CIA Board of Directors: Behind the scenes

This article originally appeared in the CIA (e)Bulletin.

We all know the overarching responsibility of the CIA Board is to oversee the strategic direction and governance of the CIA, working with councils and Head Office to help carry out the CIA’s vision of financial security for Canadians. But what does this look like for its Board members?

We enlisted the help of two CIA Directors of the Board, Hélène Baril (FCIA), Director at Willis Towers Watson, and Claire Bilodeau (ACIA), Associate Professor at Université Laval, as well as CIA Past President John Dark (FCIA), to help shed some light on what goes on behind the scenes.

First day on the job

The CIA Board is comprised of highly skilled professionals who make the job look easy. But taking on the role of Director is not so simple. Twenty-five-year volunteer veteran Hélène says, “It took me almost a year to be comfortable on the Board.” Delving in, she dedicated her time to becoming familiar with the current files, existing challenges, and the day-to-day functions of the Board.

There’s a lot to learn, from getting a handle on acronyms and bylaws to understanding processes of procedure, and – most importantly – remembering everyone’s names!

An orientation session is held annually in September to help new Directors get up to speed on activities and review how quarterly Board meetings are run. New members are encouraged to get involved with councils and task forces as quickly as possible – an opportunity that provides insight to the inner workings of the CIA.
The simple fact is, like the profession, Board membership requires a constant commitment and curiosity for learning. Claire explains, “I quickly felt comfortable, mainly because I have training in governance and some previous board experience, but even then, I do not pretend to have fully mastered my role and I am still learning about the CIA!”

The CIA Board is not a stagnant body. It is a constantly moving entity, which – while committed to its long-term strategic goals – is evolving and reacting to the changing trends around it, requiring that Board members do the same.

Getting to know your colleagues

Presently standing at 15 members (12 Directors, Past President, President, and President-Elect) and six ex officio participants (council chairs and Executive Director), the CIA Board makes for an interesting dynamic of personalities, perspectives and process. 

A large part of the Board’s work is grounded in sound decision-making; a process made complex with the sometimes differing viewpoints at the table. Consensus-building, for this reason, is crucial for the sustained equilibrium of the Board. Hélène walks us through it: “We always have a lot on the Board meeting agenda. When certain topics take too long to discuss or if consensus cannot be reached, in some cases a designated group of Board members is identified to work on the issue in order to make a recommendation to the entire Board during the meeting. We also sometimes hold special meetings to discuss a more urgent matter.” 

From John’s perspective, managing disagreement or conflict among the group becomes even more nuanced. “How many volumes would you like me to provide?” he jokes, before sharing, “All our directors are quite committed to the Board task and of course they have a wide variety of views, but through discussion we are always able to work things out.”

The day-to-day

Board meetings require quiet preparation: reading materials (sometimes as much as 400 pages), taking notes, providing feedback, and for those adventurous enough to serve on a sub-group or task force, additional preparatory resources.

Processes at the top can be laden, but the work is important and the impact is real.

It is not the daily routine that draws criticism from Board members. “I don’t like it when meetings are unstructured and endless debates get nowhere,” Hélène offers. Despite this, she acknowledges the Board’s collective efforts to streamline procedures, a challenge she says is already being addressed, “The Board is working to improve its efficiency by holding more structured meetings and reviewing its way of doing things.”

The takeaway: even disagreement leads to progress, and when channeled effectively it can be a catalyst for positive change. The goal is always to ensure serving on the Board is an opportunity that enriches its members personally and professionally.

More than a role

“It’s not just about being a Director, but more importantly about being a Director of the CIA,” reflects Claire on her service on the Board.

Serving on the CIA Board is a symbol of achievement and community involvement. A chance to grow professionally, while contributing meaningfully to matters of education and governance. On the part of its members, it requires fortitude, flexibility, and a willingness to keep learning.

Are you up to the challenge? Find out more (login required) about this year’s election and how you can run for a position on the CIA Board.

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