“Although we are relatively small, we can compete with firms 10 times our size.”

How Carole Taniguchi, VP of operations for Creative Planning Financial, competes with the big dogs

Carole Taniguchi’s entire professional career has revolved around the insurance industry—first in the corporate realm, and since 2003 for Creative Planning Financial Group, a Toronto-based brokerage firm that provides insurance and investment solutions for business owners, professionals, and families. As Creative Planning’s VP of operations, Taniguchi manages an office of 60 and acts as a liaison between product suppliers and more than 30 brokers—keeping communication lines open and using a personalized approach to management.

Advantage: How did you get your start in your career?
Carole Taniguchi: Essentially, it was straight out of college. My first job was in the insurance industry, working with actuaries. I managed to work my way up the proverbial corporate ladder; there always seemed to be new opportunities. For me, it was never about staying in one role for too long—that made the business exciting and challenging.

What was your most significant career move along the way?
My role as insurance ombudsman when I was with Zurich Insurance Canada was, for me, a turning point. That position went beyond people management, and my role transitioned into one of a negotiator between the insurance corporation and the end customer—and all the players in between, including the sales force, legal counsel, and regulators.

You joined Creative Planning in 2003. What first drew you to the company?
I knew of the firm from working on the corporate side. When the role was offered to me, it was kind of like going to the other side—the sales end. But my background helped to ease me into the position. This organization is very different from the corporate side. It very much runs and behaves like a family but operates very successfully, both for the independent brokers and for the firm. I honestly expected to be on this side of the business for only a few years before moving back to the corporate side—but it’s been almost 10 years now, and I am still here.

Has your industry changed in recent years?
In the past couple of years, there have been major shifts within the industry. The low-interest-rate environment has significantly impacted the price of all long-term products to the point where one major player has suspended sales of all its permanent products. This challenge has forced us to reevaluate our product recommendations and partnerships. Another challenge is ensuring we keep up with the fast pace of technology and communication solutions, including the use of social media. Our business is geared to servicing our clients for generations to come, so we have to be positioned to address generational differences and needs.

What advantages does your company offer?    
We’ve been in business for over 40 years. That experience helps us make relevant recommendations for the changing times. Our brand is recognized and respected within the industry, and although we are relatively small, we can compete with firms 10 times our size. Our brokers are all housed, allowing daily interaction and collaboration. We openly discuss cases, consult with one another, and share our success stories. It’s like being part of a daily study group. We’ve been told that is probably the best training anyone can give. We find that this kind of mentoring brings people to the next level of sales.

Are there any specific considerations when dealing with high-net-worth clients?
When we talk about clients and cases, we always say it doesn’t matter how many zeros are attached to what we’re talking about—our approach is not a whole lot different. However, high-net-worth clients have professional accountants and lawyers with whom we work cooperatively. Business owners count on our brokers to be sharp, educated, and confident with their recommendations.

What advice would you give managers who are trying to motivate and engage people?
Just knowing your people individually is important. Encouraging people to build on their strengths and being very open and honest, for me, has been the best management style. And maintaining a positive and fun environment within the workplace brings out the best in all of us.