Marissa Schulze, director and broker at Rise High Financial Solutions, joins Annie and James to reveal why she is passionate about improving financial literacy and how it felt to be awarded the Young Leader of the Year at the inaugural Women in Finance Awards.
The award-winning SA-based broker also discusses her experience of driving a solar car from Darwin to Adelaide, why she brought accounting services in house and the impact of team culture on the company’s success.
This broker also tells us:
Announcer: Welcome to the Elite Broker podcast. This is your host Annie Kane.
Annie Kane: Hello everyone, and welcome back to The Adviser's Elite Broker podcast. I'm Annie Kane, editor of The Adviser and joined, as always, by James Mitchell, managing editor of mortgages. How are you doing James?
James Mitchell: I'm very well, thanks, Annie. Good to be here.
Annie Kane: Good. So today, we're speaking to an award-winning SA-based broker, Marissa Schulze, who's director and broker at Rise High Financial Solutions. We're gonna learn more about how it felt to be awarded the Young Leader of the Year award at the inaugural Women in Finance Award in September, and why she's passionate about improving financial literacy. How are you doing, Marissa?
Marissa Schulze: I'm great, thank you. Thanks for having me on the show.
Annie Kane: Thank you so much for coming in. So, just for all of those who don't know you, I mean, we know you as a sort of award-winning broker and well-traveled woman, and you've done some amazing things in the past. I remember you telling me once that you've driven a solar car from, is it Darwin to Adelaide?
Marissa Schulze: Yes, that's right.
Annie Kane: That's so cool. It's such a great story. I wonder if you'd share it with us. Like, how on earth did that come about?
Marissa Schulze: Yeah. I think I've always been the sort of person that just likes to give lots of new things a go, and I sort of jumped on every extracurricular activity that I could whilst at high school. And there did come an opportunity, when I was in Year 11, to be part of a solar car team who was building a solar car to compete in the World Solar Challenge, which was going from Darwin to Adelaide. So I decided to put my hand up for that, and I had to get my driver's licence, of course. And I was part of the team for a number of months, and we built a solar car, which was a really exciting challenge. And then I was one of the five drivers in the team who drove the car from Darwin to Adelaide, and I think I'd got my driver's licence about two weeks before the challenge.
James Mitchell: Oh wow.
Marissa Schulze: So it was a really, a-
Annie Kane: So funny.
Marissa Schulze: It was a really interesting time, and it was a fantastic experience to be a part of that, and just be part of something that was international, and it was an all-girls team, which was also quite unique at the time and it was a lot of fun.
James Mitchell: I wanna know what sort of distance you specifically travelled in the solar car, and what speeds you got up to as well.
Marissa Schulze: Yeah, so our solar car probably wasn't one of the best in the competition.
James Mitchell: I know.
Annie Kane: I can't believe you built it.
Marissa Schulze: It was one of the slower ones, but we had a very low budget to work on compared to the other teams, so we got up to about 40 kilometres an hour.
James Mitchell: That's all right.
Marissa Schulze: And we were driving, and so we were driving quite slowly, and we could definitely feel those big trucks coming past us on the highway. And, basically what we had is we had five drivers and we would rotate. It was very hot and uncomfortable in the solar car, 'cause it was a very small vehicle, so we would sort of do a couple hours stints at a time and just keep rotating to ensure that the drivers were able to recover from their driving time and hydrate and all of those sorts of things. So, we sort of, probably had equal driving time and just kept rotating through the drivers.
Annie Kane: So 40 kilometres an hour from Darwin to Adelaide in non air-conditioned car. I mean, how long did that take, like five years?
Marissa Schulze: I think the actual challenge, I mean, it was so long ago now, but I think the challenge from memory went for about five to seven days, something like that. So, we didn't actually ... oh, I think we sort of came in just about at the finish time. So there were a lot of cars that finished a lot sooner than us, but we sort of just scraped through as the race was finishing up.
James Mitchell: Nice. So just as they were packing up and like the, they were go-
Marissa Schulze: That's right.
Annie Kane: We're here.
Marissa Schulze: That's right.
James Mitchell: They had forgotten about you.
Marissa Schulze: But we, I mean, it was a fantastic experience. It was fantastic to meet the other teams from all over the world. And it was an experience that was new to all of us on the team. We were all young females, and we were very proud of what we had achieved on a low budget and with no experience in terms of engineering or solar cars in particular. And it was, yeah, it was a really great experience. It was also the first time I've really camped out, roughed it out if you like, because the rules were that we had a race official with us and at 5 o'clock every night we would have to stop and camp wherever we were at that point in time. So that would mean that we'd be camping on sides of the road in the middle of nowhere quite often and I have fond memories of us having to, have about five of us shooing away the flies while one person was trying to cut up and prepare dinner, because there was just so many flies everywhere and it was very hot. But it was a great experience.
