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Desjardins Group chief economist Jimmy Jean outside the banking co-operative's offices in Montreal, Quebec, on May 5, 2021.Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

Desjardins Group , Quebec’s biggest financial institution, has named Jimmy Jean its chief economist and strategist – tapping a young but seasoned forecaster as one of its most public faces as it seeks to expand in the rest of Canada.

Mr. Jean takes over this week from François Dupuis, who is retiring after a 33-year career with Desjardins, the banking co-operative said in a statement Wednesday. Mr. Dupuis is perhaps best known for analysis work that eventually led to Canada’s decision to remove the penny from circulation in 2012.

Mr. Jean is believed to be the only person of colour currently holding the top economist post at a major Canadian banking group or insurer. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, however, he’s quick to point out other trailblazing Black counterparts such as Millan Mulraine, chief economist at Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and other Black executives in senior finance roles, such as Earl Davis, head of fixed income and money markets at BMO Global Asset Management.

“It’s a space that has been, of course, dominated by white males over the years,” Mr. Jean said. “So to be able to represent that kind of progress, alongside my company that’s giving me that trust … I’m really happy from that perspective.”

Mr. Jean, who is 44 and a father to two young girls, takes over the 17-member economics team at a pivotal time for Desjardins and its clients. The COVID-19 pandemic has crushed major sectors of the global economy and thrown into question how policy-makers and companies should respond, increasing demand for the kind of analyses economists can deliver. At the same time, Desjardins is pushing on with a strategy to expand outside its home province.

The group is the largest financial co-operative in North America, with assets of $362-billion and roughly 49,000 employees as of the end of last year. A number of its subsidiaries and components are active across Canada and chief executive Guy Cormier has set a new four-year strategy that includes plans to grow its current footprint.

Mr. Jean, who is 44 and a father to two young girls, takes over the 17-member economics team at a pivotal time for Desjardins and its clients.Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

Like thousands of others fleeing its authoritative regime, Mr. Jean’s parents immigrated to Canada from Haiti in the 1970s and settled in Montreal. His father is a high-school teacher. His mother is a nurse. He attended Montreal’s HEC business school, earning two degrees before joining Statistics Canada. He then went to work for Royal Bank of Canada , Moody’s in New York and later returned to Canada to join Desjardins.

At Desjardins, Mr. Jean rose to become a senior economist and macroeconomic strategist, and has solid expertise in the analysis of monetary policy and fixed income markets, according to his employer. Much of his work has been on the capital markets side, which he says gave him the opportunity to travel across Canada in recent years. He is regularly quoted in business publications from Bloomberg to The Wall Street Journal.

“In the future, we want Desjardins to be more active outside Quebec,” Mr. Jean said, adding he brings social visibility and skills in both English and French that can serve the co-operative in that respect. “The fact of being bilingual I think is something that moves us in a different direction. And given where we are, at the [corporate] level, and where we want to go, I think it brings a very fresh perspective.”

Mr. Jean recalls that when he was in business school, there were many students who were part of visible minority communities, including immigrants from Northern Africa in particular. For years, however, that diversity didn’t seem to carry on to the labour market, he said. He’s optimistic that’s now changing. “I think we are seeing progress,” he said.

Craig Wright, chief economist at RBC, worked with Mr. Jean for a brief period. He said his counterpart brings a “diversity of thought” to the top economist role in addition to a diversity of experience, which will be key to making sense of the COVID-19 crisis. “We’re busier than we’ve ever been” as economists, Mr. Wright said. “We’re into a pretty dramatic economic shock.”

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