The submissions have been completed and submitted, the finalists judged, the winners crowned and the roof has properly been raised – now all that’s left is to reflect on the success of all the 2016 Australian Broking Awards winners.
Appropriately, set against the somewhat conflicting backdrop of both solid growth and the threat of impending fintech disruption, the 2016 Australian Broking Awards was held at Sydney’s The Star in early July, to recognise mortgage broking’s best and brightest.
The leading brokers, broker offices, aggregators and brokerages as well as the most forward-thinking and intelligent marketing, tech and social programs of the year were recognised across 26 categories, including the most sought-after of them all – Broker of the Year for 2016.
The finalists, and eventually the winners, were selected from hundreds of detailed entry submissions by an astute judging panel of high-profile industry figures.
The awards ceremony, hosted by renowned comedian and writer Jeff Green, was a glitzy red-carpet affair where more than 700 of the industry’s top names assembled for an afternoon of entertainment, anxious anticipation and celebration.
Over the following pages we celebrate all of 2016’s winners.
Awards ceremonies of this calibre don’t happen without the generous support of a group of reliable partners. The Adviser would like to thank this year’s partners; principal partner Commonwealth Bank, platinum partners ANZ and NAB Broker, gold partners Bank of Queensland, Bank of Sydney, Capify, FBAA, La Trobe Financial, ME, NextGen.Net, Pepper Money and Teachers Mutual Bank, entertainment partner St. George Banking Group and drinks partner Bankwest.
2016 Australian Broking Awards Winners
A word from our principal partner, CBA
Congratulations to all the winners of the 2016 Australian Broking Awards! Commonwealth Bank has been proud to be the principal partner of the ABAs since 2011. The awards have grown every year, becoming a highlight on the calendar and a benchmark of success in the mortgage broking industry. The awards offer a great opportunity for brokers to be recognised for their professionalism and customer service. They bring the industry together and allow us to celebrate our best and brightest. As a finalist or a winner, the awards provide a broker with an unparalleled opportunity to: gain recognition at a local, state and national level raise the profile of their business to a broad audience build a reputation for excellence inside and outside of the industry benchmark their business year-on-year and against other businesses in their local area improve employee engagement by involving their employees in the entry process. The awards also offer a great opportunity for sponsors to align their brands with business partners who are dedicated to building sustainable and reputable businesses by delivering excellent customer service. Commonwealth Bank is honoured to be the leader in this industry and to support the Australian Broking Awards.
So without further ado, here are the winners…
“I’m absolutely stoked with winning this award,” director Brad Sewell admits.
Being named Australia’s best broker wasn’t exactly on his radar, but as one of ‘only about five’ brokers in Australia to tackle the regional rural sector, Mr Sewell will certainly take it. “It’s a great acknowledgement of what we do,” he says. “We believe we’ve done a great job and this award underpins those efforts that we’ve made.”
He says to be a high performer in this industry you need to sit down with your client and understand all of their needs. “Find out what they’re trying to achieve and model-up a solution that is going to satisfy those needs, now and into the future.”
PLAN Australia’s preferred training approach is to connect with brokers on two levels. First, as loan writers providing credit advice and second, as entrepreneurs and business owners. “So we try and provide support on both fronts, and we think that if we can add value in both of those areas it will be really beneficial,” says CEO Phil Quin-Conroy.
“What we try and do is deliver great content that is relevant for brokers, in innovative ways.”
These include a maiden digital PD day — where hundreds of PLAN members, and their teams, dialled in from around the country — and a benchmarking exercise to help brokers understand how theirs compare to other businesses.
To continually evolve its platforms, AFG has lifted its expenditure in tech innovation over the past few years. According to Jaime Vogel, the group’s chief information officer, this is what sets AFG’s platform apart.
And it shows – this is the second consecutive year that the aggregator has won this award.
“It’s also about working closely with our brokers. They are the most important part of everything that we do, and their feedback is really important on how we take the technology platforms forward,” said Mr Vogel.
He continued by stating that brokers should be embracing technology ‘entirely’ across everything they do.
“It’s a really important part of what they do and it sets them apart from their competition.”
Home Loan Experts runs a back office in Nepal along with its head office in Sydney.
“When we engage the community we look at what is the most effective, and for us that was childhood education in Nepal,” says managing director Otto Dargan.
