Industry's best celebrated

by 03 Nov 2021

It wasn’t the glamorous nightout that everyone had hoped for, but the 2021 Australian Mortgage Awards still drew impressive crowds.

COVID again put a stop to hosting a capacity crowd at The Star Sydney, but hundreds tuned in to see the AMAs screened live online last month and discover the winners of the mortgage fi nance industry’s most highly celebrated awards.

TV and radio presenter Erin Molan was MC and kept proceedings light and cheerful.

Once again, the AMAs were proudly supported by event partner Westpac.

“This is the 12th year Westpac has partnered with the Australian Mortgage Awards,” Westpac Group CEO Peter King said. “It’s a great opportunity to celebrate your outstanding achievements over the past 12 months.

“Brokers continue to play a key role in helping customers with the Australian dream – buying a home. They trust and value your independent service and advice, and they look to brokers to help navigate a complex landscape of choice.”

Australian Broker caught up with some of the award winners.

Louisa Sanghera,
Zippy Financial

Working incredibly long hours is paying off for Louisa Sanghera. The multi-award-winning fi nance broker runs Zippy Financial in Sydney with an all-female team of fi ve employees.

Sanghera started her fi nance career in 1983 when she got a job at NAB on leaving school. After taking a break to have two children, she restarted her career, this time as a broker.

Not only did Sanghera win the FBAA Broker of the Year – Independent award at this year’s AMAs, but Zippy Financial also won the award for Most Effective Digital Strategy.

And Sanghera’s crowning achievement was being named 2021’s Westpac Australian Broker of the Year.

“Winning Broker of the Year is a massive opportunity for me in terms of marketing. The fact that I can say to everybody, ‘I’m Australian Broker of the Year’ – that’s going to bring in business,” says Sanghera.

“It is nice to be recognised, just to see all the hard work, all the tears and sweat that goes into every single day and all the sacrifices I’ve made … to see that it is paying off.

“The AMAs are also my favourite event of the year.”

Sanghera says it was also good to win Most Effective Digital Strategy and Broker of the Year – Independent. She’s now desperately trying to find more staff, especially good-quality credit managers to help meet demand.

“We always put the clients first. I’m working 18- to 20-hour days because I can’t find staff. My right-hand woman, Tracy Pollard – she’s been working from nine till midnight.”

So, what are the secrets to Sanghera’s success?

“I only bring in quality staff with lots of experience. They all know what they’re doing, so everything runs smoothly. It’s about having good systems, good procedures, and we all work extremely hard.”

Sanghera says switching to aggregator Specialist Finance Group means she now has access to the best software in the industry.

Alan Hemmings,
Home Loan Experts

Sydney-based brokerage Home Loan Experts won CBA Brokerage of the Year (Over 20 Staff ) and Liberty Australian Brokerage of the Year. CEO Alan Hemmings says its 24 brokers are thrilled.

“Especially given the level of competition we were up against,” says Hemmings. “Everyone had a great year, and for us to be recognised as one of the best is a great achievement for the team.”

Hemmings says the support provided to Home Loan Experts brokers was a big reason for the company’s success.

“We’ve really tried to get back to the basics. We allow them to just be the broker – talking to customers, building rapport, and then we’ve taken a lot of the admin function off them. That’s where we’ve seen some real uplift.”

Brokers have also been focusing more on the repeat and referral customer base, Hemmings says.

“We don’t have a set of lenders that we go to, so the team this year have used over 60 different lenders. We really work on the brokers trying to find a solution for the customer.”

He says brokers have coped well with COVID after moving to a flexible working model last year.

“We track everything that happens in the business, so we can see how busy our brokers are, how busy our back office is ... even though we’re not necessarily in the  office, we have regular meetings.” Home Loan Experts will continue to grow, says Hemmings.

“There’s no doubt we want more brokers to make sure we improve our service offering to our customers. We’re very different to a lot of the other businesses – our brokers are all salaried.”

More clients are keen to interact online, he says.

“How can we make it easy for the customer to deal with us where we can give them a number of different options and get them set with a lender – that’s the focus for us.”

