Brothers Tom and Ben Hawley have put everything into making sure that their one-year-old business keeps growing. They tell Lucy Dean about Azura Financial’s first year and their future plans for growth.
Tom Hawley’s advice for brokers launching a new business is simple: don’t buy a glass-topped meeting table. It looks pretty good at first, but after business meetings, the table is usually covered in fingerprints and hand marks. It’s just not pretty, and there’s also something disconcerting about a table that is entirely transparent.
“I was trying to figure out why we got it so cheap,” Tom Hawley said absentmindedly.
However, since Azura Financial launched in October 2016, the brothers and founders Tom and Ben Hawley said that the table is just about the only thing that hasn’t worked well as it should.
Azura Financial began when the two brokers struck out on their own after bidding farewell to North Sydney-based brokerage Shore Financial. After crowdsourcing their name and logo, signing up with a new aggregator, and moving into a new office closer to home, the Hawleys were off.
Their days start early. They’re in the office by 8am and rarely out by 7:30pm, so a café-quality start to the day is a must. As such, they’ve sourced their own Sunbeam Egg Boiler.
“We have boiled eggs, eggs on toast, avocado and smoked salmon and stuff like that so we have a great breakfast in the morning and then we essentially just get into the day,” Tom, the younger of the two, explained.
“We don’t have an office manager or anything like that, so Ben and I keep an eye on everything going on in the office and make sure everything is operating well.”
It’s all still fairly new, but running Azura Financial has been a reasonably straightforward process, the brothers said.
People respect you when you take risks, Ben suggested, and the opportunity to stop and recalibrate what they wanted out of their careers was one they received with open arms.
Launching Azura Financial, Ben said, was a good chance to reset. “We’ve got much different processes in place now than we had before, just in terms of generating business, updating — a whole new set of processes.”
Tom added: “I think the first thing we did was to get accounting advice around what was the most flexible business structure . . . and we got the aggregator, we got the member agreements sorted out.
“We haven't been prospecting as much as we will, just because we've been putting a bit of effort into getting it [the business] set up.
“One of the things that we really wanted to do this time around was to get things right. We wanted to get the broking agreement right, get the office right, get the brand right and try to make sure that [we don’t] try and walk before we can run.”
He revealed: “I just feel like a lot of the mistakes I have made personally, or previously, [have been] because I didn't put enough effort into my decision making. I've made decisions too quickly.”
The brothers have a history in lending and funds management; both have spent time with Shore Financial and Ben had also worked at St George. Luckily for them, their backgrounds meant that getting business wasn’t a problem.
Because they were already brokers, Tom explained, they had the relevant network and qualifications to begin with; but what they really wanted was to own their own book and reduce the red tape that can come with working in larger companies.
Almost a year after launching, they’re looking to expand their team to eight or 10 high-performing brokers. While they’re not willing to take just “anyone that comes in the door”, they do want any new additions to stick around. By providing incentives, like higher commission splits, they hope brokers will find the value proposition of working in their boutique brokerage attractive.
“We're very focused on getting the right people we want in the office . . . so it brings up the collective and doesn't disturb the culture that we want to develop,” Ben said.
He added: “We’re recognising a lot more that the broker is the brand and the broker has the relationship with the clients and the business sources (unless you are a brokerage that has a lead source and you're providing all the leads). [Because] the broker is the brand and they're sourcing their own business, we're here more for branding, IT support, office support, etc. We're empowering them to do what they do, but also not losing sight that they are the one sourcing the business and doing it all.”
That system is what they’ve been working towards, the brothers said. The first year of business has been about laying the fundamentals and getting themselves into a position where they have the ability to hire new staff. They also want to diversify into commercial and a higher volume of more complex lending, but it’s still early days; 95 per cent of their book is residential and finding the time to pursue the transition is difficult. However, it’s on their list for the medium term, and they hope their qualifications will aid them in the transition. (Tom has a bachelor’s degree in economics while Ben has a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics; both have a master’s degree in business.)
As Tom said, “The broking landscape has gotten a lot more complex since July 2015, and that has actually played into our hands very well because we're a lot more financially trained than other brokers, and we can give a bit more complex advice, or we can understand their financial needs a bit deeper.”
He continued: “I think if you're a broker who just likes dealing with someone who's a PAYG client who just needs a loan, I think your job is going to become obsolete extremely quickly, because the advice is very basic. . . . We really need to transition into this space where [brokers are] looking after self-employed people that have complex structures or people with multiple properties and they need advice around what payment structures they're looking for, long-term investment strategies.
“But the more complex you go . . . the harder the advice is, and the more you're going to protect yourself from [being replaced by] technology.”
Technology in broking shouldn’t be a scary rival, Ben added. But, he warned, brokers will need to adapt as advancements remove some of the work traditionally done by brokers. “[But], I don't think you can ever discount people wanting that personal relationship, someone on the other end to talk them through things and guide them.”
That interaction is what’s going to get them over the line, Tom said: “We work long hours, we get back to people really quickly and that’s easy for people to recognise.
“We don't have huge books at the moment like a lot of brokers out there, so we definitely try to go above and beyond to give people as good a service as possible.”