Annie Kane: I love that story. I think it's so great. But I should probably bring it back to broking now. So, I mean, from racing solar cars when you were sort of a teenager or early twenties then into broking, how did you get started in this industry?
Marissa Schulze: I guess I was probably one of those people that didn't really know exactly what I wanted to do. I did enjoy just getting involved in everything and I got a taste for entrepreneurship at school when I participated in the Young Achievement Australia programme for two years in a row. I really enjoyed business, and I knew at that point that I did really enjoy business. But I still wasn't really that sure what I wanted to do.
So, I knew that I really enjoyed numbers and I decided that if I was gonna be something in business, then an accounting, commerce, finance degree would be helpful. So I ended up deciding to go to uni to do commerce and majoring in accounting and corporate finance. I really enjoyed uni in my first year, so I decided to sign up for the law degree, too, to extend my time at university, which was a lot of fun.
At that point I still, probably, didn't really know what I wanted to do or which career path I wanted to take. I got lots of opportunities throughout my study to try out being an accountant, try out being a lawyer, doing clerkships and internships for different organisations in Adelaide, which was fantastic.
I realised quite quickly that I didn't want to be an accountant or a lawyer, but I wanted to help people. And, because I was interested in entrepreneurship, when I went to university, I heard of something called the Entrepreneurs Challenge, which at the time was a business plan writing start-up competition where you basically enter with a new business.
So, I got a team together and we entered the Entrepreneurs Challenge. And in that year we became runners up in the Entrepreneurs Challenge. And it was a great experience. We got to be mentored throughout the journey, and it was a really good learning experience and a lot of fun. And then, I enjoyed it so much that I continued to stay involved in the programme after being an entrant, and they ended up offering me the job to run the programme, which was great. So I did that for a couple of years.
And then I decided that I really enjoyed helping other people and a job opportunity came up for me at the South Australian Government, Department of Trade and Economic Development. And that was working with the Economic Development Board at the time and they were looking to promote entrepreneurship in South Australia, which was obviously something that I was really passionate about and looking at population growth.
So I sort of went along for the ride there and really enjoyed that job and then when they found out my skills they wanted to explore what I could do in the areas of economic development for lower socio-economic groups. So I developed an entrepreneurship programme for young indigenous children to teach them entrepreneurship skills, because often they've got a lot of creativity and a lot of skills, but just don't necessarily know what they can do with it and don't necessarily have the mentors to fall back on to help them steer them in the right direction. And that was a great programme and really successful, and I had a lot of fun while I worked for government and made a lot of difference to a lot of people, but I got to a point where I did wanna utilise skills that I'd learnt at university a little bit more.
And that's when I came about getting a job with BankSA in their commercial finance division for their major client groups. I was working with very large corporate clients and that led me to a job at Westpac doing something very similar but managing my own portfolio with an assistant and then I got pregnant with my daughter. And that was probably the start of me saying, "Okay, what do I need to do now to make sure I can be the mum that I wanna be, but also have the career that I wanna have?" So that's what brings us to today.
James Mitchell: Yeah. Do you think, I mean, the sort of the ... it sounds like you've got, I mean, a very rich history in terms of all the way back from your uni days and just having that drive, like, doing the business and commerce but then taking on the law as well and doing all these extracurricular things and the entrepreneurship. In terms of moving from banking into broking, it sounds like it was a lifestyle decision as well as a business decision and a career decision. Do you think that broking still offers some lifestyle benefits that a PAYG job in finance maybe necessarily doesn't?
Marissa Schulze: Yeah. I mean, I think at the time I was at Westpac, I do love banking and I did love my job, but I was the only ... at the level I was at at Westpac there were no, I was the only female, and I was the youngest by a long way. So, whilst they do offer very flexible working arrangements at these large corporate banks, I did seek more flexibility than what I knew I could get there and I also didn't feel like I could do the job that I was doing previously to the same level I was doing it and still be the mum that I wanted to be.
James Mitchell: Yeah.
