Broker and managing director of Home Loan Connexion Tracy Kearey joins The Adviser team to relive her 20-year journey in the broking industry, to share what she does differently and to explain why she’s going above and beyond for her staff.
The Principal of the Year for the inaugural Women in Finance Awards reveals the secrets to her success, what keeps her motivated and how an anxiety attack led her to launch a new mental wellbeing programme.
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Speaker 1: Welcome to the Elite Broker podcast. This is your host, Annie Kane.
Annie Kane: Hello, everybody, and welcome back to the Adviser's Elite Broker podcast hosted by myself and James Mitchell, Managing Editor of Mortgages. In this week's episode we're talking to Tracy Kearey, Managing Director of Home Loan Connexion, and the recent winner of Principal of the Year at the Women in Finance Awards. Today we're gonna hear all about how it feels to have won the award and what she's been doing to go above and beyond for her staff.
But first, as always, let's hear a little bit about how she got into broking in the first place. So, Tracy, you first got into the industry about 20 years ago, is that right?
Tracy Kearey: Yes, correct. Seems like a long time ago now. How time flies. Yeah, I did. A friend of mine offered me an opportunity to work at Aussie Home Loans. So I was, at the time, a single parent with a very young child and a mortgage, and needed a career change. So I took the opportunity and here we are 19 years later. So a lot's gone on in between there.
Annie Kane: What was it like broking 20 years ago? Like in the 90's?
Tracy Kearey: Yes, it was very different. So when I started I was the first female in the environment at Aussie, so the only broker at the time, and it wasn't broking then. We just sold the Aussie product. So we represented Aussie, we were branded Aussie, and that's how we presented ourselves. So we worked with one product, which was probably good when I think about it because I was brand new to industry back then. So started in the industry there. The introduction that I had, he decided it wasn't for him, so I ended up staying and becoming a PA that wrote loans for Ian Kane who was one of the number one writers for Aussie at the time. And as time went along, him and Mark Harris set up Home Loan Connexion and I basically just went with them as a broker under the brand. And 16 years later I bought out one of the founding directors Mark Harris and nearly four years in ... I bought him out nearly four years ago.
James Mitchell: I just wanted to, I guess, to take it back to the 90's when you were working for Aussie, because I guess some young brokers or some people new to industry, say, coming in today might not realise the history of mortgage broking in Australia where groups like Aussie and Wizard, before it was acquired by Aussie later on, were actually a sort of mono-line business. They were a mortgage management model. Like you said, selling the Aussie product, and that was, I guess, an alternative to the banks, and obviously it's grown and become this bigger choice of lenders now. I mean, how did you find that transition from going to that mortgage management type model to more of a broking model where you're offering more products to your customers?
Tracy Kearey: Definitely for me, very daunting. As I said, no previous industry experience, so only knowing the Aussie product. And you're right, James, at the time Aussie was the first one that came out, and John Symond was big on, "We'll beat the banks." He wanted to make a difference, because it was very monopolised back then. There was only really the four majors and a few smaller lenders. So at the time there it was great competition and I always used to think, "Wow, I've got one product," and I could go and speak to people. And it was a mobile service so you were getting in front of people. So it was, I guess, trailblazing way back then in terms of people borrowing money. So then coming from just one product and really being able to sell that and knock out any competition, and then all of a sudden I've got access to all of these lenders was quite daunting. It was challenging, but it was also exciting. It was a big change in our industry. So it came with a lot of challenges, but it came with a lot of excitement and a lot of education.
James Mitchell: Do you remember what the standard variable rate was, roughly, when you first started?
Tracy Kearey: The rate? I'm going to say it was in the sixes. I think it was around the 6.7. Somewhere around that mark. And over the years, it is interesting that you ask that, because during GFC it went up to nines and tens, but then now we've got the lowest rates in history. So when people talk to me about interest rates, we're lower than where we started when I obviously started 19 years ago, the previous 13 and 17% rates. So if you could get a mortgage with a three in it now, I think money's cheap.
