Brokers are well established as the professional that borrowers lean on for credit advice and help with their mortgage application. But many brokers support their local communities through so much more, whether it be charity fundraising, delivering community projects or bringing financial literacy to a much wider audience. We explore how brokers are delivering more than mortgages to their local community and how it helps from a business perspective, too.
In the aftermath of the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation, and Financial Services Industry, the mortgage broking industry has been inundated with new legislative and compliance requirements.
While the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) recently published its draft very year, at our annual Better Business Awards, The Adviser takes the time to recognise the leading players in the broking industry who are making dreams come true. Whether it’s helping borrowers access finance to start their dream business or buying the property that they will see their kids take their first steps in, brokers are having their hand in helping Australians access the finance they need, when they need it. But so many brokers are providing much-needed help and support outside of the finance space, too. Whether it is teaching children how to budget, supporting local footie teams or fundraising for much-needed resources, this industry is so much more than mortgages.
Now more than ever, work is going on a daily basis to help support those in need – and bolster the local community. During the bushfire crisis over summer, many brokers reached out to provide support to their local community. Whether it was in the form of being a point of contact for financial enquiries and information or actually volunteering and fighting the flames (as several brokers, including Extra Financial’s Mark Unwin did – see the broker profile in the March edition for more), brokers were there doing their bit. Now, with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, brokers are once again coming out in force.
One group of brokers making a difference during this pandemic is Adrian Lee’s brokerage, Catalyst Advisers (part of the Catalyst Group). The Sydney-based brokerage purchased and donated 30,000 medical-grade face masks to health professionals and then launched a fundraiser for a further 35,000 KN95 face masks for health professionals to help alleviate national shortages amid the COVID-19 crisis.
Speaking to The Adviser about the fundraiser, Mr Lee, Catalyst managing director, noted that there has been a national shortage of surgical face masks as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic takes hold – putting medical staff and patients at risk.
Mr Lee suggested that many medical staff and critically ill patients have been “going unprotected” during the shortage, with reports emerging of some hospital staff being advised to reuse single-use face masks.
Catalyst had initially purchased and distributed 30,000 of these medical-grade face masks after securing them from a client who imports medical supplies. However, given the high demand from hospitals for the masks (with the full shipment reportedly allocated within a day), the brokerage launched a GoFundMe campaign to secure more masks, with the help of industry.
Mr Lee said: “Being in financial services, we have felt a bit unsure about how we can meaningfully support our amazing frontline health professionals and the incredible work they are doing to combat COVID-19.
“Thankfully, we have a client who imports medical supplies, and we were able to secure some medical-grade face masks, which we know are in such limited supply across the country.
“We’ve been given the opportunity to secure a further allocation of at least 20,000 masks, but this time around we (industry) help to pay for them.”
With a goal of raising $100,000, Mr Lee said the brokers from across the industry had been supporting the fundraiser to “keep our medical staff and the patients they treat as safe as possible during this challenging time”.
The masks went to multiple aged care and GP facilities across the country, as well as major hospitals fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
Representatives from some of these hospitals noted that any contribution at this time is “significant”, particularly as concerns abound over access and availability of personal protective equipment for frontline staff.
Tracking the impact
While community engagement and charitable work is a selfless act, it often comes with a positive upside – raising the profile of the broker or the brokerage that is supporting the initiative and showcasing them as a trustworthy and kind partner. It’s not surprising, then, that so many businesses are building out corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs. Indeed, consumers now generally expect companies and businesses with which they engage to practice CSR.
It’s part of the reason why leading asset finance broker Mhairi MacLeod, principal of Astute Ability Finance Group, has partnered with online philanthropy management platform Benojo to develop an online tool to help those in the financial services industry track and measure their CSR and charitable endeavours.
The cloud-based platform, The Giving Forecast, is set to launch later this year and will provide users with the ability to embed the tool into their website and keep a running total of hours and dollars that the broker community has spent “giving back” and its social impact.
As well as helping users manage their CSR programs and their impact, The Giving Forecast will also enable users to access a range of tools and best practice frameworks to help them build and develop their programs and share their own programs with other participants and the charities they support.
It has already gained government funding, with 78 seats being made available to brokers in the central coast, Newcastle and the Upper Hunter area so they can take part in the two-day workshop and become a certified community engagement leader.
Speaking to The Adviser, Ms MacLeod said the financial services industry needs to better track its CSR work to “address the shifting landscape” following the banking royal commission and scandals such as breaches of anti-money laundering regulation.
She added that the industry should “embrace corporate social responsibility in order to ensure its future”.
In March, Victorian-based broker Karen Wright took home the Better Business Award for Best Community Engagement Program Vic/Tas 2020. The broker was recognised for all of her hard work in engaging with the deaf and hard of hearing community and improving financial literacy within this community through Australian Sign Language videos. We catch up with Karen to find out more.
You’re relatively new to the broking industry, having just completed your mentorship and launching your own company, KW Lending Solutions, last month. Why did you become a broker?
At the age of 45, I went through a divorce and had a big life change, so I decided that I would go back to school. I started off getting a diploma in financial planning and then an advanced diploma in financial planning before doing some paraplanning work for financial advisers for a couple of years. One of the advisers I was working for was also a mortgage broker, and so I learned about broking then. I decided to go back to school to get my diploma in finance and mortgage broking and then I joined Andrew Barbazza from interestrate.com.au, who was my mentor
You won the Better Business Award for Best Community Engagement Program in Vic/Tas for your work producing videos for the deaf community about the mortgage process. Why did you start doing this?