Marissa Schulze: So, I think initially, when I did get into broking there was a large lifestyle decision behind that, and it was more along the lines of, as you probably can tell, I'm the sort of person that tends to get bored easily so I like to keep myself busy. And I knew that I wanted to be a very hands-on mum but I also knew that I couldn't be a stay-at-home mum because I needed something to keep myself intellectually stimulated and making a difference and feel like I'm serving people as well.
So, for me, the decision to start broking was purely that. It was something to keep me busy and occupied whilst I was raising my daughter and it wasn't at that point ever ... I guess I never really had a plan at that point to grow it into the business it is today. So, at that point it was really just about having the lifestyle that I need, having the flexibility that I need, but still having something that was intellectually stimulating, that was making a difference to other people and that was enabling me to keep busy.
I still believe that broking offers that, and I think that's one of the wonderful things about mortgage broking. And I think that's why it lends itself so well to mothers with young children. And I think females make amazing mortgage brokers because they have a level of empathy and they have a way of explaining complex things in an easy to understand way and they also, I might be a bit biased, but I think women are fantastic. So, I do believe that broking does provide a very flexible opportunity for brokers to have a flexible work lifestyle, but also have a really rewarding career.
Annie Kane: And in terms of, actually, the company so Rise High now is a well established brokerage, but you also offer accounting and tax services, too. So, I guess, sort of really pulling on your background there, too. I mean, why did you decide to branch out to offer those other services as well as just, instead of just broking?
Marissa Schulze: Yeah, so, the accounting is quite recent. So that's been going just over a year now. And, basically we were getting lots of requests from our clients for us to refer them to accountants, and we tried really hard over the first five years of us being in business to find accountants that had the same approach to customer service and customer satisfaction that we did, but also, well, obviously very technically strong and could help our clients to achieve what they wanted to achieve.
And to be honest, we really struggled to find the combination of those two things in an accountant: an accountant that was willing to take new clients but service them really well and made them feel really comfortable from a customer service perspective, and then also technically gave them really good advice. So, we just got to a point in the end where we decided to bring it in-house in the sense, and create the experience to clients that we knew that they wanted but we couldn't offer them by referring them outside somewhere else.
Annie Kane: So it was all about maintaining control of the client experience, really.
Marissa Schulze: I think that's what it is. It's about making sure that we ... We promote ourselves as being able to help our clients to achieve their dreams and goals, and that is definitely a big part of that. We have a lot of property investors and, obviously, an accountant is a big and is an important person in their team. And it's allowing them to enjoy the same level of service and the customer experience that they receive on the finance side also on the accounting side. And that was really important to us.
So, we've been really pleased with how the accounting business is progressing and been really pleased with how our clients are reacting to the service. And we're getting some really great feedback. And this year, yeah, even though it's a fairly young business, the accounting business won Customer Service Award at the South Australian Accounting Awards and recently we've just received the award for Best Accounting Firm in SA for the NAB Professional Services Awards which really exciting.
Annie Kane: Oh, well done! Yeah…
Marissa Schulze: So, it's going really well, and so far we're really, really happy with the decision to bring that service offering as part of our group.
James Mitchell: I was keen just to maybe find out a little bit more about Rise High in terms of, from a cultural perspective. I mean, we speak to quite a few different brokers and broking groups and they've all, I guess, to a degree got like a unique culture. And I know culture's been something which has been, particularly in financial services and banking, has been in the spotlight at the moment. But in terms of your organisation, what's, I mean, what's the culture like, what's the work ethic like, what are some of the dynamics that make it unique to you as a business?
Marissa Schulze:\ Yeah. Look, I think that's been one of the key elements to our success. We have an amazing team. Our team all get along really well, they do all come to work, and they do love what they do, and they do, whilst everyone in our team is quite different from a personality perspective, we all share the common goal of putting the client first and making sure they have an exceptional service experience, and making sure that we can help and empower them to achieve their dreams and goals.
And I think that when I have recruited new people for the team, it has been my number one focus to find people that do share our values, and our values are making sure that we do love and respect people, and that we really do wanna make a difference in the world, and that we do really want to make a difference for our clients. And I think, by making that a key priority in the sort of people that we attract to Rise High, we've been able to build a team that gets along really, really well from a social perspective. But when they're at work they're really dedicated and determined to achieving really good outcomes for the clients and the business. And we're very, very fortunate that we've got a great team that just work really, really well together.
James Mitchell: Yeah, nice.
Annie Kane: And led by you, so that brings me swiftly into the win that you secured earlier this year for the inaugural Women in Finance Awards. Part of it, and the judges particularly commended you for your leadership in establishing the Rise High Rookie scheme. So, I just wondered if you could tell us a bit more about what that involves and why you started it?
