Rob Bancroft interviews Ross Allan about being disruptive, working with women and social responsibility.

Ross Allan “ Leadership and Vision”

Ross Allan is well regarded as one of Canada’s top life insurance advisers with 30 years of experience in financial services. Allan Financial’s focus is exclusively on life insurance products. Ross’s personal dedication, sense of humour and financial expertise are the backbone of his company. As an insurance expert he holds close relationships with Canada’s top insurance companies, though client advocacy and customization are at the core of his business. Ross’s innovative approach uses life insurance as a versatile financial tool. He has had a successful career of crafting financial solutions to meet unique the circumstances of his clients and their families.

How did you come to sell life insurance? 30 years is a long time… 

No one else would give me a job! I was a Phys-Ed major in 1984. It was a tough economy, and insurance companies recruited from our faculty.Back in the day if you had a degree and you didn’t get into the health and wellness industry, you landed in life insurance! They wanted Phys-Ed people because they’re team players, highly social and competitive. It was supposed to be a temporary thing….

But I’m still here … I’ve got an amazing team, hundreds of clients and colleagues. I’m grateful that I specialized in this industry…there is still lots of opportunity.

Your company recently launched the Allan Financial/Kiva project – an unlikely microfinance campaign. It’s got some people asking why? And why now?
What are your thoughts on CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility ) ?

A lot of my thoughts on CSR come from listening to my daughters. CSR probably wouldn’t have naturally come to me. I don’t think I would have sought it out. But what caught my attention was the need to change.

I’m in a really old school business, and I see myself as an innovator in this field. There’s a hands on, roll up your sleeves value system that says if a person is going to make a change and do something meaningful, they should do it where they spend their time.

I’m attached to the idea that we can be “difference makers” in a marketplace where my company can be the initiator. My heart’s in business so social responsibility needs to be expressed through this medium in order to mean something to me.

Why did you choose a micro-finance project like Kiva ?
Wouldn’t writing a charity check have been more simple? 

Bottom line… I trusted Danielle and PJ with that. That said, I’ve come to see how my company and Kiva as an organization are aligned. Our business is about relationships, and lending with Kiva established meaningful business relationships that make sense to business people.

It’s very meaningful now that we are all into it…my team and I, as well as our clients. We have built a community around this company. This is just another context to work out the “fun financial” schtick.

We have staff competing on internal house teams to bring in the most Kiva loans. They are chatting up clients, they are alive with it in the office. Clients are learning and talking about more than applications.

And…. I have a feeling we are going to have a pretty memorable party to wrap this project up if I know my team.

A “shared value” business approach is something you champion… how is Kiva the similar? 

We’re already diverting corporate revenue for the benefit of the greater collective good – it’s beneficial to customers in terms of their financial world. They’re enjoying their life – and more security from their insurance – thanks to that approach. If I can create a financial product that performs better than the marketplace, then I’m doing my job and it feels good.

I want to arc that over to Kiva and extend that concept into a shared value, cooperative arrangement with business owners in developing countries. I know what it’s like to be under capitalized – every business owner has been there. Trying to scale a business in North America is difficult. These loan recipients are experiencing the same stress, and I don’t have to lend them a million dollars to help. If I can carve out a portion of my financial world to help them, then why wouldn’t I?

You have unique, young, women centered work culture that seems to have a great time ! You get teased about that a whole lot. 

Yes – I know, I get called out on that all the time!

The millennial staff are the future of our business. We sell a product that “Millenials” are going to need, and that the older generation won’t need. The product that we offer meets the objectives of the millennial marketplace. A lot of people are catering to retirees, but I like the pace of running with young people and families with complicated situations.

If we’re going to market to Millenials, I had better hire some!. If we’re going to market to women, then I would be well advised to hire women.

It’s true…I happen to find myself with a staff contingent of young women and women with young children. They can handle the change and complexity around here. I see their expertise and my business is growing because of that.

You’ve put a lot of resources into your “digital presence” unlike other insurance advisers. Why is that? 

Building an online and offline community is very important. Trust is everything. I have a team that really understand that.

Besides, Gen Y is all about the web and retirees are coming on to social media now too. It’s an inter-generational game. You have to be there. You know it’s funny… these days I can get clients messaging on Facebook that won’t pick up the phone. The Allan Financial/Kiva Project is another online project that’s driven by the desire to connect to our clients about real life. Most clients expect companies to be web oriented. They also want you to contribute to change. It’s a given for the Melennials coming up.

My staff brought it to me and said ‘this needs attention,’ so I listened. We’re participating in a conversation that my target market wants to talk about.

How will the Allan Financial/ Kiva project affect your “Enjoy Your Life” brand? 

We’re about looking beyond conventional products and financial planning and being a bit disruptive. We’re mixing it up. We live on the West Coast and there’s a natural lifestyle draw, but as they say, “money is for something”.

We’re giving clients a portal to a world different than their own. I want Allan Financial to be associated with that kind of innovation – the kind that makes clients see new opportunities, and that starts to change what it means to “Enjoy Life”.

Finally – Which in house team will win the race to bring in the most KIVA loans from your clients? 

As if there’s any question….. my team, filled with Allans: Jambo Squad! Asian Sensation, Team Latina, Dynamic Duo don’t stand a chance! But then what do I know…I’m just a Phys Ed grad.