No glass ceiling blocked her way
Caron Czorny doesn’t believe in glass ceilings, the invisible barriers that prevent women from rising in their chosen fields. The vice-president, business development, at BMO Life Assurance Co., got her start in the life insurance industry when she dropped out of McGill University at the age of 18 and took a job as a file clerk in the underwriting department at Commercial Union Life Insurance Company in Montreal. Hard work, tenacity and drive did the rest.
“I’ve never felt I’ve been held back because I’m a woman,” said Czorny. “Maybe I’m naïve, but I never think about it. I’m just grateful for the trust people have placed in me along the way.”
A few months after she started at Commercial Union, her supervisor left the company. Czorny was made a junior underwriter and began studying for her insurance designations. “I learned the hard way,” she said, “by doing the work and having my mistakes pointed out to me and corrected.”
She also learned that she loved the life insurance business. “It’s all about people, and giving them peace of mind. Advisors have very important jobs that are often under-valued.”
Her 40-plus-year career is studded with highlights: president of ReMark Canada Inc.; senior vice-president, marketing and sales, with Equinox Financial Group; senior vice-president, national sales and marketing with Hooper-Holmes Canada Ltd.; and vice-president, product research and market development, at Westbury Life. Before joining BMO Insurance, Czorny was executive vice-president and chief operating officer at PEAK Insurance Services.
One of the accomplishments of which she is extremely proud is founding a new company, AgenZ Group, in 2007 while she was at PEAK with two MGA partners to handle back-office services. “It showed that three MGAs could put their egos aside, and develop a model to share costs and rewards,” she said.
Czorny’s extensive board work, including serving as president of the Canadian Association of Independent Life Brokerage Agencies, president of the Association des cabinets gestionnaires de services financiers (ACGSF), and as Advocis treasurer, is one of the ways she gives back to the industry. She’s currently on BMO’s diversity council and part of its Women and Wealth initiative. “Women are often financially vulnerable,” she said. “We need to raise women’s awareness of the need to take care of their financial futures.”
While she was chair of the Institute for Advanced Financial Education in 2011, the Institute launched the Certified Health Insurance Specialist (CHS) designation. Czorny described the new designation as “an upgrade” of the Registered Health Underwriter designation, with three mandatory courses instead of two and a comprehensive long-term-care component in order to better serve Canada’s aging population.
Another way she gives back is through mentoring up-and-comers. “When I see someone with potential, I’m thrilled to help that person out.”
Czorny describes herself as a high-energy individual. She works out daily in her home gymnasium, and maintains residences in Oakville, Ont., in Florida and in the Laurentians. And at the age of 62, with retirement within sight, she still takes advantage of opportunities to learn, “perhaps as a way to make up for never completing an undergraduate degree.” This spring, she earned the ICD.D designation from the Institute of Corporate Directors. And she recently completed five out of six courses toward a Certificate in Gerontology at Ryerson University. “When I retire in a few years, I’d like to work with seniors,” she said.
What advice does Czorny have for young people entering the industry? “Get your designations, ask good questions and make yourself known in the industry by networking.”