Career interview with Élise Bourret, CFA, Vice-President, Head of Global Investment Services, Manulife / Manuvie
A native of St-Lambert, Élise Bourret was a member – and goalie – of the national water polo for many years. Her experience as a high level athlete taught her the importance of team spirit and determination, qualities that have helped propel her career. Today, as Vice-President and Head of Global Investment Services in Montreal, she leads a team of some 200 people who specialize in investment operations at Manulife. Passionate about her profession and proud to offer exemplary service to her clients, her primary expertise in the financial industry is front office support.
Early in her career, Élise worked at accounting firms Raymond Chabot and Arthur Andersen, where she was an auditor for a number of sectors. In 2000, she made the leap to the trust and fund accounting division of a Quebec mutual fund manager. It was a move that would define her future in the finance industry. From 2001 to 2015, she was responsible for investment operations at Standard Life, first as a manager and later as a vice-president, before being promoted to the head of global investment services for Manulife following its acquisition of Standard Life in 2015.
Élise holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Université du Québec à Montréal (1999) and a CA-CPA accounting designation (1999). She is a member of the CFA Institute as a chartered financial analyst (2002) and is also the mother of two children, ages six and nine.
When did you begin your career, and what was your first job? Was it the position you were hoping for?
I initially gained experience at Raymond Chabot while finishing my accounting degree at Université du Québec à Montréal. After passing the UFE, I conducted external audits for companies in the manufacturing sector. During this period, I was still training 20 to 30 hours a week with the water polo team, and I arrived at a point where I had to choose between my sport and my career. I was interested in working on mandates outside the country, and I took the exam to have my CA designation recognized abroad. Then, after spending a year at Arthur Andersen in Montreal as a senior auditor and team leader in the department in charge of mandates for tech and financial companies, I realized my main interest was in the financial sector. An opportunity came my way in trust and fund accounting at StrategicNova, a Quebec mutual fund firm, and my career in fund operations began.
Did you follow a specific career plan? How often have you changed employers or jobs within the same firm? What was the main reason for those changes?
I didn’t set out with a highly defined career plan. I’ve always simply gone where my interests and passions have led me. Working with talented, motivated people in a dynamic environment, having a chance to learn, being in the centre of the action, and striving to progress are the principles that have led me to where I am today. I joined Standard Life, now Manulife, more than 15 years ago, and I believe it’s because I’ve stuck to these principles that I’ve been given increasing responsibility over time and have advanced within the same firm.
Tell us more about the position you currently hold. Did you encounter any major obstacles in your career path? What do you enjoy most about your job?
I began in my current position with Manulife in November 2015. I’m in charge of six leaders and ultimately over 200 employees. Among my team’s responsibilities are asset valuation, cash administration activities, finalizing of transactions, investment accounting, and the monitoring and verification of net asset value calculations.
What I enjoy most about my job is being part of the action and having a role in the ongoing development of our activities. I love tackling problems and turning uncertain and critical situations into opportunities or solutions. If I can draw a parallel with my water polo past, I see myself as a goalie. My role is to protect assets and help spur the offensive.
We have to continually adapt to new environments and remain agile in our work methods. One good example of this was the integration, in just three months, of the Standard Life system into the Manulife platform for investment operations. Successfully completing this project while maintaining our high level of service to clients would not have been possible were it not for the motivated and dedicated team at Standard Life and Manulife. This was one of the most enriching experiences of my career and exemplified the power of teamwork.
What skills do you believe someone needs in order to succeed in your area of expertise? What sort of impact has the CFA designation had on your career path?
In the operations world, you have to be action-oriented, you have to love change, and you have to be flexible. People who succeed in this domain have a global vision and thirst for knowledge. Operations activities tend to take place behind the scenes, but we play an essential role. Paradoxically, we can quickly find ourselves in the limelight if operational errors are made. We must comply with the most stringent rules and standards while managing greater risk with fewer resources.
The CFA program was instrumental in establishing my credibility, especially early in my career when I had to meet with portfolio managers. The designation also enabled me to acquire technical knowledge and better understand the high standards of calculating and presenting returns. This knowledge was particularly helpful when we decided to present returns in accordance with GIPS (Global Investment Performance Standards).
How do you view the career possibilities in your sector? What recommendations would you have for someone setting out in this field?
My sector is going through a major transformation as we increasingly transition towards automation and robotics, and the changes are currently coming at an even faster pace. But I believe that change brings opportunity. In fact, I think that many such opportunities will present themselves to people who have accounting, finance and technology skills. The key is to keep an open mind and dare to take risks. If I had just one piece of advice to give, I’d say that it’s important to build strong bonds with the people we work with and to help one another achieve our objectives. This approach has allowed me to overcome obstacles that at one time seemed insurmountable!
 UFE: Uniform Final Examination (final exam to earn the CA-CPA designation)