Education, diversity drive CAFBA

by Antony Field15 Feb 2021

It’s an exciting time for the Commercial & Asset Finance Brokers Association, with new board leaders, a growing membership, and a strong focus on education and diversity that will benefit the entire industry.

CAFBA has emerged from a tumultuous year with a fresh outlook and a determination to expand its horizons.

Membership stands at more than 1,000. It has grown over the past year, with full membership up 22%, while individual broker membership grew 11%, according to CAFBA’s annual review for 2019–2020. Over the last three years, female membership has risen from 8% to 27% on the back of its Women in Leadership Scholarship Program and Women’s Networking Forum.

Two of CAFBA’s “founding fathers”, president David Gandolfo and company secretary Terry Moody, both honorary life members, have stepped down from the board. They will continue to serve the association – Gandolfo as chair of the CAFBA Advocacy Committee and Moody as head of the CAFBA Education Council.

The board changes include new president Matthew Atkin, vice president Domenic Lo Surdo, company secretary Ian Elkner and treasurer Sharon Piening. There are also two new faces on the board – Rebecca Mansfield and Max McFarlane.

Australian Broker caught up with Atkin, Piening and Mansfield to discuss their new roles and how CAFBA is educating commercial finance brokers and promoting diversity.

Atkin, the managing director of Melbourne equipment finance brokerage Atlas Broker, has been CAFBA vice president for three years and became president last November. He says he joined the board in 2015 because he had always been impressed by the calibre of its people and thought it was an “an enormous opportunity to get involved”.

“It has been a tremendous experience so far, and I am proud of what the various boards have achieved,” Atkin says. “I am very humbled to have been appointed as president and understand the importance of the position to the continued success of CAFBA.”

Atkin says it is an exciting time for CAFBA as “the baton is handed to the next generation”.

“At 46, I feel I am well positioned to help connect with the issues facing the more experienced members as well as the new ones starting out,” he says.

“I am very lucky to have a strong vice president in Domenic Lo Surdo and CEO in David Gill, who, along with the rest of the board, will work tirelessly to achieve our objectives over the next few years.”

Atkin says he wants to build on the hard work of three very successful CAFBA presidents over the last 10 years – Gandolfo, Moody and Mark Rayson.

He says the board hopes to have its next three-year plan completed by late February, and this will have a big focus on education.

“We believe that education will be key to maintaining our high standards and ensures good customer outcomes.

“I also believe a good education pathway will enable us to attract top talent from a diverse range of backgrounds to the industry.

”The CAFBA Education Council was set up in October to oversee the “structure, content and delivery of education” in the commercial finance sector. It is made up of representatives from the foundation partners – leading financiers in commercial finance – and has teamed up with the Institute of Strategic Management to deliver the education courses.

CAFBA’s research shows that an expanded professional education program can attract a new generation of Gen Ys and millennials for whom a credential is a necessary first step to a structured career path.

The council already offers the Certificate IV in Financial Services (FNS41815): Specialising in Commercial & Asset Finance as well as the Diploma of Financial Services (FNS51815): Complex Issues in Commercial Lending.

It will also roll out an Australian version of the Certified Lease and Finance Professional (CFLP) designation, the only leasing industry certification in the world, something Atkin is “very excited” about.

“The education council and the creation of its course content is a major priority,” Atkin says.

“We must continue to be progressive in our thinking and encourage the professionalisation of our industry.”

Atkin says he will also work with Gandolfo and the advocacy committee to engage both sides of politics, as well as the regulators and funders.

“We have had tremendous success with this over the years and understand it is an important voice for our members,” he says.

CAFBA’s membership growth can be attributed to several factors, Atkin says.

“I believe CAFBA is highly regarded by many people in the industry. Three years ago we set out our strategic objectives, and we have achieved nearly all of them.

“This involved expanding to be the voice of commercial brokers as well as asset finance brokers, decreasing the gender gap through initiatives such as the Women in Leadership courses, and many others.

“We have worked closely with our members, funders, politicians and the various regulatory bodies to ensure our members’ voices are heard. This has assisted in getting the right outcomes for their clients. I think the market values this.”

Atkin says the courses and education council have also “assisted those with aspirations to diversify to do so, as well as providing a career path for new entrants to the industry”.

“All of these factors have shown that CAFBA is a progressive organisation that gets things done. I think this resonates with brokers.”

CAFBA also wants its membership to reflect the clients its members serve.

“We have made some significant steps forward with our growth in female members, and the CLYP [Commercial Lending Young Professionals Group] is creating terrific networks for younger brokers,” Atkin says.

