Women in finance blaze a trail

by Sarah Megginson31 Aug 2020

Though there is still some way to go in boosting the participation of women in the mortgage industry – only around 25% of its workforce is comprised of females (according to MFAA figures) – there’s no denying that a growing number of high-profile women in finance are blazing their own paths forward.

At Australian Broker, we’re always keen to celebrate those in the industry who are kicking goals in their careers and helping others get ahead along the way.

In fact, for this year’s Australian Mortgage Awards in October, dozens of women have been nominated across categories such as Young Gun of the Year, Broker of the Year and Brokerage of the Year, to name a few.

More than mere multitaskers with a knack for numbers, females in finance bring their own unique qualities to an industry that can be known for being ‘black and white’. Empathetic, generous and creative, with a predisposition to problem-solving and strategic thinking, women can bring that personal element to the broking process. One such woman taking great strides in the industry is Melissa Ashcroft, general manager of the ‘AAA’ Financial Group, which has finance broking, planning and wholesale fund management arms. AAA Mortgages has been in business for 35 years and offers both residential and commercial lending; as a mortgage manager it has over 1,100 accredited brokers.

Melissa Ashcroft, general manager, ‘AAA’ Financial GroupMelissa Ashcroft, general manager, ‘AAA’ Financial Group

“As well as being general manager of AAA, I work on commercial development finance, so I mainly do commercial brokerage. I love my job because it’s intellectually challenging while being fulfilling. I get to work with so many different people, from small business owners to big developers – and ultimately my job is to help make their dreams come true,” says Ashcroft, who is a finalist for the AMA’s Broker of the Year – Commercial award.

“There’s nothing better than knowing you’ve helped someone finance a project that has been in the works for years, or you’ve helped a small business owner get their first loan. I see my role as a broker as one that financially empowers people and gives them the tools to change their circumstances in any way they want.”

“I see my role as a broker as one that financially empowers people and gives them the tools to change their circumstances” Melissa Ashcroft, general manager, ‘AAA’ Financial Group

While Ashcroft believes there are “some great initiatives to support and encourage women in our industry”, she says there is “always room for improvement”.

“It’s important to acknowledge how far we’ve come in the last few years, with undoubtedly more women in mortgage broking than ever before, but there still remain broader societal obstacles that dissuade some women from entering the finance industry,” she says.

“As a woman in the industry today, I feel incredibly supported and that I have the tools to succeed, but I am very privileged to feel this way. Improvement will come from making sure every woman, no matter her cultural or social background, feels the same way. I hope we can further diversify the broking industry, which will serve only to strengthen the ideas, voices and industry standards we have today.”

Ashcroft adds that females in finance are at a unique advantage in that they “have a natural ability and desire to offer help and solve problems – and that puts us in the ideal position to be a highly respected adviser to our clients”.

“If you have a passion for this industry, then just be yourself and strive to provide the best service you can. What you give to the industry and your clients will be paid back to you by way of a strong sense of respect, ability and job satisfaction,” she says.

Kathy Dundas, mortgage broker at No Fuss Home Loans, agrees. When she started out in mortgage broking a little over 16 years ago, with two young sons to balance with her career, she stepped into the broking world to see if it would allow her the freedom to build her career and spend as much time with her children as possible.

Kathy Dundas, mortgage broker, No Fuss Home LoansKathy Dundas, mortgage broker, No Fuss Home Loans

Since then, she’s seen plenty of change in the broking industry but says she can’t imagine another career or sector that offers the same benefits as the finance world.

“Given my background in finance and conveyancing, I thought mortgage broking would be a good fit for me as I have always loved dealing directly with clients. Back then, I had the luxury of my husband working in a good-paying role, so I was able to slowly build up my business without the pressure of having a strong income from day one. But my business has grown over the years into a very profitable and strong position, with an excellent trail income and a strong customer base – and with a reasonable amount of freedom that comes with being your own boss,” Dundas explains.

“What I love about being a mortgage broker is the ability to assist clients to achieve their dreams, from the thrill of their first home purchase to building investment portfolios that set them up for a comfortable retirement. To me, there is nothing more satisfying than that call to my client once a loan is approved and they know that they are now able to fulfil their dream.”

It’s clear that Dundas, who is an AMA finalist in the category of Best Customer Service from an Individual Office, is passionate about customer service.

