Laura Eckhardt is the CFO and executive vice president of operations for the Ontario Teachers Insurance Plan (OTIP) Group of Companies, a nonprofit organization that provides numerous avenues of insurance products for educational workers and other union organizations. Eckhardt has more than 20 years of corporate finance experience and has worked with OTIP for 10. While juggling the organization’s finance and technology functions, she is also responsible for corporate communications, home- and auto-insurance claims, and legal and risk management. Here Eckhardt offers select sums outlining the organization and her career.
2 comprehensive roles
As CFO and executive vice president of operations, Eckhardt’s days stay busy as she keeps an eye on OTIP’s financial and technology departments. One of the biggest challenges she faces in handling the two roles is performing the balancing act between protecting financial sustainability while also investing in the future. This is particularly true on the technology investment side.
“The world is changing so quickly, and some investments are a gamble,” Eckhardt says. “If I were to advise finance professionals, I’d see opportunities without seeing risk all of the time. On the flip side, my advice to the business people would be to see the risks the financial professionals see.” Because she spent time in risk management and business development, Eckhardt knows the difficulty of both.
Eckhardt’s main passion is her children. Her son has autism, and she has made it her mission to get the word out there that there are alternative medical treatments. “We have found great success with homeopathy to treat many childhood illnesses,” she says. “I’ve seen it help my kids.”
4 education affiliates
OTIP is owned by four Ontario education affiliates. This seems like it could lead to a “too many cooks in the kitchen” scenario, but the organization is structured so that, at the end of the day, the most important thing is what’s best for OTIP and its customers. Each of the four affiliates has two seats on the OTIP Board of Trustees. “They work together in the best interests of our insured members,” Eckhardt says. “They take governance courses and work very hard to protect the sustainability of the trust and benefits for the members.”
OTIP operates like a corporation: the management team does strategy work, such as developing new policies, and then takes it to the board, which will ask questions and challenge the work to make sure the team is on track. “They try to leave their hats at the door, and when they come here, it’s just about protecting benefits for the members,” Eckhardt says.
300 employees and growing
OTIP currently has 300 employees and grows by about 10 employees per year. The reason for the steady growth is OTIP’s strategy: the organization is guided by putting members of the education community first, which means helping its members protect what they care about. “When your reason for being is clear and concise, you grow,” Eckhardt says. “You also attract employees that believe in why OTIP exists. It’s not a job, it’s a calling.”
9 protection products
Organization members have many insurance products to choose from to help protect their physical and financial well-being. The menu currently comprises life insurance, employee- assistance programs, and insurance for long- and short-term disability, health, dental, travel, auto, and home. “Our goal is to protect our members and take their worry away,” Eckhardt says. “We need to carry whatever products we can to make that happen.”
4 important lessons
Over the years, Eckhardt has learned valuable lessons—take time making decisions, give the benefit of the doubt, and express gratitude—but one of the biggest lessons came when she was working on a large corporate project. At one point, she and her team members believed they knew the strategy and spent three months not listening to what their employees were saying.
“When we listened, we realized we were on the wrong path,” she says. “The project sped up exponentially after we as executives spent more time listening to what the people who were using the system were saying.”
Eckhardt has learned from that experience and applied it to OTIP’s main goal of maintaining rate stability for its members. Eckhardt wants to remove uncertainty from its members’ lives, which means making sure rates don’t fluctuate more than 5 percent. Keeping that in mind will help Eckhardt and OTIP ensure its members’ voices are heard and that their concerns are front and centre.