Annie Kane: You're doing pretty well. And in terms of actually ... You said at the beginning there that you actually started off broking with your own mortgage. Did you use a broker when you first got your property?
Tracy Kearey: No. I went to Netway bank, which was then bought out by Suncorp Netway. So I had a property, went to Netway, sat with the branch manager. I knew nothing about buying a property. Can I tell you? I was very naïve. And my partner at the time, he'd had a property that went to 17%. So he bought back in the late 80's, early 90's. So he was very big on fixing. So we fixed at 13.1%. My first mortgage was fixed for three years at 13.1%.
Annie Kane: Wow.
Tracy Kearey: Yeah, so now I'm very much on for myself variable. I always think, "Let's hedge our bets," I guess, and, "Let's take a bit of a" ... I'm a bit of a risk-taker in terms of that. For myself, anyway.
Annie Kane: Not for your customers, hopefully.
Tracy Kearey: No, not for my customers. Not at all. I'm still here after 19 years, so not at all. But for myself, I think, "Yeah, let's have it. Let's roll the dice here."
Annie Kane: Yeah. We've just established your background, mainly focusing on residential, and we've spoken previously to Mhairi MacLeod of Astute Ability. And you guys have formed a partnership now. Can you just talk us a little bit into how that come about and what your role is in that partnership?
Tracy Kearey: Sure. So, look, Mhairi and I, as you know, sit on the panel together, which was a great opportunity given to us by MSAA, and we realised after sitting on the panel after 12 months and catching up occasionally and lots of communication that we had a lot of synergies in terms of the way we run our business, the style of broker that we are, and the service we offer our clients. And our brokers are predominantly resi. Some of them do step into the commercial and business. We were missing out on that equipment piece, and so I thought, rather than us trying to reinvent the wheel, why not work with somebody that already has the skills, 19 years experience, understands the plight of a broker and the client. So it's all about trusting the service, all about making sure that the client is looked after, and we felt like that if we couldn't offer the right service, we may lose a client and their home lending and all of it goes with that. So why not use an expert that can purely manage for the equipment, the car, anything that's not bricks and mortar?
And we've been doing that now, it was formal in January this year, formalised, and we've had some really good success with it. Our clients love it. Our brokers love it. And so everyone wins and the client experience, we're getting really good feedback on. They're really pleased with the results, the customer service, and the timeframes that they can get into their cars. Because when someone wants a car they pretty much want it today.
Annie Kane: Most brokers will have, if they don't offer asset finance or equipment finance or offer a partnership like that. But you've gone in a slightly different route in actually setting up a new name under it. So it's Astute Connection. What was the decision for that rather than just doing a standard referral?
Tracy Kearey: I guess because we just felt like it needed its own entity and we wanted our brokers to be comfortable to know that there is some investment in it in terms of us, in terms of we've got some ownership around the client. And if it sits under Astute Connection it's a good marketing tool. So we're using that really as a marketing platform. It's also open to any broker in the market, and they need to feel comfortable that we're not after the home loan, we're not after any lending. It's purely to make sure your client gets the asset that they're looking for, whether it be a car, equipment, whatever that finance is, and know that the client's protected for the home lending. And in some cases, Murray's team have had clients that have contacted them for a piece of equipment and come back with a home loan back to our broker. So it really is to really identify that it is a separate entity.
Annie Kane: And assuring brokers, almost, that you're protecting their clients.
Tracy Kearey: Correct. And we obviously let our clients know, when I speak to clients, that it's a partnership or collaboration and we've got experienced people that manage this day in, day out. So they know what they're doing.
Annie Kane: And in terms of actually that piece of thinking outside the box and delivering something slightly different. Obviously, this year, as I said in the beginning, you've won the award for Principal of the Year at the Women of Finance award. So congratulations for that.
