Grant Thornton Limited
Victoria, British Columbia
Like many of her colleagues, Michelle Laberge stumbled into the insolvency industry. Now a seasoned Insolvency Administrator, she’s happy she found this unique industry.
Her unconventional start began with an interest in law and a passion for helping people. Michelle’s original goal had been to become a youth probation officer, and she completed a diploma of Criminal Justice at Camosun College. While figuring out next steps, she took an administrative job at a local insolvency firm where a friend worked.
The role included helping the accounting partners prepare and file tax returns and financial statements. It also covered reception, where Michelle would help on the insolvency side – collecting intake forms or payments and entering proof of claims.
Two years later, the local firm merged with Grant Thornton, one of Canada’s largest bankruptcy, insolvency and restructuring service firms. The accounting and insolvency lines of business were separate, and Michelle had to choose one. She chose insolvency.
“The court aspect of insolvency fit my legal interests,” she says. “I had also seen what happened from someone’s initial meeting all the way through to other side, and the life-changing effect that could have on people. I wanted to be part of that.”
Michelle began taking courses, collecting her Insolvency Administration certificate in May 2017 and her Insolvency Counsellor’s certificate in April 2018. Along the way, she progressed through initial meetings with debtors to go over their options, through counselling and helping debtors navigate the process.
Now a senior member of the insolvency counselling team, Michelle spends most of her day in counselling sessions. Every session is tailored to the client, aimed at finding the tools that best fit the individual situation. One session might be with someone with a family of four, another with a retired couple, another with someone just starting a career.
“We deal with people from all walks of life,” she adds. “It’s not just people with a shopping addiction they fund with credit cards. Anybody could find themselves needing help, if they suddenly lose their job or a spouse who was the breadwinner.”
She adds, “There are myths around insolvency, and some people feel that ‘bankruptcy’ is a dirty word. But we look on it as a bump in the road. We treat everyone with dignity and respect, and let them know that these unplanned life circumstances are why Canada has a process in place that offers a financial fresh start.”
Counselling focuses on financial support and credit rebuilding, including budgeting, setting up financial goals, the use of credit, the role of emergency funds and managing spending. Reducing grocery bills is a big issue, especially with the current state of the economy. Michelle and the other counsellors encourage clients to make simple changes for the better, including using apps for coupons and flyers, making a meal plan or using shopping lists.
Michelle loves being able to make such a difference that her clients say she’s changed their lives.