Marissa Schulze: Yeah. I guess it comes back to I'm a true believer. I've done a fair bit in my career and over the years my definition of success has changed. But I am a firm believer, at this stage in my career, that success is not necessarily about how big you grow your business or how much money you make, but it's about the positive difference that you make in other people's lives. I guess that's underlying where we're taking the business and what we wanna do with it. And I think a big part of that is looking for ways to give back to the community.
And, I guess as a young mum and having young children, and also seeing, through the business, that there are a lot of adults out there that really lack the basic financial literacy that they need to help to make the basic decisions that we need to make every day with money. It does concern me, and I feel like Rise High Rookies is our way of doing our part to increase financial literacy in Australia.
I think that financial literacy needs to be increased in Australia, and I think that it's obviously a big challenge to tackle, but I think that through Rise High Rookies, we're able to volunteer our time to going to schools and spend time with the students and increase their financial literacy and increase their understanding of money and decisions that they're gonna have to make when they start bringing in their own money and making their own money. So, it's been a lot of fun. It is a volunteer programme that we do run, and I think it's been a really fantastic initiative and we're planning on growing it every year and continuing our service in that area.
Annie Kane: Do you think it should be on the syllabus in schools, financial literacy?
Marissa Schulze: Yeah, look, I do believe that there is an element of financial literacy in the syllabus, but I also I believe that it's very difficult for teachers to teach the sort of financial literacy skills that we teach, because they don't really work in finance or really understand finance. And often, they may not necessarily be that good at managing money themselves.
Annie Kane: The blind leading the blind.
Marissa Schulze: What was that, sorry?
Annie Kane: The blind leading the blind.
Marissa Schulze: Yeah, that's right. So, I think that the financial literacy component in the syllabus is not enough, and I believe that we need to do more in schools to give children financial literacy education. I believe that all students should finish school understanding what a credit card means, understanding what a credit contract means, if they get a mobile phone or something like that, they need to understand what [K-watch 00:20:48] tax is, they should be understanding what superannuation is, they should have a really good understanding of how to manage their money in terms of saving and budgeting, and understanding the difference between needs and wants, and also understanding the consequences that if they don't manage their money well, how that will impact them later in life.
Annie Kane: Yeah.
James Mitchell: But I was just going to say it's funny, in terms of mortgage brokers and the role they can play with this in terms of financial literacy, and I know in the ASIC remuneration review, that they pretty much pointed out that one of the biggest values that brokers can provide is educating customers, not just about home loans, but just about their finances in general. And I think it's something which I've seen just from speaking to brokers over the last few months, that there's much more focus now with their customers in terms of paying down debt, in terms of that credit advice, and just, obviously, debt's in the pages of the news a lot more these days with the RBA making its warnings about household debt and stuff like that. And I think it's a really, I guess, underappreciated value proposition that brokers provide. People think obviously just write home loans and that's where you could get your mortgage, but in terms of that education around managing the mortgage managing or the debts, paying down debt, I think that's a huge thing that brokers can do.
Marissa Schulze: Completely agree with you, James, and that really has been the foundation of our growth, I believe, because our business model has always focused around education and since day one it's always been about educating the clients, and not only about, like you said, writing a home loan, but educating the clients and keeping them for life and making sure we can give them the information, the resources, the education that they need to take the steps that they wanna take in their lives. So, that's a really important underlying element of the service that we provide. It's all about education.
James Mitchell: Yeah, that's awesome.
Annie Kane: And I assume as well the Rise High Rookie scheme also will bring in leads, 'cause those kids go home, they tell their parents about what they've learnt, and they've got, I'm assuming, some of paperwork or collateral they can show them. Do you get a lot of leads that way?
Marissa Schulze: Look, it's certainly not the reason why we do it.
Annie Kane: Yeah.
Marissa Schulze: And, well, I guess in terms of lead generation, I wouldn't that it's the most successful lead generation initiative that we run, but it definitely does allow us to get more well known in our local community. It does allow us to build stronger relationships with the teachers and the principals and also the parents, and I just believe that it's very, very rewarding for our brokers to be part of the vision, because these children have a lot of energy, they have a lot of ideas, and they're very inspiring. And it's great for us to be able to go into these schools and really embrace the kids and just feed off of their energy and their enthusiasm. And they actually love learning about money, which is really exciting as well. And I think, so, I think that, yes, we have generated some business out of our Rise High Rookies programme, but it's definitely not the reason why we do it, and it's, I wouldn't promote it as lead generation initiative because it's not really meant to be about that.