“The excitement and happiness of the client gives me such pleasure and makes the drama of some loan applications worth every minute of frustration. I have made so many strong friendships in this industry, both clients and colleagues. I cannot think of any other career I could pursue that would give me these benefits,” she says.

“There is also such a strong camaradarie in the broking industry – you would think that there would be very strong competition between brokers, but I find that generally we are very happy to offer advice and assistance to each other. The fallout from the royal commission into banking had a huge impact on our industry, and we could have just crawled under a rock and disappeared, but with the strong backing of our industry bodies we have overcome the hurdles and, amazingly, increased our value offering to a point where I believe that consumers now seek our  assistance more than ever.”

“I have made so many strong friendships in this industry, both clients and colleagues. I cannot think of any other career I could pursue that would give me these benefits” Kathy Dundas, mortgage broker, No Fuss Home Loans

Even though Dundas has always worked in male-dominated industries, she says she has never looked at her gender as being a barrier or a reason not to succeed.

“I have a belief that anyone can achieve the level of success they strive for – you just have to want it and work hard for it. Personally, I have never experienced any thoughts of not being respected in this industry,” Dundas says.

“When I started out 16 years ago, female brokers were definitely a minority group, and I sometimes did feel like I was the ‘token female’, but now at industry gatherings the number of females, especially in higher management positions, has grown to a level that I feel we are well represented. I have the opinion that it is important to have the right person for the job, be it male or female, and to me this seems to be evident in the finance industry.”

Of course, broking isn’t the only path you can take to make an impact in this industry, as Rebecca Wadley, director and compliance manager at Numero Uno Finance, can attest.

Wadley is not an accredited broker, though her business partner is licensed to write credit; rather, her background is in compliance and financial crime, such as anti-money laundering, counterterrorism financing and fraud.

“I am very focused on managing the compliance side of our business. Numero Uno Finance is a boutique mortgage broking business based on building lifelong relationships with our clients, and I love being the trusted point of contact to guide and support our clients through the homebuying and finance journey,” Wadley says.

It’s a strategy that is paying off: Numero Uno Finance has been nominated this year as a finalist for the AMA’s New Brokerage of the Year award.

For Wadley, it has been the support of other women that has truly helped her move the business forward.

“It’s important to surround yourself with people who know your worth and are your cheer squad. Particularly as women, sometimes we are hard on ourselves and second-guess our decision-making. Having someone in your corner to remind you of your skills and expertise can make all the difference,” she says.

“The finance industry has come a long way in terms of being more supportive of women within the industry. It’s great to see women excelling as mortgage brokers, BDMs and relationship managers and being celebrated and supported in their careers.”

Meanwhile, Penny Huyan, director of Goldenwater in Eight Mile Plains in Southeast Queensland, has also developed a career in finance that traverses many sectors and industries.

As a business lending specialist, she primarily strategises tailored finance solutions for business customers, but Goldenwater also has expertise in management letting rights lending and commercial lending.

“There is always room for improvement. I think we can do more as an industry around supporting women who return ... after maternity leave” Penny Huyan, director, Goldenwater

“We regularly help business owners identify and secure the right opportunities, and I take on a truly collaborative role with my clients, helping them to establish robust business and financial structures that will empower their enterprise to blossom and grow. I love to go to work every day in this industry with people I respect and whose expertise helps my clients and me to flourish,” she explains.

As a female in finance, Huyan says she feels supported and equipped to succeed by those she works alongside, from aggregators and bank BDMs to media contacts, associations and her peers.

“It’s incredible to see how many resources are available in this industry, with so many platforms and formats you can choose and engage with. For example, there are regular Woman in Finance events, Australian Broker magazine, aggregator BDM knowledge-sharing seminars and more,” she says.

However, like Ashcroft, she says there is room for improvement. “I think we can do more as an industry around supporting women who return to work or to their own businesses after maternity leave. I also think we can find ways to promote and support women, financially and from a mental health view, to join and start their own business in this industry.”

Huyan, who is a finalist for AMA Broker of the Year – Specialist Lending, adds that she hopes more women see the value and benefits of a career in finance, and take the plunge by engaging in this industry.

“As per the Australian Bureau of Statistics, more than 60% of small businesses close within the first three years of their start-up journey. My advice to those considering moving into broking would be to find a passion and vision in your niche area and make efforts to stick to it. And don’t be afraid of new challenges; we all need to continue to learn and grow to keep up with this fast-changing industry.”

As a female in finance, what surprises you the most about this industry?