“We need to continue to build on this success. We now need to look at ways of attracting people to our industry from different ethnic backgrounds as the industry will get stronger with involvement from a more diverse group of people.”

Atkin says 2021 will be challenging for the industry.

“I think there is going to be enormous opportunity for those who are going to look for it, but it will not be easy.

“The back end of 2020 saw many of the funders’ response times blow out for a host of reasons, and many of the equipment suppliers can’t get stock from overseas. This has led to a backlog in approvals and settlements, which I think we will start to see moving through from February onwards.”

Provided there are no major COVID outbreaks, Atkin believes there will be very strong settlements in asset finance in May and June due to the “accelerated depreciation/asset write-off ”.

He expects to see a return of many streamlined lending products, which will help turnaround times.

“Brokers will need to continue to help funders deal with arrears and as the JobKeeper program winds up.”

Brokers will also need to keep up to date with lenders’ products to ensure their clients can access the money they need.

Atkin says the trend of brokers diversifying away from consumer lending and into commercial will continue in 2021, but due to the differences between the two it will be important to help brokers get the right education and experience.

Sharon Piening

New CAFBA treasurer Sharon Piening is an asset finance broker with more than 20 years’ experience and a director at Melbourne brokerage The 500 Group. She joined the CAFBA board in late 2019.

“It has been a rewarding experience, and I feel privileged to have the opportunity to work with other amazing business owners and thought leaders,” Piening says.

“[As treasurer] I look to maintain a strong balance sheet and good governance so that we can continue to support, and advocate, on behalf of our members and their clients.”

Piening says pathways and support for aspiring female brokers need to be created, and this prompted her to join the 12-month advanced section of the Women in Leadership Scholarship program, which she is due to complete next month.

“I believe taking on the scholarship program will provide me with the skills to facilitate this change.”

Piening says the program content is highly relevant to her role, with specific topics, lessons and training helping to improve her leadership.

“[It] has enhanced my business knowledge and capability to help me deliver better outcomes for clients and my team,” she says.

“The coaching and facilitators are amazing. They created a comfortable and supportive environment, which in turn meant participants were highly engaged and actively involved.”

Piening wants more women to join the scholarship program and networking forums.

“I would say go for it. The tools in this program are designed to stretch you beyond your comfort zone. It challenges you to develop your critical thinking abilities and unlock your full potential.

“[At the forums] we welcome not only female brokers but also female support staff and female staff from the lenders so women in the industry can form their own networks and relationships.

“The aim is to help women be cognisant of the career pathways available in commercial and asset finance, to feel supported and encouraged to take the next step in their career journey.”

Piening says it is critical that CAFBA continues to educate its members and those new to commercial finance, given the evolving nature of the industry and customer and lender expectations. She wants to double female membership over the next two years, a goal she says is achievable.

“I am passionate about diversity and the need for more women to be given the opportunity to take on leadership roles within our industry. I believe it is critical for CAFBA to promote both gender and ethnic diversity in our industry so that we are more reflective of the Australian community.”

Rebecca Mansfield

New CAFBA board member Rebecca Mansfield, 30, is a relative newcomer to the industry. She has been a broker at Loan Market in Sydney for three years, starting out in residential and diversifying into commercial.

Mansfield says she joined CAFBA to “ensure I was making the transition the right way by getting all the necessary education and qualifications”.

“CAFBA really supported this through their Cert IV in Commercial & Asset Finance Brokers course,” she says.

“I also saw joining CAFBA as a way to network with other brokers and to build relationships with lending partners. I’ve realised that relationships are so important in this industry.”

As a board member, Mansfield wants to work on ways to “encourage younger brokers to enter this wonderful industry”.

“I’m very big on education and providing the right support, which I know is a massive focus of CAFBA’s,” Mansfield says.

“I hope my involvement at board level will help other young people want to start their career in commercial and asset finance.

“Our clients are so diverse, so it’s important CAFBA recognises this to make sure they are adequately supporting clients with a variety of needs. We would be missing a trick if we didn’t foster diversity.”

Mansfield will start the advanced leadership scholarship program next month.

“I contacted a few women who had previously undertaken the course to learn about their experience. All the feedback was incredibly positive,” she says.

“I’m really looking forward to networking with other women in leadership positions, especially from other industries, as I think we can learn so much about other ways of doing things from outside our industry.

“Secondly, the course content is so timely for where my business is at. I’ve just started building my team, so the modules regarding empowering teams and leadership mindset will really assist me on this journey.”

Mansfield has also attended the women’s networking forums in Sydney.

“Running your own business is lonely at times, and it’s great to be surrounded by other motivating women,” she says.