Career interview with Jean Bergeron, FICA, FSA, CFA, Managing Partner, Asset and Risk Management Consulting Services, Morneau Shepell
An actuary by training, Jean Bergeron has skillfully combined his actuarial practice with that of asset and risk management throughout his career. Today, as managing partner of Morneau Shepell in Montreal, he is practice manager and a national specialist in asset management consulting for the firm. Having joined Morneau Shepell in 1998, in 2002 he made a definitive shift towards asset management by taking responsibility for the consulting division and for a team that has grown to a dozen investment and actuarial professionals.
Prior to joining Morneau Shepell, Jean was an actuary in the Office of the New Brunswick Superintendent of Pensions, which he joined in 1991. In the late 1980s, while finishing his actuarial exams, he was an actuarial assistant for Sobeco in Montreal (since acquired by Morneau Shepell) and for Empire Life Insurance in Kingston, Ontario.
A graduate of Université de Montréal, where he earned a B.Sc. in mathematics (1985), Jean is a Fellow of both the Society of Actuaries and the Canadian Institute of Actuaries. Having sat on a number of Institute committees, he remains an active member of the actuarial profession and has held the designation of Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) since returning to Montreal in the early 2000s.
When did you begin your career, and what was your first job? Was it the position you were hoping for?
In 1985, after completing my degree in mathematics at Université de Montréal, I headed for Kingston, Ontario, to work for national insurance company Empire Life. At the time, actuarial graduates basically had the choice of working for an insurance company or a consulting firm. So I accepted a position as actuarial assistant, where my duties involved developing life insurance investment products. Was it my dream job? Not necessarily. But this type of position offered me the chance to gain experience while completing my actuarial exams.
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?
Did I really have a career plan? I have to admit that my interest in investments started quite early while working in the Office of the Superintendent of Pensions in Fredericton, New Brunswick. From that time forward, my interest in the investment industry began to influence my career decisions.
I joined Morneau Shepell in 1998 while still in Fredericton in order to build my consulting expertise. While I applied my actuarial training when dealing with our clients, who were often pension funds, I was also involved in other areas, such as establishing investment policies, measuring performance or conducting manager searches. Shortly after my return to Montreal in 2000, vacancies in the team opened the door for me, and in 2002 I was given the opportunity to take the reins in the asset management consulting division, a role I still hold today.
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?
As a partner and practice manager in asset and risk management, I am responsible for the region of Quebec and Ottawa and for a team of about 12 investment and actuarial professionals. My duties include advising large pension funds and foundations, business development, representing the firm with the media, developing tools, and preparing economic assumptions used by all of the firm’s actuaries for actuarial valuations and stochastic asset and liability modelling.
I tend to view obstacles as opportunities; we should never be afraid of venturing outside our comfort zone. What I enjoy most about this job is the consulting aspect and the contact with our clients. It is gratifying to have the expertise to help clients who are dealing with what are often complex issues. My work allows me to apply solutions to real problems.
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
To succeed in this business, I believe it is important to feel a certain amount of empathy for clients. We must understand their needs and what matters to them. We have to be dynamic and capable of working on many files at the same time. And we have to be straightforward communicators, because this work can often be complex and our clients are not always familiar with all of the financial concepts. We must be able to deliver the message and understand the client’s challenges.
The CFA® designation has enabled me to broaden my investment knowledge. It also helped me land my first asset management position. The designation has raised my credibility in the investment industry.
How do you view the career possibilities in your sector? What recommendations would you have for someone setting out in this field?
Career prospects today are good in the investment consulting industry, as the work has changed quite a bit since the last financial crisis. More emphasis is being put on risk management when planning investment strategies. You don’t have to have an actuarial science degree to work in the consulting field; we look for a wide range of expertise, notably individuals who specialize in certain asset classes.
For those just starting out in consulting, I believe it’s most important to have a passion for this business, show initiative and recognize the opportunities that arise. Of course, strong math and communication skills are also a must.
Early in their career, new consultants need to learn the trade and get to know the managers, markets, strategies and performance measurement. It then becomes possible to specialize. It’s simply a matter of ensuring that the needs of the clients are met.