Stepping into Shore Financial’s North Sydney office puts you right in the centre of things, and as The Adviser discovers, it’s a real hive of activity
I feel a bit like my first day at a job. A team of fresh-faced, twenty-something brokers wearing headsets pace behind cubicles, talking busily with clients, while others work on spreadsheets, calculators and loan applications. Over in a corner, one broker mentors another about getting a deal over the line.
Shore Financial is, in a word, alive.
The firm’s modest office has little space for timewasting, let alone room to wait. Which is what I’m doing right now, and no – I’m not here for my first day of work.
I’ve come to interview Shore’s directors, Alex Nochar and Theo Chambers.
Alex and Theo founded the Sydney brokerage in February 2013. In its second year of trading, Shore lodged more than $1 billion in mortgage sales and recently revealed plans to expand its Sydney team from 20 to 40 brokers.
As I’m greeted by an energetic Theo, my first question is how is he going to fit another 20 brokers in this place.
“We bought the office next door,” he explains, leading the way to his office, a glass corner overlooking the bays of Sydney’s lower north shore.
“We settled on Monday. In a couple of weeks we’ll knock the wall through and start the fit-out. That will give us another 16 or so desks,” he says.
Theo won the Editor’s Choice award at the The Adviser’s NSW Better Business Awards last year and was a finalist in the Rising Star and Best Newcomer categories.
Not just a pretty face
Alex and Theo met through their previous employer, Oxygen Home Loans.
“We were both like-minded individuals,” says Theo.
“We were in the training room and I was the new kid on the block – I was only 22. Alex and I and a guy called Peter Ellis within 12 months were the top three brokers at Oxygen.”
The trio were writing the lion’s share of Oxygen’s loan volume.
“We realised we were driving the business,” Theo says. “We wanted equity positions so we tried negotiating with John McGrath to buy into the business because we heard rumours he was selling it.
“We didn’t want it sold underneath us because we had really built it up. After John didn’t entertain the idea, we started thinking about our options.”
Oxygen was the number one broker in Australia for two years in a row, with Alex and Theo its top brokers. Then Richardson & Wrench caught wind of the negotiations and gave them a call.
“It was a bit of right place, right time,” Theo says of the exclusive referral deal that sparked the beginning of Shore Financial. “But I am a strong believer that you make your own luck.”
Shore Financial prides itself on its youth, with the average age of the firm’s brokers being 26. The company’s zest is refreshing in an industry within which the average age of its practitioners is in the 50s.
I ask Alex if the young guns are not too young in the eyes of their clients.
“If a person is good quality, has the right attitude and is professional, I think it comes down to training,” he explains.
“We don’t stick someone in front of a client who doesn’t have the knowledge or confidence to get the job done right.
It is all about our brand and that is why we are so big on training and making sure all our brokers are across it before they go out. All of our new recruits partner up with a senior broker for a period of time so they can really understand the industry.”
Not surprisingly, then, the training period at Shore is lengthy.
New recruits begin working with a senior broker to understand the back office, including developing their knowledge of products and procedures.
The brokers stay with their mentors for four to six months until they pick up the know-how, purely in an admin role. They are then coached, through transactions, for a further six to 12 months.
“What that does is it standardises the process,” says Alex. “Everyone learns the same way.
“Anyone who comes into this industry brand new – because we have done this with lots of brokers – there is no situation they can get in that we haven’t seen before. So it gives them the comfort that we can help them through those stages.
“It’s hard when you start as a broker – it’s hard to get leads. But if you show them a structured way of doing it, you get a good result every time.”
For Theo, the strengths of a young, dynamic team far exceed the weaknesses.
“Our brokers have fewer commitments outside of work in terms of family and kids,” he says.
“They can work in the office until nine o’clock at night. The only headspace they’ve got is building a career and building a book.
Their longevity is 15 to 20 years. Brokers that are 50 years old aren’t looking at that plan; they may be looking at a five-year plan.”
Shore Financial began with a strategic partnership with Richardson & Wrench. The real estate group knew Alex and Theo were the best in the business from when they worked under John McGrath at Oxygen.
Since then, real estate has been the key to the group’s success. It is its core business.