Kevin Wheatley,
Bayside Commercial Mortgages

“Overwhelmed” is how Kevin Wheatley described his reaction to winning the La Trobe Financial Broker of the Year – Commercial award, a highlight of his career.

“I’ve had the AMAs elude me for the best part of 15 years,” says the managing director of Bayside Commercial Mortgages.

He says it has been wonderful to receive other “minor awards”.

“But for me, the AMAs was the pinnacle of my career, and I was overwhelmed to receive that award.

“I’d like to thank my staff, including my commercial manager Rob Taylor – he’s just a gem; his tireless efforts in supporting me are highly valued.”

Bayside covers a broad range of fi nance, from car loans to asset funding, commercial construction and residential loans, and Wheatley says it’s more diversifi ed than most commercial brokerages, with its own corporate and legal advisory business.

“Brokers are funny people – they’re very, very good at raising finance for individuals and companies, but they’re not very good at giving advice when businesses start falling over.”

While commercial finance has stagnated due to COVID, Wheatley is confi dent it will ramp up quickly due to major infrastructure projects.

“If you look at the shortage of property across Australia, we’re going to see a lot more land subdivisions and packages for first homeowners – that’s going to keep the fi nance industry buoyant for a very long time.”

Andrew Hadjidemetri,
Australian Financial & Mortgage Solutions

After a six years in banking, working at Westpac and Commonwealth Bank, Andrew Hadjidemetri set up his own brokerage, Australian Financial & Mortgage Solutions, last year.

The move has paid off, with the new broker being named Adelaide Bank Young Gun of the Year – Independent.

How did Hadjidemetri react to his win?

“Excitement. I literally jumped out of my seat,” he says.

“Being recognised as Young Gun of the Year in my first year of starting Australian Financial & Mortgage Solutions gives me the reassurance that my skill, knowledge and expertise, which I’ve converted into a streamlined process for my clients, really works. Knowing this will give me more confidence in my approach, which will undoubtedly be reflected in my business.”

Hadjidemetri says COVID-19 has been the biggest challenge, changing the way brokers work.

“Our business is built on relationships and trust, and this can be difficult when we can’t meet clients face-to-face. COVID-19 changed the game, but it also taught me to develop my online services to make my processes even easier for clients.

“I want to help educate and assist as many Australians as I can with their financial needs and goals.”

Michelle Rose,
La Trobe Financial

With 17 years of fi nance industry experience, La Trobe Financial’s senior manager – clients partnerships Queensland, Michelle Rose, was thrilled to win the Mortgage Choice Best Non-Bank BDM award.

“My initial reaction was, wow, I cannot believe what I’m hearing. It was an out-of-body experience,” says Rose.

“When I saw the video being played, it took me a moment to realise that I had actually just won, and I wasn’t dreaming. I am truly humbled to have achieved such an accomplishment.”

Rose says the award would not have been possible without the La Trobe Financial team, and the win is as much for them.

“Since I started three and a half years ago at La Trobe Financial, I have had nothing but 100% support from the entire La Trobe Financial team, our leadership group – and especially Michelle Bannister, head of distribution, and Cory Bannister, chief lending officer. My motto is Team Work equals Dream Work, and, without these, achievements would not be possible.”

Rose says the AMAs are highly recognised in the industry, and she hopes this will help her support more people to realise their financial dreams. 

“I’m very passionate with my work, and I strive each day to help as many people as possible. I have recently been promoted to state manager, and one of my goals is to expand the La Trobe Financial brand and ensure that all business partners are aware of the market-leading products that we provide in the mortgage space.”

Ben Magnus,
Empower Wealth

Winning Resimac Brokerage of the Year – Diversifi cation proved to be a hit at Melbourne’s Empower Wealth.

“When I announced this to the team on Friday night, the virtual platform we operate on lit up like a Christmas tree – everyone was very excited,” says head of mortgage broking Ben Magnus.

 “We were absolutely thrilled to be recognised for best brokerage in diversifi cation. We work hard to ensure all our clients experience the best of Empower Wealth and each of our services.”

 Magnus says the award has underpinned the strengths of the brokerage’s core values and its altruistic drive.

“It speaks deeply to who we are as a company and what inspires us to deliver exceptional client outcomes.”

