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NEWS November 2020
   Insurance veteran lands at FHG
Denis Blackburn, a child of two insurance advisors, says his favourite part of the job is building relationships
denis blackburn, who has
worked in the insurance industry for more than three decades, says he finally found the right fit for his management style at Financial Horizons Group (FHG), a man­ aging general agency (MGA).
“FHG represented the per­ fect opportunity for me,” says Blackburn.
Blackburn joined FHG as president, Quebec region, in July, succeeding James McMahon, who will retire at the end of the year. Blackburn comes to the firm with 30 years of insurance industry experience, including at National Bank of Canada’s insur­ ance arm.
Joining the insurance indus­ try seems to have been almost inevitable for Blackburn: most of his immediate family were in the business.
“At our Sunday family din­ ners, we were [always] talking insurance,” Blackburn says, “so I think that’s why I fell into [the industry].”
Both of Blackburn’s par­ ents worked as insurance advi­ sors with Industrial Alliance Insurance and Financial Services Inc. (IA). One of his sis­ ters worked in administration at IA. Blackburn’s mother loved her work so much that when she retired as an advisor at 65, she became an associate so she could stay in the business.
Over the years, Blackburn has most enjoyed working within an independent model and build­ ing relationships with insurance advisors. He intends to continue building FHG’s relationships, particularly within the high­net­ worth (HNW) market.
FHG has 1,200 insurance advisors in Quebec. Blackburn notes the firm has a “really good value proposition for the middle range of advisors,” but says those advisors need to be made aware of how that can be used to serve the well­heeled.
Blackburn defines HNW cli­ ents as those with at least $1 mil­ lion dollars in investable assets or clients who require a signifi­ cantly large case file, such as a business owner. He intends to hire an insurance specialist to help with these larger case files.
Blackburn is working to get the word out about FHG’s capabilities, such as the digital tools that allowed advisors to work remotely during the Covid­ 19 lockdown. The firm, which already uses e­applications, plans to introduce a needs­
analysis tool.
Building out FHG’s HNW
presence will require coaching advisors to work with this demo­ graphic. Blackburn has spent much of his career training and coaching advisors, from rookies to veterans.
He says the best way to get results is by following a “show­ show, tell­tell” mantra, meaning that as a manager he must show his advisors what they need to show clients, and tell the advi­ sors what they need to tell their same clients and prospects.
Blackburn also tells advi­ sors that HNW clients tend to have higher expectations. “I have found that when they have a difficult, specific question, they want a specific, accurate answer,” he says.
He finds the training process rewarding. “The most excit­ ing thing for me as a manager,” Blackburn says, “is to see people succeed when they apply [the training they received].”
For the time being, these coaching sessions and poten­ tial client meetings are likely to happen virtually, but Blackburn doesn’t believe that is a dis­ advantage. He says his onboard­ ing process when he joined FHG was entirely virtual, and he was still able to experience his col­ leagues’ “human values.”
Meeting people via a com­ puter screen is a far cry from how Blackburn joined the industry. He began his insurance career in 1986 as an advisor with Chicago­ based Combined Insurance Co. of America, a role that entailed going door­to­door to meet people. From there, Blackburn
began training recruits and eventually moved into a manage­ ment role.
After Combined Insurance, he joined National Bank in 1997, working first as training man­ ager and eventually becoming vice­president, insurance sales and distribution, in 2006. In the latter role, Blackburn trained rookies while building his own book of business.
In this job, Blackburn achieved one of his biggest
Denis Blackburn, who joined Financial Horizons Group in July as president, Quebec region, has spent much of his career training financial advisors — a process he finds particularly rewarding when he sees trainees applying the lessons they’ve learned.
     Joining the insurance industry was almost inevitable: Most of his immediate family were in the business
 accomplishments at the firm. In 2006, he was tasked with doubling the company’s sales force of 60 insurance advisors. Blackburn found he had to meet with 250 advisors per year just to recruit 20. However, his efforts paid off: by 2009, National Bank Insurance had 120 advisors. Blackburn says he’s particularly proud that each of those recruits was an industry veteran.
Blackburn’s training and recruitment role was followed
by a stint as vice­president of the firm’s property and casu­ alty division. Finally, Blackburn became president of National Bank Insurance in 2015.
Blackburn moved to Desjardins Financial Group as vice­president of sales perform­ ance and management in 2018, but spent only two years there. He says it wasn’t the right fit: “Desjardins is a great organiza­ tion, but the problem was me. I’m not the kind of manager to work in a co­op world.”
Blackburn, having found his fit with FHG, says the firm shares his management philosophy and enthusiasm for the independent advisor space — despite being owned by Canada Life Assurance Co., a large corporation.
“Financial Horizons Group remains independent of Canada Life. Canada Life’s ownership means FHG has access to resour­ ces that we can use to support our independent advisors,” says Blackburn. “The independent answer is really important for me and it’s really important for Financial Horizons.”
When Blackburn isn’t at the office, he enjoys fine dining and a good glass of wine — something he hasn’t been able to do much of outside of his home in recent weeks in light of the Covid­19 pandemic. But he doesn’t eat alone: he has the company of his family, which includes six chil­ dren — four his own and two stepchildren ranging in age from seven to 31 — and his fiancée. IE

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