I couldn’t make it to the awards, unfortunately, but I was quite emotional when I found out. I started crying. I think that was because it was such a personal motive behind doing this in the first place.
I grew up in a family of five children, and two of my brothers were both born deaf. In 2015, my brother Robbie was murdered. He was pushed off a balcony in Ringwood by three deaf people, some of whom actually had other disabilities. The three people were found guilty of murder and are now in jail. It was a very traumatic time for us, and it really rocked the deaf community.
What made it worse was that there weren’t the systems in place to have a “normal” trial. We had to go through a special kind of court hearing, which had never been held in Australia before – perhaps, even the world. It was, obviously, quite stressful because things weren’t conducted in the usual sort of situation.
In honour of Robbie and my brother Brendan, who lives in Tasmania, when I was making the move into the financial services industry, I wanted to give something back to the deaf community, to remove the barriers and take the things that hearing people take for granted and make them available for those in the deaf community.
How did you go about broadcasting these videos?
My brother Brendan is deaf and is on Facebook a lot, so I piggybacked a little bit off him to connect with his friends, to be honest. I first posted a video back in October last year, just introducing myself and explaining that I had grown up in a family of deaf people and I know how difficult it is to communicate. I wanted to use the knowledge that I’ve got to actually help educate the deaf and hard of hearing community so that they don’t feel so isolated.
I also have a lot of hearing people that watch my videos as well. So, it’s not just teaching the deaf, but also the hearing people that are being educated on mortgages, too
What proportion of your client base is deaf or hard of hearing?
Currently, around half of my clients are deaf, but I think that as I keep posting and grounding myself in that community, that may grow. The deaf community is a fairly closed group, they have to trust you and you have to prove to them that they can trust you, too – as with any client.
I’ve just launched my own business name, KW Lending Solutions, and the logo for it is a butterfly. Butterflies are actually deaf – so it’s a big symbol for the deaf community. So, I’ve incorporated that into my logo as a subtle reference that I have a connection with that community.
I think as I get my new business up and running and continue to make these videos and create content specifically for this community, that will grow. So, it will all be the same information, just communicated to them in a slightly different way
What sort of issues do the deaf community face when trying to access a mortgage?
A common instance is when someone deaf goes into a bank with a hearing partner or friend, the banker tends to speak to the person that’s hearing. This happens commonly and makes deaf people feel excluded and isolated, which can be very frustrating – especially if it’s for something that is such a big commitment, like a mortgage. Often, not being communicated with directly can also make the hard of hearing feel stupid.
I’m hoping that what I’m doing pulls down some of those barriers and gets the community to start thinking about what they’re doing with their finances and being educated on the financial process. Because education and knowledge is power.
The things that we talk about day in and day out with our hearing customers – helping people understand more about money and budgeting and about home loans and saving – I just want to deliver to the deaf and hard of hearing people. So, hopefully, with all the work that I’m doing, I’ll be able to make a difference in the community.
How is communicating with a deaf person different to communicating with a hearing person?
The deaf don’t use or speak English the same way a hearing person does. They’re a lot more efficient in the way they communicate than hearing people. For example, I might say to my partner, “I’m going down to the shop to buy milk”, whereas they would just say, “Shop, milk”. They cut out all the joining words and go straight to the crux. So, for a lot of people, it might seem like the deaf can be quite blunt, or even rude to some people, because they’ve cut out the niceties and are just getting to the crux of what they’re talking about.
In sign language as well, there are some specific signs for financial words, but others you have to fingerspell. For example, the word “liabilities” is not a word that has a sign, so you have to spell it out.
Overall, I’ve had really good feedback. I’ve also had some pointers on signing – for example, I’ve learned that I need to slow down my signing. But for the most part, it’s been really positive, and I’ve got a number of followers now, which is really great.
What advice would you give to a hearing broker who has a deaf client?
I think the first thing I would say is just to speak and communicate normally. It’s about finding a way to communicate on an equal level. A lot of people tend to slow down what they are saying or over-exaggerate what they are saying. But when you do that, you change the length of the words that you are saying, which not only can make the deaf person feel stupid, but it also makes it harder for those lip-reading to be able to understand what you are saying.
Also, it can be useful to write notes if you are struggling to communicate and to offer some options for interpretive services as part of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. For me, the beauty is that my clients don’t have to do that because I can actually sign and communicate with them. So, it saves them the hassle of having to make appointments with interpreters and interpreters not turning up etc. So, it gives them a bit more independence.
Now, I’ve got clients in Queensland. I’ve met with people in Sydney and Melbourne. And I do a lot of Skyping and video conferencing on Facebook. So, I have clients all over Australia.
What are you focused on for this year?
I’m going to be doing some work with Jenny Budiman from Circle Finance. So, while we will have our own brands, we’re going to start working together. I’m really excited about where the future goes.
I know we’ve got such a difficult time at the moment with the virus. But, you know, I think that now with the current circumstances, it’s actually a really big financial wake-up call for a lot of people. I’m hoping that people will start to reassess how they actually operate their financials every day. And hopefully they’ll start making some smart decisions about saving money and having emergency funds. I think if more people had emergency funds, there wouldn’t be this massive financial stress that people are probably finding right now.
Annie Kane is the editor of The Adviser and Mortgage Business.
As well as writing about the Australian broking industry, the mortgage market, financial regulation, fintechs and the wider lending landscape – Annie is also the host of the Elite Broker and In Focus podcasts and The Adviser Live webcasts.
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