“So we have worked with several partners over there to fund different activities that they are doing. We know that it is not our core strength to do those activities, so we’ve instead provided resources they need in order to do great things.”
The big challenge in running a rural office is dealing with the long distances, according to Brad Sewell, partner at Wagga Wagga’s Robinson Sewell Partners.
In May he drove over 9,000 kilometres, and got bogged twice in one week alone. “It is a big country, and we cover it all — including the Northern Territory, right through South Australia and Queensland,” he says.
For growth, and to minimise the travel time, Robinson Sewell and Partners is looking to put on more staff in the next 12 months, in strategic geographical locations.
Partner Kevin Agent puts The Australian Lending & Investment Centre’s success down to hard work, good people and a strong proposition in the market. “We focus just on lending” he says, “not on trying to be all things to all people.”
Growth in the year ahead will see the independent brokerage bringing more brokers into the business. “So we can grow our profile and also get more business partners that can support our clients to run their wealth strategies,” Mr Agent says.
Calling it a ‘great honour’ to win this award for the second time, founder and managing director Damian Collins said what Momentum Wealth continues to do well is focus singularly on property investment finance.
This concentration allows it to provide ‘highly specialised’ advice to its clients.
“Clients can see and appreciate the value that we provide to them,” Mr Collins says.
“This value is amplified by Momentum’s full-service business model, offering complementary services like investment planning, buyer’s agency and property management.
“The award is a true testament to the exceptional work from our entire team, and provides motivation for us to continue to provide outstanding service to clients.”
Aussie Parramatta’s success comes down to doing a lot of hard work, having great systems and processes as well as having a great team, according to principal Ross Le Quesne.
“We couldn’t have won this award without our fantastic team in the office. The support staff that we have and their dedication to the client and what they are ultimately looking to achieve — whether it be a first home, or refinancing or building an investment portfolio,” he says.
The chief advantage of working under a franchise group such as Aussie is that it gives you access to a great big brand: “It gives a level of trust and credibility,” Mr Le Quesne says, “so you can go out and tell people about yourself and they ultimately recognise you, and who you are.”
The main challenge Time Home Loans faced when starting out was having to build its connections from scratch.
“We had no real relationships. So therefore we really had to concentrate on how we entertained and sustained the first ones we developed going forward,” says director Ruan Burger.
It took consistency and perseverance, he says.
And this would be his advice to others looking to set up similar shop: “You just have to keep on going. You can’t put something on a short-term line and go — is it going to work? You just have to keep on doing it for the right reasons, and the chances are that it will pay off.”
Iconic Home Loans has grown in ‘huge proportions’ in the past 12 months, driven mainly by its new referral partners, says managing director James Pibworth.
The main advantage of being an independent brokerage is having the flexibility to be agile: “There’s no board structure,” says Mr Pibworth, “which enables me to make all the decisions.”
“And if we want to do something, we’re doing it. That’s the way we move forward.”
Aussie keeps its place at the head of the pack by continuing to work with its brand, and in the next 12 months it plans to expand its distribution footprint even further.
“We’ve just hit 200 stores nationally, which is already a magnificent achievement, and we plan to continue to expand those numbers, especially in some key regional areas,” says Aussie’s general manager sales and distribution Vaughan Fowler.
To complement this drive Aussie is putting a lot of effort (and money) into its brand initiatives, marketing and tech developments.
“So we’re really ramping up our support platforms which will stand us in good stead for FY17 and onwards towards 2020.”
The trick to countering digital disruption with innovation is to remain curious, says chairman Sam White.
“Particularly about why things are happening, or why they are not happening,” he says.
“A lot of the ideas we’ve had come from brokers having to find a new way of doing business. They’ve found an impediment and that’s led to a question which has led to a solution.”
While he sees things changing with digital all the time, Mr White does not believe digital will replace brokers, but that the two will become integrated.
Presented by FBAA
Winner: Astute Financial Management
Astute Financial Management embraced diversification very early in the piece. “We’ve been in the industry now for 17 years and started our diversification strategy maybe 12 years ago, with the introduction of commercial and equipment finance,” says director Brad Wood.
“We built that up and then we bought into the financial planning industry, so it’s been a long journey. It is great to receive the award for the hard effort that our members have put in.”
Mr Wood says picking the right partners makes the journey easier: “Find the like-minded professionals that are there with the core focus of looking after their clients.”
