Find out how Nathan Smith, owner of Sutherland Shire-based brokerage Birdie Wealth, battled through redundancy and established his own award-winning brokerage.
What was your route into broking?
I was previously working in finance in the motor industry, and that involved a lot of weekend work. There was one particular month where I hadn’t seen my wife all month. So, the decision was made from a lifestyle perspective that I needed to change.
I went and met with my personal mortgage broker and asked about how I could enter the industry, and he offered me a job on the spot, so the rest is history.
What were the main obstacles you encountered when you first entered the industry?
I started as a 21-year-old, so trying to talk to people approaching retirement about their strategies was, quite often, difficult. It was probably a self-confidence issue, thinking, “Am I qualified to do this?” or “Am I in a position to give these people who are 30 years older than me any lending advice?”
You’re kind of starting on your own. I guess the challenge was generating leads and generating interest.
Also, I worked as an employee for the last 10 years. I’ve worked predominately with Mortgage Choice, and I’ve worked with Aussie Home Loans, and I’ve also spent a little bit of time with a Connective brokerage as well. There is a lot promised up front, and it is difficult to make your own path.
When did you establish Birdie Wealth, and why?
In December 2016, two weeks before Christmas, I walked in to speak with the directors of the business I was working at and they made me redundant. So, the choice was made for me.
At the time, we had two young children and my wife was pregnant with our third, so it was a pretty scary time working out what to do at that point. The safe option was to go and get another job and take a salary somewhere, but we took a risk, a calculated risk, and decided to open Birdie Wealth.
How did you find the transition in setting up your own brand?
Starting under somebody else’s brand [like a franchise] was the best way to make sure that Birdie ended up being successful. I’ve been able to take the best practices from so many other businesses and implement them into mine and also look at other practices that I didn’t think were effective and make sure that they weren’t carried on.
Working for a franchise gave me the best grounding and training and allowed me to focus on writing loans as opposed to wearing all the other hats you have to wear as a business owner.
The job is still to write loans and bring in sales to generate income, but at the same time, you still have to look at marketing, HR, legal, payrolls and admin. You’ve got all these other hats that you’re wearing throughout the day and swapping between them while also making sure the deals are coming through.
So, I’d say the biggest change in the transition to stepping into Birdie Wealth was wearing all the other hats.
How big is the team?
We currently have two brokers on staff, me and one other broker. We have four in the admin support team as well. We have three based in Sydney and one based in the Philippines.
What kind of clients do you typically service?
I’m in my early 30s and the other broker is in his mid-20s, so predominately we’re attracted to clients in our own demographic.
We find that 95 per cent of our clients are based in the Sutherland Shire, around our office. They’re mums and dads aged 25-60, and they’re a combination of first home buyers, upgraders and refinancers.
Birdie Wealth was recognised as the Best New Office at the Australian Broking Awards 2019. How did it feel to win?
It was quite overwhelming; I wasn’t expecting to win. I was quite happy to be nominated as a finalist in that category and the other categories. The win was an absolute bonus.
What do you think sets your office apart from others?
I’ve been able to draw from the best practices from previous businesses I’ve worked at. It has allowed us to hit the ground running and implement some good processes.
What are your plans for the next 12 months?
We’re looking to increase the team. We see a space down here in the Sutherland Shire [to take advantage of] because there isn’t a dominant brokerage brand [already set up]. So, I see the team moving more to that piece.
The strengths of Birdie Wealth tend to be around marketing of brand and refining and implementing strong processes. We’re essentially setting up a platform and model where writers that are good at writing loans can step in, focus on what they’re good at, and have that piece done for them.
What advice would you give to new entrants?
Focus on activity rather than settlement. Make sure that your marketing is on point and that you’re regularly engaging in social media activity. Spend your time meeting people and letting them know what you do.
The other tip is just to ask for help. Even over the past year, I’ve reached out to in excess of 10 brokers, asking for assistance on how to grow a team or handle certain aspects of their process. Every single one has offered help and invited me into their business. This industry seems to be quite unique in that we’re quite happy to collaborate rather than work in competition.
[Related: How this best new office took flight]
Charbel Kadib is a journalist on The Adviser and Mortgage Business.
Before joining Momentum Media in 2017, Charbel held roles with public relations agency Fifty Acres, and the Department of Communications and the Arts.
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