Full Speed Ahead

Raneet Aggarwal discusses his journey to Manulife Financial and the many lessons learned along the way

Raneet Aggarwal is no stranger to working in unfamiliar territory, whether geographically or in a new role. The vice president and investment controller of Manulife Financial has relished opportunities to challenge himself, make mistakes, and learn on the job. Today Aggarwal oversees $250 billion of the financial-services and insurance company’s general fund invested assets, while leading teams in Canada, the United States, and Asia. Below, Aggarwal discusses where he’s been, how he arrived at Manulife, and what he’s learned in that time.

Advantage: Your work has taken you all over the world; how did that happen?
Raneet Aggarwal: I went to school at Delhi University, in India, majoring in commerce, then articled with KPMG to become a professional accountant. After three years, I moved to Abu Dhabi, where I worked [at] Ernst & Young in an audit role for three years, focusing mainly on oil and gas companies and banks. I then moved to Toronto to work in the financial institutions practice of Deloitte & Touche.

What did you do at Deloitte & Touche?
My title was audit manager in the financial-services group, but one of the most exciting projects was working for the Mexican parliament to review its banking system after the peso crisis in the late 1990s. I lived in Mexico City for five months. I was fairly junior at the time but part of a team of professionals gathered from all over the world. We looked at how the Mexican economy could be realigned with the world economy, and that was very exciting.

Any other exciting projects that stand out?
I also really liked a stretch assignment with TD Securities, the broker-dealer arm of TD Bank, where I worked after I left Deloitte. We were tasked with establishing an entire liquidity risk framework, which the company had identified as being critical. That entailed understanding the complex products from the ground up, analyzing how their structures created liquidity risks, trying to determine how the market would behave at times of crisis. We did a lot of brainstorming and scenario analysis.

Did you have experience in that area?
None. I was out of my comfort zone, and it was the biggest challenge of my life. I knew nothing about the business, its product, liquidity. I’m pretty sure I stumbled a lot along the way, making wrong decisions because I didn’t understand the business properly. But I learned along the way. People come out and help you when they know you’re new to an area, so you shouldn’t let the fear of making mistakes slow you down.

Raneet Aggarwal’s
Career Milestones

1991
Graduates from the University of Delhi with a degree in commerce

1994
Finishes three years of articling with KPMG and moves to Abu Dhabi to work at Ernst & Young

1998
Transplants to Toronto to work at Deloitte for its financial-services group

2002
Begins an assignment establishing liquidity risk framework at TD Securities

2005
Accepts a more traditional financial reporting role at CIBC

2008
Moves to a challenging role in a new industry at Manulife

Has stretching yourself been a theme throughout your career?
I’d say so. After five years at TD Securities, I wanted to do something different, so I went into a more traditional financial-reporting role at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce—preparing financial statements for the bank and doing all of its regulatory reporting. I had to deal with a couple of large changes to accounting standards, the transition from Basel I to Basel II global capital standards, and a major acquisition. Those were big challenges.

How did you end up at Manulife?
I came here after two years at CIBC, in 2008, looking for a challenge. What greater challenge than working in a different, important, [and] complex area of the economy?

I provide oversight to the company’s invested asset portfolio of more than $250 billion. The portfolio is multifaceted, from basic public bonds to more exotic oil and gas properties, timber, farmlands, vineyards. It’s an interesting job from that perspective because it provides exposure to all areas of the economy.

What are you most proud of accomplishing at Manulife?
In a broad sense, I’ve increased efficiencies and strengthened processes. I completely re-created my team after a restructuring, implemented new systems, cut down reports, and automated processes.

What advice would you give people seeking to follow in your footsteps?
People should embed networking in their day-to-day work, both outside and inside the company, but also outside their business area. LinkedIn is a great tool, and people should use it more, but get outside of your comfort zone. You never know who will help you. Usually it’s not the people you know the most but the people in your outer circle.