Customer service varies in relation to the size of your business, according to managing director Otto Dargan.
“As a small broker it’s easy to identify what you need to do,” he says. “You are talking to your customers day-to-day, you need to deliver great service, return calls and get results.”
But as you get bigger it gets a lot harder: “Because you lose that visibility and that connection. So to be able to deliver customer service with scale is really about feedback and data — knowing what your customers want, and knowing where the pain points are in your process.”
Positive Lending Solutions likes to approach its consumer marketing from a different angle.
“It’s not just a matter of bombarding the market with messages about what we can do for the customer — it’s really about understanding what the customer really wants,” says CIO Keith Cluse.
The brokerage has a history of seven years, so it has a great platform to go back on to truly understand customer behaviour.
“No one knows your customers as well as you do,” he says, “so having your own in-house team lets you have a clear understanding of where you are adding advantage and benefit to the customer.”
Second consecutive winners of the award, NSW/ACT state manager Stephen Doyle attributes this success to its policy of reinvesting into the business: “Looking at the broker marketing initiatives that we have already, and building on them.”
There’s a team for that — in Perth, full-time. “The team is utilised purely for marketing purposes. They constantly look for overseas trends, on how we can improve on what we are already doing.”
Being boutique allows Specialist Finance Group to be ‘very’ approachable, and taking the time to listen to people makes a big difference when it comes to competing with the major aggregators.
“If there are any problems,” says Steve Ayris, national business manager, “our brokers know they can simply pick up the phone. Our doors are always open.”
Also, being flexible with commissions doesn’t hurt either. “Brokers that come on board with us may be starting early. We don’t need to take money off them straight away. We offer a totally flexible commission scheme — percentage based, monthly fee, yearly fee or even transactional.”
Connective puts its money where its mouth is.
“There are no handcuffs, brokers can leave if they are not happy with our service,” says Mark Haron, group director.
And having already established this ‘fairness’ in its agreement, and now maintaining it, is what the aggregator sees as setting it apart from the others.
The secret of Shauna van der Weegen’s success is the collaboration she has with Afirm Financial managing director, Leon Spadavecchia. “Me and my boss Leon work really well together. All of our clients know who I am as well — and that works really well,” says Ms van der Weegen.
Mortgage brokers will get the most out of loan administrators, she says, by involving them in the life cycle of the loan from the outset. “And making sure the customer knows who they are as well, so that they have a second point of contact,” she says.
Being passionate and putting in a lot of effort with regard to processes, both internally and in the back office, has made all the difference to his business this year, Mark Davis says.
“All brokers should be passionate about the industry.
“If the passion is not there, and the desire is not there, and you are not there for the client, this business is a tough gig. There are 12,500 mortgage brokers out there.
“But with the right attitude, hard work and the right fit with business partners and staff I think you can really make it.”
The challenge of regional broking is also its opportunity — the smaller than metropolitan loan sizes.
“We have to do higher volumes to achieve the same targets, but at the same time we see more clients to provide other services to,” says Andrew Drummond.
So for those new to the regional industry, it’s best to get out into the community straight away. “Get involved in sponsorships, like with the local footy club, which are the heart and soul of a lot of regional communities,” he says.
Just make sure your service is always good. “Because in a small community people talk,” he adds.
Kaitlin Kenney’s approach to customer service is simply to treat people the way she likes to be treated.
“With honesty and integrity,” she says. “I will not try to dance around the hard questions, as I feel any type of evasion is easily picked as insincerity and can cause a lack of trust.”
Since she deals predominantly with first-home buyers her point of difference is to put extra focus on education. “At each stage of the process I make sure they are fully aware of what to expect next — to ensure they feel comfortable and relaxed about the application process.”
Marshall Condon says he is fortunate to have a great team of people supporting him in the business, who are both passionate and hard-working.
“We all work towards a common goal and through that our clients are very happy with us,” he says.
They all have a pride in exceeding any, and all, service expectations. “We will go above and beyond for anything our clients need,” Mr Condon says. “We aim to provide as many services as we can, and if we can’t then we ensure we know people that can — and make it a seamless process.”
Brad Sewell is prepared to do whatever it takes to meet with his clients face-to-face.
This commitment sits at the centre of his customer service proposition, and it means many, many hours spent traveling, since, from rural Wagga Wagga, Mr Sewell covers all of Australia.
“There is only so much that can be achieved over the phone,” the Robinson Sewell partner explains.
