Melissa Kennedy of Sun Life Financial is part of this year's Wealth Professional Canada's Host List.

Sun Life Financial

Melissa Kennedy is no stranger to awards. The Sun Life EVP recently received a distinguished alumnus award from the University of Toronto for her public service work and commitment to the community. She also won the Women of Influence Canadian Diversity Champion Award in 2012; equality in the workplace is something she takes very seriously. The financial services industry is not the most enlightened when it comes to equal representation, especially in executive positions, but that is slowly changing. “I think progress is being made, but like most industries, more can be done,” Kennedy says. “There has been a lot of debate in Canada about the idea of gender quotas on boards. Sun Life has made a target of one-third of its board being women – I think companies in general are stepping up.”

When it comes to huge companies like Sun Life, environmental, social and governance factors are becoming increasingly important. As a publicly traded company, Sun Life’s senior management needs to ensure that operations are running to a standard that will satisfy current and potential shareholders. “I’m the executive sponsor of our sustainability program, and our platform is actually quite unique,” Kennedy says. “We have the usual ESG, but we have a fourth pillar in our sustainability platform that includes ‘organizational resilience.’ Within that organizational resilience pillar are our diversity commitments at Sun Life.”

Part of Kennedy’s remit at Sun Life is heading the company’s compliance department. It’s a considerable responsibility – Sun Life is a global enterprise with three major lines of business encompassing insurance, wealth and asset management. Given the fact that regulators have been busy reshaping these industries, overseeing compliance is a monumental task. “What I appreciate about Sun Life since I joined three years ago is the commitment to compliance,” Kennedy says. “The compliance function is really important, so there is regular board reporting and accountability. We are in seven countries in Asia: China, India, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam. There are different legal regimes in those countries; many have common law, but some do not. It is always a challenge.”