Keeping Out of Trouble

Waqas Rana of the Co-operators on the increasingly important role of compliance in business

Receipts, bills, financial and medical records—in the insurance industry, the paperwork stacks up fast. And because so much of it is sensitive, the market is heavily regulated. Advantage had the opportunity recently to talk to Waqas Rana, vice president and chief compliance officer for the Co-operators, a firm offering a variety of insurance products, and he explained how he and his team go about conforming to the rules of their industry’s governing bodies.

Advantage: How did you get into compliance?
Waqas Rana: I started out as an accountant, which involves a lot of routine activities and tasks. I was attracted to compliance because it is constantly changing. I was fortunate to be working at an organization that saw my potential and gave me the opportunity for new challenges, one of which was managing the compliance function. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to make it my profession going forward.

Tell us a little about the Co-operators.
It’s a leading Canadian-owned, multiproduct insurance and financial-services organization, active only in the Canadian market. Our three core areas of operation are property and casualty insurance, life insurance, and institutional investments. Co-operators provides financial security to Canadians and their communities.

Waqas Rana’s
Career Milestones

1991–2001
Works for Primerica Financial Services, a subsidiary of Citigroup

2001–2002
Joins Assante Advisory Services and works as a senior financial analyst

2002–2008
Returns to Primerica Financial Services and serves as vice president and chief compliance officer

2008–2010
Accepts a position with the CUMIS Group Limited

2010–Present
Works as the chief compliance officer for the Co-operators


Tell us a little about your role as chief compliance officer.

My role is to be in charge of design, implementation, and modification of the compliance plan and procedures for the company. There are federal and provincial regulations. OSFI, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, regulates banks and insurance companies in Canada. Compliance is making sure the organization meets all regulations and guidelines and that the organization is looking after the best interests of its clients. Our clients entrust us [as an insurance company] with a lot of financial and medical information. At my organization, compliance is also responsible for the privacy function. In addition, complaint resolution and managing the ombudsman function reside within compliance. And finally, compliance includes auditing our 2,500 licensed insurance representatives in about 550 offices across Canada.

What are some of the challenges you face? And the biggest rewards?
One of the biggest challenges is staying current with the ever-changing market—from both a regulatory and product perspective. The biggest reward is knowing you are protecting the organization by protecting the clients of your organization.

What trends do you see negatively impacting your industry in the coming years?
One, the regulatory burden is always increasing, and two, customers want more control. They want to be able to do things on their terms. For example, they want to make more requests via the Internet instead of face to face, and they want to be able to transact or make changes to their policies when they want and with their choice of medium.

How Are You Growing?

The Co-operators now has more than 4,600 employees across Canada

Its sales force comprises more than 2,500 licensed insurance representatives

It actively serves 350 credit unions, with nearly 5.3 million members across Canada

The compliance department has 22 employees

How did the economic meltdown in the late 2000s affect your company?
With my company, it was more indirectly than directly. Insurance companies make money from investments. With the meltdown, interest rates plummeted, which resulted in lower investment income. Offering a mix of products provided us with a cushion. When money is tight, people still have to buy car insurance or property insurance, but they may skip life insurance. Companies that sold only life insurance were hit harder.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received, and how have you applied it?
Two things: First, chase the task, not the title; chase the challenge, not the cash. In my experience, if you take on challenges and perform them well, the cash and title follow. And, second, always be on your best behaviour because you never know when you’re being interviewed. That means being helpful to all members of the organization, not just those above you.