"IF YOU STAY IN YOUR COMFORT ZONE TOO LONG YOU CAN LOSE YOUR EDGE. IT MAY SOUND COUNTER-INTUITIVE BUT IT IS IMPORTANT TO EXPLORE AND TAKE RISKS, BECAUSE WITHOUT THEM THERE IS NO DEVELOPMENT. SMALL RISKS SUCH AS TAKING ON A NEW PROJECT CAN HAVE BIG REWARDS AND HELP BUILD SKILLS AND PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT. "
— MONIKA FEDERAU, INTACT FINANCIAL CORPORATION
Monika Federau, senior vice-president and chief strategy officer, Intact Financial Corporation. ANDREW ROWAT PHOTOGRAPH
TAKE THE RISK — REAP THE REWARD
MONIKA FEDERAU INTACT FINANCIAL CORPORATION
KATHRYN BOOTHBY Postmedia Content Works
Monika Federau is senior vice-president and chief strategy officer at Intact Financial Corporation, the largest property and casualty insurer in the country. She is driven by a strong sense of curiosity, never shies away from a challenge, and believes in the power of giving back. Her leadership and dedication to putting people first have helped her to achieve one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Awards in the category of HSBC Corporate Executives.
Federau never envisioned working in insurance. “I don’t think anyone does and that’s unfortunate, because it really is an incredible career. Insurance helps fuel our economy and protects our lives. Without it there would be no business loans, exports, and worry-free nights. There is a lack of understanding of the range of opportunities that exist in the industry. For young people who are looking to make a difference and help people, it’s about asking the right questions, being open-minded, taking the risk and experiencing just how innovative and foundational the industry actually is.”
Where career opportunities are concerned, Federau cites software developers, user experience designers, data scientists, marketing, finance and investment as just a few that await those who choose to take the leap. “Innovation at Intact is demonstrated every day with the continuous development of products and services that meet our customers’ needs now and as we look toward the future, with autonomous vehicles and the use of artificial intelligence (AI).”
Federau studied political science at York University before attending Queen’s for her MBA. “Someone once advised me to study something for the intellectual curiosity of it for my undergraduate studies and then, in post-graduate studies, choose something that will help me earn a living. It was good advice. Young people often put a lot of pressure on themselves to get that first job and plot out a career path as fast as possible, which leaves little room for curiosity and serendipity.”
Curiosity is one of the best contributors to success, says Federau. “Not a day goes by when I have not learned something new through reading, digging deeper or asking questions. In a world where technology and software are changing how we live and work, how consumers shop and use goods and services, and how society operates, it is critical to ask Why? and Why not?, especially when navigating a career path. You will be constantly surprised by the insights — and opportunities — that curiosity can bring.”
Federau is also a risk-taker. “If you stay in your comfort zone too long you can lose your edge. It may sound counter-intuitive but it is important to explore and take risks, because without them there is no development. Small risks such as taking on a new project can have big rewards and help build skills and personal development.” She encourages others to test the waters by volunteering. “Those who are looking to become future leaders can hone their skills through volunteer work. Giving pays back so much, it feels great, and creates some fantastic experiences. It is a core part of how I now allocate my time.”
She took a big risk when, mid-career, she moved half way around the world to start afresh. “It was a life-altering decision because I had no contacts or job prospects. But it was a risk I was willing to take so that I could gain experience in the international realm and challenge myself to see what I could really do.” Those first few months in Hong Kong were not easy for a self-proclaimed introvert. “I was well outside of my comfort zone cold-calling, trying to meet new people and explaining why I would be an asset, but it paid off because I ended up with a great job, tremendous learning experiences, and working with cross-cultural teams on projects all over Asia.”
Upon her return to Canada in 2010, Federau joined Intact as vice-president of marketing. She was promoted to senior vice-president & chief strategy officer in 2013. She now leads development and implementation of the organization’s strategic plan, and oversees communications, government relations, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives.
Monika built the corporate marketing function from 2010 to 2017, during which time, unaided brand awareness climbed from two per cent to 25 per cent. Today, Intact has the best brand recognition among personal and casualty insurers in Canada. In 2015 she established Intact’s Research Groups to focus on emerging issues that may impact the business. Research and recommendations from these groups influence strategic plans and inform new projects and services, such as mobile apps, online self-service, digital claims submissions, and address the sharing economy and use of artificial intelligence. These groups also played a key role in the development of the Intact Lab, a Montreal-based innovation hub focused on creating new digital solutions for customers and broker channels. These innovative initiatives have helped to more than double the number of customer advocates in the past year from 23 per cent to 49 per cent.
Ensuring that the company stays on the leading edge for its customers is a constant challenge, says Federau, but it is equally critical for its teams. “It is important to develop a view of thefuture for employees, then give them the tools and training that will excite them about the future. At Intact we have staff ranging in age from 20- to 70-year-olds. Helping all of those groups adjust and thrive in this time of rapid change is tricky, but exciting.”
Federau was deeply involved in developing Intact’s leadership model, a valuable tool for evaluation, succession planning and leadership growth. This inclusive model measures performance against core values based on behaviour. “It has allowed us to have five or more eligible successors in place within five years for each of the top 150 positions in the company (VP or higher). I am also delighted that the pipeline of talent is now made up of 50 per cent women. With our focus on leadership behaviours we have created an equitable and transparent leadership succession process. I am very proud of that. A diverse and inclusive environment makes our business stronger.”
Federau’s volunteerism is helping to alleviate child poverty in Canada and around the world, through UNICEF Canada and as a member of the 25th Team, a group of influential Canadian women bringing life-saving investments to Cambodia, Ethiopia, Namibia and Peru. She is also a long-time executive sponsor of the United Way. Her philanthropy is aimed at supporting the next generation of women in business. “If you believe in something, you have to put your money where your mouth is. That’s why I established scholarships at York and Queen’s universities for young women who want to go to business school but need financial assistance to do so. One of the women I support is a single mother who has taken a big risk in forgoing a salary to improve life for herself and her son. This is the sort of woman who will create the diversity of thinking necessary in business today.”
Women are still reluctant to put up their hand if they are not 100 per cent confident, notes Federau. “Women must do so even if they are only 70 per cent there. Everyone deserves a chance and can make a difference. Have that confidence and don’t listen to the inner voice that may be telling you otherwise.”
This award matters to Federau because it can help her be a better role model to other women, she says. “It also matters because it allows me to speak more about our company and what a great place is has been for me to learn and make a contribution over the past 10 years. Intact is a unique place that aligns with my values and allows me to do work that makes a difference. The opportunities for others to succeed, as I have, are limitless.”