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Streetwise Meet Canada’s youngest female chief economist, Manulife’s Frances Donald

Frances Donald, Manulife Asset Management's newest chief economist.

Manulife Asset Management’s Frances Donald has a new title: chief economist.

At 33 years old, that makes her the youngest woman to become a chief economist in Canada, Ms. Donald said in an interview. She will also retain her current title as the global asset manager’s head of macroeconomic strategy.

Being a young mother and a millennial gives Ms. Donald a unique lens through which to view a world where demographics, central bank frameworks and trade tensions are changing rapidly.

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“The world we live in today is very different from the world of 20 to 30 years ago, and while existing perspectives are helping us navigate that, I think a fresh view also helps us come at it from a different perspective," she observed.

Ms. Donald views economics not only through the lens of models, numbers and markets, but also through her own personal experiences.

“When inflation tells me that costs of living are muted, I turn to my own child-care bill. When central banks tell us that housing is under control, I look at my own inability to purchase a home,” said Ms. Donald, who rents the top two floors of a semi-detached home in the Beaches, a neighbourhood in Toronto’s east end.

“The truth is that all economists do this – we all come to the table with biases ... my hope is that we can all come to the table with different biases.”

The Montreal native never expected to become an economist – she had planned to be a professional violinist, she previously told The Globe and Mail. Math was Ms. Donald’s worst subject in school, but reading Freakonomics inspired her to major in economics at Queen’s University. The program allowed her to learn not only about the economy but also about political science, geography, psychology, behaviour and history.

Ms. Donald started her career in economics as a research assistant at the Bank of Canada during the financial crisis. After working at the central bank from May, 2008, to July, 2009, she earned a master’s degree from New York University.

In 2012, Ms. Donald returned to Canada to take a job with Montreal-based trading firm Pavilion Global Markets. Two years later, she landed a job as a financial economist with Scotiabank, then moved to Manulife in 2016. In September, 2017, she and her husband, Montreal-born visual artist Eric Clement, had a son.

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Ms. Donald lists Toronto-Dominion Bank’s chief economist Beata Caranci, the Bank of Canada’s senior deputy governor Carolyn Wilkins and prominent economist Sherry Cooper among her role models.

“It’s really difficult to envision yourself in these types of roles if you’ve never seen anybody do it before,” she said.

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