“But at the end of the day if you really want to find the best solution for your client you need to get in your car, or get on a plane and go and sit with them and work out exactly what it is they need, and how you can help.”
Having won this award last year, Daniel Holden attributes his continued success quite simply to having ‘a very good team’.
“We’re a growing team and we’ve been very lucky to get some good, knowledgeable people on board. Together we have more than 40 years’ experience,” he says.
Dedication and collective hard work allowed Rodney Michail to be crowned as 2016’s Asset Finance Broker of the Year.
“I have a great group of people supporting me behind the scenes,” he says, “each with the determination and the willingness to succeed.”
Mr Michail expects, in light of the ASIC changes throughout the country, that the asset finance sector will evolve quickly in the future.
“I guess we’re lucky that we’ve anticipated this over the last couple of years, so we’ve built a whole range of services and solutions to support the changing marketplace.”
Q&A with Brad Wood, director, Astute Financial Management
Winner, 2016 Diversification Program of the Year
“The Astute business has been built on a philosophy of building long-term sustainable business relationships with our members. Diversification is at the core of this approach as it helps members become the centre of their clients’ financial world, strengthening these relationships and helping to minimise the impact of changes that may occur in the external environment.”
Brad Wood, director at Astute Financial Management
You’ve been an early adopter of diversification, how did embracing it promptly help you to develop your business value proposition and grow your business?
It gave us a number of advantages. First, it made us a more attractive proposition to a wider audience, not only brokers but customers as well. Second, we were able to attract specialised commercial brokers to the business while the others were competing for purely mortgage brokers. Third, our members were able to look after a number of their clients’ requirements, not just one part of it.
Being an early adopter to diversification gave you a competitive advantage — how have you maintained it?
While our competitors were developing their own commercial and equipment finance capabilities, we developed a fully integrated insurance and financial planning capability for our members. We did this some six years ago now, back in 2010.
Being first to market gives you certain competitive advantages for sure, but you don’t hold it for long. The time to change is when things are going well, because, as evidenced during the GFC, as the market dried up our members were insulated to a large degree.
What is unique about your diversification program that set you up to win the award?
We are unique in that we operate both an ACL and an AFSL. We employ experts in both fields and provide a full support model for both disciplines.
Today, our members require access to a greater range of specialist support services to enable them to look after all of their client’s needs. Clients are demanding qualified advice and want it at a time and place that suits them. By dealing with our members they can achieve this. Financial needs are becoming more customised and our clients are becoming more and more time poor.
Also, we actively encourage our members to refer internally, thus mitigating the risk of clients being inadvertently churned.
What are the diversification pitfalls, if any, and how do you navigate around them?
Diversifying can take a lot of time and patience to get working properly. Finding the right people with the right credentials can take a lot of time, which can be a barrier. Having other people dealing with your clients can also be worrying for many as they are seen as extensions to your service offering.
Both mortgage broking and (particularly) financial planning are highly regulated. This is a good thing, because it delivers the right message to the clients in that they will be dealing with educated and qualified professionals, and are protected.
How important is it to find and select the right diversification partners, and why?
It’s critical. You want to ensure that clients’ service experience is seamless, so whether the partner is a product provider or dealing directly with the clients, they need to support the promise we make to our clients about quality advice and service.
You’ve been an early adopter of diversification but the rest of the industry has now caught up — what’s the next big move? What are you working on now?
We have recently launched a retail brand which promotes our finance, insurance and wealth offer directly to customers. This is now in use by 50 per cent of the membership, allowing them to focus on revenue generating activities with the support of a national brand.
Q&A with Glenn Lees, director and CEO, Connective
Winner, 2016 Aggregator of the Year
“As aggregators, we consider ourselves servants to our brokers. We keep them satisfied with innovative, quality products and services delivered with honesty, transparency and humility. We always work for our customers and do the right thing by them all the time, every day.”
Glenn Lees, director and CEO, Connective
Having also won Aggregator of the Year last year, what do you put your continued success down to?
It’s due to the fact that we’re never satisfied with what we’ve done. We’re always looking to be better today than we were yesterday. We’re always looking for ways to improve efficiency, streamline our processes. It’s an attitude that every staff member maintains all the time.
What sets Connective apart from the other aggregators?
We strive to offer a balance of flexibility and support, service and value. We give our brokers the ability to build a business based on whatever business model they choose.
