Adherence to high ethical standards crucial, says former Sun Life CEO

Donald Stewart speaking

Adherence to high ethical standards is crucial, Donald Stewart, former chief executive officer of Sun Life Financial Inc., told graduating students of the Kellogg-Schulich Executive MBA program.

Stewart, who led a distinguished career for more than 30 years at Sun Life Financial, received an honorary doctor of laws degree from York during Friday’s Schulich School of Business fall convocation ceremony.

“A career in financial services positions you in the country’s economic engine room,” he said. But with that Donald Stewart speakingcomes responsibility. Money has both positive and negative connotations, but it is fundamental to the functioning of modern society.

Donald Stewart

In light of the global financial crisis, it is “clear that everybody in the financial services industry has to adopt a more holistic perspective of the role of money in society,” said Stewart, who outlined some of the changes the crisis has brought and the need for education. A staunch supporter of education – “I come from a country (Scotland) that has a great respect for education” – Steward said countries need to nurture their educational resources now more than ever.

“The provision of personal financial services is in the throes of change in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Governments are less able to fund individual financial security,” he said. “Employers have retreated from sponsoring pension and benefits programs. Financial institutions offer reduced guarantees as they adjust to greater economic risk and uncertainty.”

Add to that the ongoing accumulations of regulations, which increase the complexities.

“These four forces combine to place ever expanding financial responsibility on the shoulders of individual From left, York Chancellor Roy McMurtry, Donald Stewart and York Vice-President Academic & Provost Patrick MonahanCanadians making education in general and financial education in particular, an ever growing imperative,” he said.

From left, York Chancellor Roy McMurtry, Donald Stewart and York Vice-President Academic & Provost Patrick Monahan

In addition, the financial crisis has demonstrated that existing models, philosophies, behaviors and traditions are in need of overhaul. “There’s plenty of scope for intellectual contribution,” he said.

Positions in the global industry of financial services, Stewart told graduands, offers diversity, challenge, change and human connection.

York University’s convocation ceremonies are streamed live and then archived online. To view Stewart’s convocation address, visit the Convocation website.