The win will motivate Empower Wealth to explore new and exciting services for clients and expand its footprint across Australia.

The brokerage aims to build long-term deep connections with clients.

“Sometimes brokering can be very transactional; you settle and move forward – whereas at Empower Wealth each of our services has a touchpoint at various parts of the client journey. This helps keep the trusted relationship and the interaction live.”

Magnus says the core focus is on helping clients become “financially free” by educating them on how to manage their money better and use Empower Wealth’s MyWealthPortal, its proprietary money management platform.

Luke Whitbread,
Mortgage Choice

Former professional golfer Luke Whitbread has got into the swing of things when it comes to broking.

After two years at Mortgage Choice Erina, Whitbread has been named MFAA Young Gun of the Year – Franchise. It’s the second year in a row that a broker from Mortgage Choice Erina has won this award. Whitbread’s colleague Katie Dowton took the title in 2020.

“It was a pleasant surprise,” says Whitbread, referring to his award.

“I also felt a lot of satisfaction knowing the effort the team and I have made over the past year to grow and develop our business was at the highest quality.”

Whitbread thanked his team, especially mentor and business partner Anthony Knight.

“At this stage I don’t think I fully understand the potential reach this has, but it gives the team and I the confidence that we are on the right path and will continue to support our clients at the highest level.”

Whitbread says Mortgage Choice provides great support to brokers with branding, leads, broker systems and technology.

“Then there’s the support we get from our state teams and franchise business managers. It all helps us to be more efficient as brokers and makes us a stronger business.”

Whitbread says the broker team is constantly learning and refining processes to improve the client experience.

Allan Savins,
Better Choice Home Loans

A streamlined loan application process helped Better Choice Home Loans win Loan Services Team of the Year, says executive director Allan Savins.

“We were incredibly proud and excited to be recognised by the Australian Mortgage Awards, and it was a terrifi c surprise,” he says.

“It’s tremendously gratifying to be honoured by our industry. It’s also pleasing to have this achievement after what has been a very challenging period for all during the COVID pandemic.

It’s a great tribute to our hard-working team.”

Savins says a few developments at Better Choice in 2021 contributed to the win.

“One was to speed up and streamline our loan application process for our broker network through our partnership with NextGen.Net, which allowed us to integrate new compliance technology into our ApplyOnline platform, making  it more digitalised.”

Better Choice also secured a $500m funding pipeline through Goldman Sachs Group, and a $250m residential warehouse program through Bendigo and Adelaide Bank.

“This has enabled us to launch new loan products as part of the Better Choice Ultimate Range.”

Savins says Better Choice knows how important service is to brokers, and it has always been a priority.

“To have that formally recognised in the industry, it gives us a great platform that brokers will hopefully gravitate towards. With our loan services team leading the industry, and our Ultimate product range having launched in recent months, we are confi dent that brokers will continue to choose Better Choice for their clients’ needs.”

George Srbinovski,
86 400

It has been a whirlwind few years for 86 400. After launching in 2019 as Australia’s fi rst bank to operate purely online, its star has risen rapidly.

86 400 is now on the lending panel of all major aggregators – the latest addition was Finsure last month. 86 400 has been named the fastest open banking provider by Frollo, was recently acquired by NAB and will merge with UBank.

For the second consecutive year, 86 400 has won the Fintech Lender of the Year award.

“We’re very proud of our win, especially for the second year in a row, as it goes to show how far we’ve come in establishing the brand and the support of the broker channel,” says the bank’s head of broker distribution, George Srbinovski.

“It’s a reminder of the team’s hard work over the past two years. We’ve constantly been striving to provide a great loan service to our brokers, and this award is reflected in our efforts.”

Srbinovski says 86 400’s digital processes and ease of access for brokers have been well received.

“Turning unnecessary paperwork into a digital process has allowed us to branch out to more aggregators to further our presence in the broker network to help assist brokers with their customers.

“We constantly receive positive feedback from the broker channel on our lending processes and how we have made it easier to assist customers, whether they have been buying, refinancing, or investing.

“We’re always improving and refining our application process, and this wouldn’t be possible without the support from the broker network. Through the support of our brokers, we achieved wonderful growth.”