today (October 25) are part of a panel discussing insurance and risk management and Impact Benefit Agreements (IBAs). What is the role of insurance and risk management in IBAs?

Well that is what the presentation is all about; I would expect the PPT will be on CANDO’s web site after the conference at Membertou’s beautiful Trade and Convention Centre is over. Here are some key points the panelists presented:

  • Every aspect, activity and operation related to a project or a joint venture created by an IBA must be reported to the insurance carriers through the insurance broker(s).
  • There is a wide range of risks a community is exposed to when entering into an Impact Benefit Agreement: reputational injury, environmental impairment, financial loss, property damage, personal lawsuits…
  • The community leadership should ensure they are involved in these important decisions that effect the community’s well-being and financial health.



Five Questions: Gary Gardner, Senior Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Crawford & Company (Canada)

You may know Gary Gardner from his role as Senior VP, Sales and Marketing at Crawford & Company (Canada). Or, you may know him as keyboard player for The Accidental Benefits, the insurance industry’s most rocking band. Or, you may know him from his more than 30 years of experience in the industry. In this installment of Five Questions, ILSTV sought to get to know Gary Gardner a little bit more.

You’ve been in the insurance and claims industry for over 30 years. What are some of the similarities and differences between the industry then and now?

I am sure that if you ask anyone in and around my age in any industry what the differences are over that kind of time span they would all talk about technology and how it interplays with what they do today.  Information availability in real-time is the norm now and expected.  From a salespersons standpoint the advancement of formalized procurement is certainly a major difference and the complete transparency that comes with that kind of process.  The interesting question is what is similar, no one asks that and it’s a good question.  In our world, we still deal with tragedy and life changing events for individuals and business entities.  That hasn’t changed.  You might have a laptop at the scene, or be viewing the loss via satellite imagery as opposed to 35MM film and a statement pad but the idea of returning that person or business to a pre loss state is still what we do.   I also remember my first day in the industry was in a training course.  In our firm, that really has not changed either.  Training methods have changed, but the idea of continuous personal improvement is still a large part of what we do every day.

How competitive is the Canadian market right now – and how are you responding?

In our market space we are finding it very competitive in most areas of service offering.   The first response is to make sure you are meeting all the metrics you need to meet on your existing book of business.  In addition we have broadened our service offering to things like Contractor Connection and CMS Property Advantage – products that take claims solutions in a different direction.  We have diversified out Global Technical Services offerings with key hires the environmental and forensic accounting area.

What are some of the biggest opportunities in the industry or market today?

There are a few.  Our introduction of Contractor Connection adds a whole other dimension to the claims solution process.  Full Outsourcing is another avenue for firms like ours.  The key is to be adept at change and be able to respond quickly as opportunities become available.

This year, for the fourth year in a row, Crawford was included in the rankings of InformationWeek 500’s list of the most innovative users of business technology. How do you see the role of technology in the insurance/claims management industry changing in the next five years?

The advancement of technology has reduced the time it takes adjusters to handle a file, it has provided measurement on almost every aspect of a file and it provides real time data.  The new technology we see really advances on those themes.  Things like satellite imagery and other technology will reduce time in process and at the same time provide a more enhanced policy holder experience.  We also anticipate more interaction with the policy holder through technology that will again provide faster turn around and a more enriched experience.

You’re quite literally a rock star in the insurance industry. Your band – The Accidental Benefits – has raised tens of thousands of dollars for the Women in Insurance Cancer Crusade. How did the band get started? What’s your favourite song to play?

The band is actually the brainchild of Bill Blakeney.  He is the one that brought us all together.  In 1998 I got a call from a lawyer I did not know at the time (Bill) who had been talking to my cousin and his wife who work in the insurance industry.  The story goes Bill was looking for some help on the Night To Shine Project and they told him about me.  That day I had just played a funeral for a dear friend who died way too soon of cancer leaving two kids and her husband who I had known for years.  Bill asked me to play on a CD that he and his wife Ruth were producing which featured insurance people signing and he needed a keyboard player.  He told me it was for this group called WICC.  I didn’t hesitate and I was in the studio that weekend.  I then met Greg McCutcheon (RMS), Terry O’Brien (State Farm), Lee Aldridge (Dominion of Canada), Tom Golfetto (FSCO), Lori Narbey (The Economical) and Brad Quinn a friend of the industry.  That was the start of the Accidental Benefits.  We have auctioned ourselves off for parties and corporate events and played on a number of CDs in the past.  As for a favorite song there are quite a few, Hard To Handle, Born to be Wild but I guess my favourite would be New Orleans is Sinking by the Tragically Hip.

