Cara Benvenuti, MBA 04, may not refer to herself as a trailblazer, but with a track record full of firsts, the senior advisor at National Bank Independent Network (NBIN) surely deserves the title.
The native of Barrie, Ontario was the first in her family to attend university — Benvenuti graduated from McGill in 2000 with a BA in economics and computer science — and was part of a historic inaugural class at the John Molson School of Business when she graduated from the Goodman Institute of Investment Management in 2004.
“When I was at McGill, I took a part-time job with RBC Dominion Securities,” says Benvenuti. “I didn’t necessarily know that I wanted to do an MBA at the time. My original goal was law school.”
‘You might notice something different about me’
After Benvenuti accepted a full-time sales role with TD Mutual Funds, however, the lure of the investment world got the best of her.
When her boyfriend and now husband, Tyler Millson Taylor, BComm 01, MBA 08, told her about an innovative new program at Concordia with a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) track, she jumped at the opportunity.
With her CFA Level I successfully completed, Benvenuti started the three-year Goodman program in 2001 and discovered she was destined for another first.
“As the first woman to graduate from the program, I don’t think I was aware of the significance at the time,” says Benvenuti. “It wasn’t material to me. I’m very proud in hindsight but the fact that it’s considered remarkable probably says more about where our industry is and how much further it has to go.”
At the grad ceremony for the first Goodman class, Benvenuti wryly alluded to the accomplishment.
“We all made speeches and I said, ‘You might notice something different about me compared to my fellow graduates. I’m wearing pink shoes. And that is it.’”
One aspect of the Goodman program that Benvenuti appreciated was that, broadly, professors were practitioners with a keen sense of how to prepare students for careers in finance.
“The Goodman program made a big difference in my success,” she remarks. “It provided structure and discipline. The program is not just a CFA prep course — it is so much more than that.”
‘My role is everything around strategy’
Armed with her MBA and CFA designation, Benvenuti’s career took off.
She became a manager for TD Waterhouse’s national sales department in 2009 and played a critical role when National Bank acquired the brokerage’s institutional services business four years later. The transaction comprised $35 billion of assets under administration and 130,000 end-clients — a blockbuster.
“Because of my experience and because of, frankly, the Goodman program, I was able to work on the acquisition,” says Benvenuti. “We definitely had a mergers and acquisitions team, but there was a lot of change management to address. Communication, client retention, I was involved with that kind of thing. It was the largest asset conversion in Canada at the time. It was pretty exciting and a lot of long hours.”
As a senior advisor for the division of National Bank that provides back-office and strategic support for independent money managers, investment advisors and wealth managers, Benvenuti still puts in long hours.
“My role is everything around strategy for our sales and relationship management team. I’m also working on — and this is the most visible thing for our clients lately — business succession planning.”
The idea of succession also comes into play when Benvenuti talks to classrooms of adolescents through a volunteer initiative with the Canadian Bankers Association.
As a dedicated professional and a parent, she thinks a lot about the future of her industry. Benvenuti’s son is in the fourth grade and her daughter, who attended her father’s convocation as a baby (Taylor entered the Goodman program after Benvenuti), just entered high school.
“I think we really need to engage girls earlier,” she says. “I also think we need to create a greater understanding of the many careers a finance degree affords.
“I love talking to high-school kids. They’re so engaged. They want to know if it’s like The Wolf of Wall Street. They want to know what the day-to-day is like. But mostly I’m trying to talk about basic stuff that doesn’t always get taught. Is your Facebook password the same as your banking password? Have you thought about saving? Or how much that daily Starbucks costs you? These are the things I try to get through to them.”
The Goodman Institute of Investment Management was established at the John Molson School of Business in 1999, thanks to a $1.95-million gift from Ned Goodman, LLD 97. Offered in both Montreal and Toronto, the MBA program was the first in the world to completely integrate the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Body of Knowledge™ into its curriculum.