Also, we have a healthy respect for all our peers and understand that each of them offers something different. The feedback we often get from new members and lender partners is they are surprised by how easy it is to deal with us.
How do you plan to grow your numbers in this very competitive market?
Our growth rate is strong and has been for several years, and we will continue to grow by remaining valuable to our broker customers and lender partners.
If we continue to be relevant and respected through product, service and relationships then the potential for future growth remains intact.
Fintech disruption is increasingly becoming an issue for brokers — what is Connective’s view of the impact that it will have on brokers?
A key element of aggregator value is to provide scale to allow brokers to remain relevant in a changing digital world. We help with marketing, establishing a digital presence, and providing the back-end systems to help brokers remain competitive. We provide access to the resources brokers need which, in many cases, they cannot afford themselves.
As long as brokers continue to provide value, they can grow rather than be threatened by change. Our role is to facilitate — to help brokers to embrace the change.
Are there any other challenges aggregators face going forward?
Apart from facing the same challenges as all businesses do in an uncertain economic climate, staying ahead of broker requirements is always a challenge. As industry regulations and compliance requirements continue to increase, so will the complexity and the level of work that we need to do for our brokers. We are up for these challenges and ahead in planning for the future.
What is at the heart of Connective’s value proposition to brokers?
It’s really simple. If our customers are not happy with our service, they can leave without penalty. We have to earn their continued custom every day because they have no lock-in contracts. They can just get up and leave any time they choose.
Q&A with William Lockett, managing director, Specialist Finance Group
Winner, 2016 Boutique Aggregator of the Year
“Specialist Finance Group has always been about quality over quantity; not wanting to be the biggest, just the best.”
William Lockett, managing director at Specialist Finance Group
As 2016’s Boutique Aggregator of the Year, what do you do to maintain competitive advantage?
There are a number of initiatives that give us a competitive advantage, but these are the two standouts.
First, we provide leading industry software, from a fully comprehensive CRM system to an electronic lodgement platform, which can be tailored to suit members’ needs. Members also have the choice of using their own software which allows them total security that their client information remains with them exclusively.
Also, our online real-time advisory panel gives members access to an advisory panel should they require any loan scenario assistance. This member then gets feedback from nationwide experienced finance consultants and selected financial institutions. This is particularly important for finance brokers that work both individually and in remote locations.
What is your rationale for keeping the operation boutique?
We focus on increasing the business value to our existing partners, rather than increasing the number of partners we have. We do this by having unique touch points which can only be offered by a boutique operator. These include things like partner satisfaction surveying, coffee meet-ups with management teams and specialist business planning – as well as an initiative we call ‘Broker for a Day’ where new specialist employees spend a day with a broker.
How do you employ innovation to support your brokers?
In a number of ways. Firstly, our dedicated Financial Planning and Equipment Finance departments are aimed at assisting partners to transition from being transaction-based to relationship-based. This allows them to mitigate income risk and increase their income through diversification of services.
Then, over the years we have developed a dedicated ‘Broker Assist’ program to support groups in establishing their own in-house badged brokerage. Carbon Group is one such group.
And, we offer our members flexibility in their aggregation agreements. Members have the choice of several aggregation options from monthly to annual fee options to percentage or transaction-based agreements.
We also provide a private lending and funding line to support our members to manage cash flow and associated costs and allows for structured growth.
Fintech disruption is becoming increasingly an issue for brokers — what is Specialist’s view of the impact it will have on brokers?
The whole finance sector, and brokers in particular, needs to utilise these fintech tools where they provide efficiencies without taking away the personalised contact they have with their clients. Digital marketing is a value-add for our industry — or any sales environment — where providing up-to-date information on products and services can only be of benefit.
Are there any other challenges boutique aggregators face going forward?
Technology remains a great challenge as it is constantly changing. Our members are always looking for better ways and systems to improve their business models.
Another challenge for us, as for any boutique business, is to ensure the service levels we provide are high enough quality, as we do not have the same broker numbers as large aggregators.
What is at the heart of Specialist’s value proposition to brokers?
Specialist Finance Group is recognised for having an outstanding customer service commitment to our members. This comes not only from all of the staff members, but also from me as the managing director, where I actively communicate with all members if and when required. It is very much stressed to the SFG staff members that with any query or enquiry from our members we always have a ‘can do’ attitude.
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