The Richardson & Wrench deal now only accounts for 30 per cent of Shore’s total volumes. A majority is made up of similar relationships with other real estate businesses.
“Everyone here is taught something that we came up with in terms of integrating our services into a real estate business,” Theo says.
“Not to just get referrals but to make real estate agents better at what they do. That’s the key right there,” he says.
“That’s the key to our business.
“We just focus on helping them be better at what they do. A lot of brokers and older businesses, like Oxygen, go in there and sit at their desks and just wait for a referral to hit their inbox. It doesn’t work like that; it’s all relationships.”
Youth is another string to their bow in this area, says Alex.
“The real estate industry has a lot of young people and they actually aspire to like-minded people who are driven and hungry,” he says.
“It’s a like-minded quality. There is a lot of synergy there and that itself helps build the relationship.”
Theo has proved to be a fantastic recruitment source, says Alex, who has seen the company grow from a staff of three to a team of 20 in under two years.
As he sees it, people of Theo’s age are at the point where they are looking to develop a career.
It is the perfect time to jump into broking – a time when they might have a bit of hurt financially to start with, but in the long term their income could be significant.
“It is the perfect point to make that decision,” Alex says.
Theo takes a broader view.
“Since the GFC the world has changed a lot,” he says.
“Most of the people here are friends or friends of friends. Most of them went to a private school, are well presented and well educated.
They have all been almost brainwashed by a private school education and tertiary studies [to believe] that if you get a corporate job at an investment bank or become a stockbroker you’re sorted.
“A lot of people here chased that dream and realised the micromanagement of that business structure is not suited to them,” he says.
“In the corporate world it is very easy to see your career path. If you tick all the boxes and please the boss, you can see that man’s job. The question is, do you really want it? And a lot of these guys really didn’t.”
Shore Financial has arrived at a time when the industry is in a period of transition. The ‘stalwarts’ are looking to sell out and retire; it’s time for the young bucks to come through and make their mark.
Shore is proof that it can be done – that young people can have exciting, fulfilling careers in mortgage broking. Almost everyone who works at Shore Financial has had no previous broking experience.
Thomas Hawley, Newcomer of the Year at the 2014 Australian Broking Awards, was an analyst for a mid-tier funds management business before joining Shore.
He holds a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Sydney and a Masters of Business in Finance & Accounting (distinction average) from the University of Technology Sydney.
“I remember Tom’s mum said he was crazy to move into broking,” quips Theo. “She joked that he was giving it all up to go and sell vacuum cleaners.
“Now he’s our number one writer. In his second year in the job he’s probably going to write $100 million.”
The Sydney-based firm has opened a Melbourne office after signing another exclusive deal, this time with Fletchers Real Estate.
Alex says the firm also expects to enter into a third real estate partnership and open a Brisbane office sometime this year.
Financial planning is an area in which they are looking to become more involved, but at this stage it remains a work in progress.
“We are looking for good planners,” Alex says.
“Conveyancing is another area we are interested in diversifying into,” he continues. “We want to find a good conveyancer who can grow with our business and develop, have an equity stake and so on. We will be working on that over the next year.”
In the meantime, Shore Financial looks set to continue its upward trajectory. The firm’s brokers’ sheer determination and passion for the job are likely to get them there, even if all else fails.
As I wrap up with Theo and Alex, they tell me I should stop by after-hours sometime – that’s when things are in full swing, they say, since most clients like to speak to their broker after work.
“I was here last night at seven,” says Theo.
“You would think it was midday on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
“There is an energy here that is second to none. There is an advisory company next door with a very famous stock market figure who came in here and said he couldn’t put a price on that energy.
“That is purely from youth.”
James Mitchell has over eight years’ experience as a financial reporter and is the editor of Wealth and Wellness at Momentum Media.
He has a sound pedigree to cover the business of mortgages and the converging financial services sector having reported for leading finance titles InvestorDaily, InvestorWeekly, Accountants Daily, ifa, Mortgage Business, Residential Property Manager, Real Estate Business, SMSF Adviser, Smart Property Investment, and The Adviser.
He has also been published in The Daily Telegraph and contributed online to FST Media and Mergermarket, part of the Financial Times Group.
James holds a BA (Hons) in English Literature and an MA in Journalism.
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