Tracy Kearey: Thank you.
Annie Kane: How did that feel and what have you been doing to set yourself apart?
Tracy Kearey: It's very overwhelming. I'm really still trying to get used to it. I feel very flattered and honoured that I took out that award. It was totally unexpected. And, I guess, we do work hard. Everybody in this industry knows how much we put in. The nights and the days and the weekends that we work. And we have a great time. I'm not saying that also. But there is a lot of time and energy that goes into our businesses, and being in the financial industry as a broker, I think we all should be proud of that what we offer our clients, the service and the professionalism. So to take out that award and the inaugural award with a lot of esteemed women, I do feel very honoured and proud, and I guess it's what I do every day, so to win an award for something that I'm still so passionate about this industry and I enjoy every day, there are moments in it where I struggle, which I guess we all have those stresses. But I just think it's such a privilege, so I am completely honoured to have won.
Annie Kane: Great. And for those of you who actually didn't attend the awards, which had about 850 people there. It was a lot of people. Tracy actually danced up to the stage to get her award.
James Mitchell: Awesome. There you go.
Annie Kane: She was obviously happy at the time.
Tracy Kearey: Well, as I said to you, Annie, I was sitting at the table and one of the guys said to me, "I think you've got this." And me being me I don't think so. And he said, "Well if you do, can you dance up to the stage?" "Of course I can," thinking not gonna happen. Next thing, my name gets called out and he looks straight at me. I went, "Okay." So as I said when I got up there, I'm true to my word. If I say I'm gonna do something I have to do it. So apologies for those that had to witness it, but in the moment it was fun.
Annie Kane: It was fun.
James Mitchell: One thing I just wanted to ask you Tracy is about, I guess, your journey over the last 20 years. I'm guessing there'd be quite a few people who you started with at Aussie who are no longer in the industry anymore. They moved on to other things or they fell by the wayside.
Annie Kane: Or retired.
James Mitchell: Or they just simply, yeah, retired. In terms of your persistence and your tenacity and resilience by keeping going in this industry - and obviously with the success that you've had to date - what really drives that and have there been people or one particular person or a team of people who you've relied on? Whether it's a mentor or someone you look up to. Or where do you get your inspiration from to keep going?
Tracy Kearey: James, that's a good question because I get it from quite a few different areas. I mean, personally, my family. My mum's my number one fan, which is just amazing. And so when I am having a bad day she's probably the first person I call on, and she always supports my decisions and backs me. And as I said earlier, we all can have bad days. I mean, we're dealing with peoples' finances, which brings a lot of emotion. So sometimes it doesn't always go to plan. I am fortunate that I have a really good family structure and support. I've got some amazing friends. Some are small business owners like myself. We understand that struggle of running a business and managing that day to day.
And then in the industry I've got some amazing mentors. So when I started and I worked with Ian Kane who's now my business partner, he was my first mentor I guess you would say. So he taught me the industry from the get-go, and then being able to partner with him in business now ... Maybe I think I mentor him in some ways, because we're at different times in our career. Then I have some industry people, some of my colleagues that work for banks. So they offer me a different perspective. And then I have some people that are self-employed as well, like Mhairi. We talk daily about our businesses and our structures and our strategies and how we feel about the industry, and where maybe we could do something better.
So I think it's really important, and for me personally, to surround yourself with people that are a, either doing what you want to do, or have been there themselves and also understand. Because not only, as I said, are we mortgage brokers. We're dealing with finances. We're dealing with peoples' dreams and emotions. We're also running a business, and sometimes the pressure that we have put on ourselves becomes too much, so it's really good to reach out. And I'm just really fortunate that I have some really good colleagues that run different businesses to mine, they work independent to me, and we can talk and catch up and be there for each other. And I just think that's really important to find those people.