So we don't really promote our services at these seminars or at these workshops, and we don't send fliers home with the parents or anything telling them about our business. It really is about giving back to the kids and doing the right thing. And I guess what I've learnt in my career is that if you do the right thing for the right reasons, then eventually good things will come back to you.
James Mitchell: Yeah, very true.
Annie Kane: Good karma.
James Mitchell: Absolutely.
Marissa Schulze: Good karma, that's right.
Annie Kane: So in terms of actually just looking forward now, so we're coming to the close of 2017, about to start 2018, we've already seen quite a flow of activity in terms of the reform package from the Combined Industry Forum coming out recently and then CBA saying it was gonna change new broker accreditations, and all of these things, the Royal Commission ... What do you think were the major milestones for the mortgage broking industry in 2017, and what do you think 2018 has in store for broking?
Marissa Schulze: Yeah, and I think that's a really interesting question. Obviously, 2017 has brought a lot of uncertainty with everything that's going from the mortgage fee perspective, and there's bound to be a little bit more of that in 2018. I think that 2018 will be a really good year for the industry because a lot of that confusion uncertainty will be resolved, and I think that will help brokers be able to focus on what they should be focusing on increase their business rather worrying about the potential changes.
I think that the regulatory stuff that's been going is positive for our industry in the sense that it will establish our industry at a new level in terms of professionalism. And I think that ultimately it will all work out in the end. So, that's sort of the view that I take on it, and I think that a lot of brokers this year have been caught up in potentially the hype of it all, but I think that, really, when it comes down to it at the end, there's not gonna be that many material changes that will really impact our businesses that much. So I think we should just sit tight and wait for it to all be resolved.
James Mitchell: I do claim some responsibility for the hype.
Marissa Schulze: Look, I think the Combined Industry Forum has been doing a really good job, and I think that all the people involved have been doing a really good job in terms of fighting for our industry. So, from a broker I feel quite pleased that we're getting supported and that we've got the right people on the team fighting for our industry. And I think that that's why we're gonna to get a good outcome, because the right people have been working towards the right outcomes.
James Mitchell: Yeah, it's been good to see, especially, I mean, what happen in the financial planning industry as you probably, I mean, you're aware of what happened there with FIFE and everything. I think that was an example of what can happen if the industry doesn't take action and get on the front foot. And it's been good to see how, I guess, mortgage broking and the industry's learnt from that and really been proactive with it. So, yeah, I think it'll be exciting next year as well.
Annie Kane: Yeah, although having said that we haven't had the response from Government, so, fingers crossed it's enough that they don't come in and try and regulate, but we'll wait and see. Not that I'm trying to create hype, obviously.
Marissa Schulze: Yeah.
James Mitchell: We're not in the business of hype at all.
Marissa Schulze: Yeah, I mean it is difficult to address some of the things that came out of the ASIC review, and I understand the difficulties and the complexities. And I, too, was racking my brain about the best solution for things like commission and stuff like that and put some suggestions forward. But, at the end of the day, I don't think we're gonna come up with a solution that every single person in the industry will be happy about.
Annie Kane: Yeah.
James Mitchell: Yeah.
Marissa Schulze: But I think it's a matter of making sure that it's the best thing for the majority of the industry and that it's the best thing for the industry moving forward. And that's what's important in terms of ensuring a good outcome for everyone involved.
Annie Kane: And for the consumers at the end of the day.
Marissa Schulze: Well, that's right. I mean, obviously for the consumers, it is very, very good to have a strong mortgage broking industry, because that means that the consumers are getting access to hopefully better service, better education and more options. And those things will always be good for the consumers, so, ultimately creating a remuneration structure that will ensure that the mortgage broking industry thrives is going to result in good consumer outcomes as well.
Annie Kane: Perfect. Well, that's pretty much all we have time for today, Marissa, so thank you so much for spending time talking to us and sharing your thoughts.
James Mitchell: Yeah. Thanks for your time.
Annie Kane: And best of luck for 2018. I'm sure we'll hear great things from you yet.
James Mitchell: More awards.
Annie Kane: Yeah.
Marissa Schulze: Thank you so much guys, it was fun to be on the phone.
Annie Kane: Thanks so much.
James Mitchell: Cheers.
Annie Kane: Well, thank you so much, Marissa, for spending time chatting to us, and for all other news and features, please do visit TheAdviser.com.au, and obviously stay tuned for our podcast next week.
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