A New Path

How Claude De Gagné took over, streamlined, and tripled the sales of Montréal-based financial and risk-management firm Groupe DCB

Everyone at Groupe DCB gives back to the community. Claude De Gagné (left) is involved in Fondation Palestre Nationale, which supports children in sports and education; Philippe Caron (right) is involved with Fondation Suicide Action Montréal, which helps people (and the family and friends of people) at risk of committing suicide.
Everyone at Groupe DCB gives back to the community. Claude De Gagné (left) is involved in Fondation Palestre Nationale, which supports children in sports and education; Philippe Caron (right) is involved with Fondation Suicide Action Montréal, which helps people (and the family and friends of people) at risk of committing suicide.

Three years after Claude De Gagné joined Montréal-based Groupe DCB Inc. in 1985, he bought 10 percent of the firm; by 1991, he owned it all. Today, he and vice president Philippe Caron are guiding the Québec business-advisory firm to new levels of growth. Advantage takes a look at some of the pivotal numbers behind the company’s rise.

150 brokers

Founded in 1969 by William Barkovich, Groupe DCB was originally a general agency, an entity that distributes insurance products from a multitude of insurance carriers to insurance brokers. In 1982, Barkovich had approximately 150 brokers, but he realized that his clients wanted more than brokerage services, so he changed his business model.

“He fired almost everyone and changed the orientation of the business to provide corporate insurance, retirement planning, and estate planning,” De Gagné says. Eventually, Groupe DCB became a broad advisory firm, helping companies in all phases of the business life cycle—start-up, expansion, succession, and transition—manage risks.

15 key staff members

After obtaining a BS in accounting and finance from HEC Montréal, De Gagné worked as an accountant in Burlington, Ontario, but then decided to return to the City of Saints. His job search brought him to Barkovich, who was seeking a vice president of finance for a client’s business. “He was that involved in what his clients were doing,” says De Gagné, who ended up joining Barkovich’s 15-member core team as a controller.

The rest is history. “I was intrigued by what he was doing, and it developed into a passion,” De Gagné says. “Our involvement and unique expertise makes a difference for business owners.”

3x the sales

In 1988, Barkovich, seeking to keep his four key employees, including De Gagné, gave each of them 10 percent of the business. Soon, however, he became ill, and in 1991, he sold the rest of his business to De Gagné. The successor had his own vision for Groupe DCB. “I kept the spirit of the business—expertise and client focus—but I wanted to make it a real business,” he says.

De Gagné reduced head count to eight colleagues, computerized the business, and, perhaps most significantly, eliminated commissions. This helped the company recruit educated, motivated, well-paid individuals who could focus on unbiased solutions for clients. “What our colleagues sell our clients doesn’t affect their income, so the clients’ interest remains our priority,” De Gagné says.

Within four years of his move to the top, De Gagné had tripled sales, partly thanks to larger deals stemming from his existing relationships. “I had access to a large pool of potential clients—real decision makers—through business-school contacts,” he says.

10 acquisitions

In 2000, Philippe Caron joined Groupe DCB. With degrees in financial planning, management, and law, he brought a unique perspective and proceeded to lead Groupe DCB through a number of acquisitions. “We were looking for businesses that served primarily corporate clients,” Caron says.

Since he became a shareholder in 2003, the company has acquired 10 other brokers. “They’ve been fully integrated into Groupe DCB, and the clients who came in through the acquisitions are very happy,” De Gagné says.

1,000+ clients

Much of Groupe DCB’s growth has been organic. In 2008, for example, it began providing life-insurance services to general insurance brokers who lacked such expertise. The brokers refer their clients to Groupe DCB, which splits proceeds with the brokers 50/50. “It’s a path for growth for both of us,” De Gagné says.

His firm has also ventured into the special-risk business, helping start-ups that have difficulties getting proper insurance coverage because of their lack of history. “Over the years, they became big, and they remain our clients,” says De Gagné, whose firm now has easily more than 1,000 clients.

1 of 20 firms

In 2008, Groupe DCB joined other like-minded elite producers under Barrington Wealth Partners, a nationwide producer-owned managing general agent. The only business of its kind in Canada, Barrington Wealth Partners allows its members to pool their knowledge and buying power to provide their advisors with access to the best products in the industry.

Barrington currently has 20 member firms representing more than 300 advisors across Canada, and it allows Groupe DCB to be independent of insurance carriers. “They negotiate contracts for us with nine carriers, and because the group shares volume, we don’t have to meet volume requirements,” Caron says. “It takes a weight off our shoulders.”