Annie Kane: Yeah. And I think it's also important to highlight that even though you're Principal of the Year and you've got this award for leading a company you still need to support yourself in identifying that everyone needs someone to lean on, they need mentors, they need help. How are you helping your brokers through HLC through that? Have you got any plans for that?
Tracy Kearey: I've done a mentoring programme myself, and I've put my hand up and realised that it's a lot to take on. I mean, I understand lending, loan structure, strategy, how to set up, all that. I know lenders policy. So I'm really good at that niche. I'm not necessarily a good teacher in terms of a classroom. That's not really how I learn myself. So I've realised that you can't do it all on your own. So I've now got a team that's working with me. So we've got a business coach, Jason Bridget, who is doing all the compliance, and he's put together a new mentoring programme that's got 10 modules, and it'll work in line with the cert IV and the diploma.
So we're not reinventing the wheel in doing anything to do with the cert IV or the diploma. But what we want to do is make sure that our mentees run successful businesses and satisfy the assets as is expectations. But we're also offering business planning; building referral networks; client interviews; compliance, sales, and processing skills; providing the templates, the checklists. Basically everything, because you're writing a home loan but you're running a business.
So it's lending and a business, and for some people that are brand new to industry or have worked in a PAYG job, I mean, where do you start? And it can be really daunting. So we've really looked at what's in the marketplace, and there's a lot of great programmes out there. But we're just developing one that suits the type of broker, I guess, that we would like to work with, and help them on their journey to become a successful broker.
So there's that part of it. So we've got a team working on that. And then the mental health programme is probably something more personal for me. I mean, they both are because I'm really big on bringing new people into the industry - young men and women - but the mental health programme, I think, we are high achievers. And I know myself, when I mentioned to you Annie earlier that a few months ago I did think I was having a heart attack and I ended up in hospital, and it was an anxiety attack brought on by stress.
So that, for me, was a moment of, "I need to step back and have a think about what I'm doing myself," and I think that it happens to a lot of people. We're always busy. We're always trying to do the right thing by a client, working the hours, sometimes it's very lonely. You feel like you're on your own. So we just want to make sure that our brokers are looked after. I mean, are they okay? And some days we're not. Some days it's great that you know you've got someone at the end of the phone to just have a talk to. So we've now engaged a counsellor who will be doing webinars, will be doing zoom sessions with our brokers, is attending our meetings. We're also offering our brokers, if they need to speak to her, the first consultation, Home Loan Connexion is paying half of the fee. So we just want to make sure that they are all okay.
Annie Kane: That's a really great initiative, Tracy, and I think something quite unusual as well that we always hear. With the mentoring programme, obviously, it's a bit more, as you were saying, there are other mentoring programmes out there. But there are very few, I think, that actually focus on mental well-being of employees as well.
Just to clarify, though, is the mentoring programme open for the wider industry or is it just for HLC?
Tracy Kearey: Okay. The mentoring programme, it is for internal and external brokers. Obviously we'd like more people to be wearing the Home Loan Connexion banner, of course. However, we are taking it to market because there are a lot of different groups and different aggregators that don't offer in-house mentoring. So we've looked at that model as well and thought, "You know what? We can open the door to anybody." So if you are a broker that's thinking of starting out, or you've already been somewhere but you may not be getting the support you feel you need, then the door's open to them as well. And we will mentor external brokers to help them on their way to success.
I mean, I talked to a few brokers now that are not in my business, and often we'll just talk about different things. And if I can help them, then isn't that what we should do if we've been around? Like I've been doing this 19 years. I had a lot of assistance when I started, and I still get it. So just because someone doesn't work in my business does not mean my door's not open to them.
Annie Kane: That's great, Tracy. I think that's really commendable that you're doing that. When do you think it will be up and running and launched?