Five Questions: Morgan Girouard: VP, All Insurance Ontario Ltd.

It’s not the first industry young people think of when deciding on a career path, but for  former high school football player Morgan Girouard, the insurance business was definitely the right choice, and it’s the personal relationships with clients that make it truly satisfying.

Your parents owned a brokerage when you were growing up. What was your perception of the industry as a child, and how has that changed?

I guess all I thought about the insurance industry before was my parents had the office in the house, people would call, they would answer, and they’d do the paperwork, and that’s all I really thought it was. What changed it for me was that I started writing business with some great people who have become good friends of mine.  I saw the business as not necessarily a way to meet people, but it’s nice to have a job where everyone that calls, you want to talk to and you have that personal relationship with. I say sometimes when I’m going to work I’m just going to hang out with my friends. Everyone who calls me, they’ve all become buddies. I’m very fortunate, I like my job.

Is the industry doing enough to attract the younger generation, and what would you say to a young person thinking of getting into the insurance business?

I think there is a lot more that we can do. But I also think the  Young Brokers Council (YBC) are on top of that already. There’s always more you can do right? I’m not really involved in the YBC, I hope to be in the future, and I don’t know the ins and outs of all of their plans, but I know they have a really good team of people working on it. I have faith in them, you could say.
I would say it’s a great idea. It depends on how you get in. There are different fields, with Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) coming in on salary, or producers coming in as one hundred percent commissioned employees. I would give them advice and recommendations on how they get into the business, but I would encourage them to do it no matter what.

Before embarking on your insurance career, you sold time shares in Ottawa and then later in Whistler, BC.  How did that prepare you for the insurance world?

That changed me a lot. When I started doing it I was about twenty years old. I was pretty shy. I wasn’t very outgoing. I didn’t know anything. I was always kind of a smooth talker, but I didn’t know anything about sales, really. I had some good bosses there that really mentored me, and then when I moved out to Whistler, I got some really good sales training. Obviously if you are going to sell time shares you have to be outgoing. You can’t be afraid to say something and talk to people or ask for the sale, or all those types of things. It gave me all my sales training that makes me the insurance broker that I am today.

Football was a big part of your life in high school. What did you learn playing football that you can apply to your career in insurance?

I would say in team sports, you work with your team mates to get things done.  That is basically a lot of what I do with the associations; just working together, you know, strength in numbers-united we stand, divided we fall kind of thing. That’s definitely something I learned from football.

You volunteer to help coach your former high school football team. How has that experience been for you?

I love it. I showed up because I felt bad the team was going to fold. From showing up the first day I’ve never looked back on it. I enjoy going there so much that I don’t even think about it as volunteering. This is something I truly enjoy. I’ve never looked at it as a chore, that’s for sure. It’s difficult at times to get the time off work because it is at three o’clock every day during the season, and with all the other stuff that I do, you’re definitely out of the office more than you probably should be, but that’s the kind of struggle we have to make for it, but otherwise I absolutely love it. The kids are super cool and it’s nice to reconnect with your past; a place you spent so much time in during high school. It’s cool to get back to your roots a little bit. It’s fun.

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Five Questions: Todd Hochban, President, West Coast Training

Todd Hochban, President, West Coast Training

Todd Hochban has over 30 years’ experience in the property and casualty insurance industry including 20 years as a full-time trainer, providing licensing and designation training for insurance agents and brokers. His company, West Coast Training, has provided training to over 8,000 agents and brokers over 2,500 training days. ILSTV asked Todd five questions about life in the insurance industry.

How did you get involved in the insurance industry?

I was one of the lucky few that walked out of school and found a job right away in the insurance industry.  I haven’t left it since that fateful day in 1977.  My first job was proofreading insurance policies that were typed in the typing pool.

What are some of the biggest challenges in the industry today?

I would have to say that the industry is going to struggle to respond to the demographic bubble we are facing.  The number of pending retirements in all levels of our industry is astounding.  Recruiting, training and keeping new employees will challenge us all.

What are some of the biggest opportunities in the industry or market today?

I am a believer in automation.  Technology is allowing more and more ways to connect with customers.  Becoming closer to our customers always presents opportunities.

How competitive is the market right now – and how are you responding?

Market competitiveness is always changing.  I know that we must find new ways to be competitive.  The traditional approaches will not always work now or in the future.  Questioning everything we do to seek out new alternatives allows all business to prosper in competitive cycles.

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?

A wise man from Lac Vert, Saskatchewan once told me to over-prepare for everything.  Thanks Steve!


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