Tracy Kearey: We've started it already with a couple of people that James met last Tuesday. So they're our initial, I guess, starting. But probably January, we're looking at having it all ready. We're certainly not gonna say, "No," to anybody right now. But it will be more formalised for January, February. We thought the start of the year there's probably a lot of people that will be ready to go then, and we'll look at doing inductions. We're also working quite closely with our aggregator AFG on the programme, and talking to them about what we're looking to do and how we can work with them as well so the inductions can work quite smoothly.
Once again, if a broker is with another aggregator, that's not a problem to us either. We're just here to offer this programme externally as well as internally.
James Mitchell: It was great to meet some of your brokers at the New Broker Academy in Brisbane, and I think if they're on that mentoring journey it will be quite interesting. Because we're gonna be doing that event again next year across four capital cities, so it'd be great to maybe get them on stage as part of that mentor/mentee panel, and see where they are 12 months down the track. That would be quite exciting.
Tracy Kearey: It would be great. Well, hopefully they'll still be here, James.
But that would be awesome, because I think it's really encouraging for the new and younger brokers to have that opportunity. Sometimes, hearing from everybody that's been doing it for a while is great, don't get me wrong. But it's also great to listen to the younger generation and new to industry to see how they're going.
James Mitchell: Definitely.
Tracy Kearey: I mean, at our monthly meetings now we open up. We have a broker experience every month. So we have a PD day monthly, and we've introduced our brokers. One of them speaks once a month about their journey. And it's really interesting listening to the more mature broker to the younger broker and their thoughts, and how we do a lot of the same stuff but they've also got a different spin on it. So it's really exciting.
James Mitchell: Yeah, and I think in any organisation, I think learning top-down and bottom-up is always good. I remember reading a piece that Richard Branson wrote for the Golf Times, a Dubai newspaper, about how he always tries to speak to his employees across the organisation who are at the colt face, who are speaking to the customers. Because they're the ones who are seeing the problems, seeing the challenges, seeing the opportunities. And that's where it informs a lot of his big business decisions is actually speaking to the people who are either new to the organisation or who are at the coal-face, like I said.
Tracy Kearey: Exactly. And I still do write home loans. So I do understand what goes on out there. I'm in the coal face, so to speak. I have brought somebody into my business, Taylor who you met last week, she will actually be working in my business and writing loans for me, as well as sourcing her own. And so it's great to still, I guess, be on the tools, but there's some other projects that I'd really like to take on. And offering other opportunities to some of the younger brokers or newer brokers entrance into the market. It's really good to get their take and feedback on it. And once again, after the Broker Academy last Tuesday, Taylor set up her Facebook page and she's really started going out there with some marketing. So Mark Oliver, some of our other brokers, and it's just really good to listen to how they want to manage their business. And their business plan is completely different, as I said, to somebody that's potentially been doing this for even five years.
James Mitchell: Yeah. No, very true.
Annie Kane: Well I think that's pretty much all the time we've got, Tracy. I'm sorry. I could've carried on talking to you for another hour. We'd have to have the longest podcast episode in history. But we have to call it quits. But thank you so much for your time today, and best of luck with the new programmes.
Tracy Kearey: Great. And thank you very much for your time. Thank you for having me.
Annie Kane: Thank you.
James Mitchell: No worries. Cheers, Tracy.
Annie Kane: Well, that's all we've got time for today, but it was so interesting hearing from Tracy and her new programmes. If you're interested in establishing yourself as a trusted SME broker or just want to learn more about how to capitalise on the opportunity, then why not attend the Adviser's SME Broker Boot Camp, in association with Principal Partner NAB. It's visiting Sydney on the 14th of November, Melbourne the following day, Brisbane on the 23rd, and Perth on the 28th of November, and it's a free to attend one-day boot camp which will help answer all your questions and broaden your professional horizons. For more information, visit theadviser.com.au/bootcamp-sme-broker
For more news and features, please do visit www.theadviser.com.au and if you're interested in wider market and what's happening in industry and what James and I are hearing, please do download the new mortgage business podcast called Mortgage Business Uncut. Thank you.
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