The Rising Star award recognises tomorrow’s leader – the professional who will play an integral role in the development of broking in the years ahead. The Rising Star will be entrepreneurial, highlight unique thought leadership, show success in their current business/role and reveal how they have already made a difference to the broking profession within their past five years of full-time operation.
1. What steps have you taken and what initiatives have you delivered since you commenced your career that have made a positive impact on the growth and development of the industry, and how have they done so?
Nikki’s career began in the world of business development and project management, and worked for some of Australia’s leading retail and finance brands such as Mitre 10 Mega and ANZ Bank. While this path proved to be an education in itself, Nikki found herself craving purpose.
Never one to shy away from a challenge, in 2016 Nikki began the process of applying to become a firefighter for the Country Fire Authority, Victoria’s leading fire fighting service – and passed. As Nikki’s husband has been in the Victorian Police Force for over two decades, she was already familiar with the responsibilities associated with being an emergency services worker.
However, the call to follow her own path was getting louder, and Nikki knew that her true passion was for numbers. As a result, the blueprint for Cherry Lending & Finance took shape, before launching in 2017.
Nikki quickly realised that there was no ‘one stop shop’ for finance solutions for the emergency services industry and there was no support for mortgages for the tight knit community that is police officers, firefighters and paramedics and their families, who without a doubt faced their own unique challenges when it comes to stress, working hours and finance options.
Thanks to a unique background, specialised policies and procedures and of course, a customer centric focus, over 80% of Cherry Lending & Finance customers are now emergency service workers and their families, with word of mouth being the brand’s primary growth driver.
Of course, with around only 10% of Australian mortgage brokers being women, this alone brings its own competitive advantages and unique operating points. As a one woman band, Nikki takes great pride in her nurturing and soft approach when it comes to the world of mortgages and finance.
Needless to say, Nikki is also helping to make the industry more attractive to women as a desirable sector to work towards or join. By creating a brand that is fun and approachable and proving that you can be successful while doing so, Nikki is aiming to inspire women to do the same.
2. What has been your greatest achievement since commencing in the mortgage or finance broking industry?
As a fully certified Mortgage Broker, Nikki wanted branding that reflected both her own personality and the way she does business. Year on year, Cherry Lending & Finance has doubled in volume – even as a single operator. While Nikki is a one woman band, this means that each and every one of her clients can expect consistency when it comes to industry knowledge, communication and ultimately customer service.
This especially rings true for Nikki when it comes to assessing exactly who and what she’s up against on a day to day basis. The financial sector is a big, noisy and competitive industry – and yet, she’s managed to make her mark by sticking to her guns, avoiding gimmicks, and putting the customer front and centre.
Nikki believes that the consistent annual growth of Cherry Lending & Finance is down to two major factors – having solid systems, policies and procedures, and continuously putting the wants, needs and desires of both her new and existing customers first. Success is all the more sweeter, as she’s done it solo without the assistance of any of the administrators, credit analysts or in-house marketing professionals that her other larger competitors – or even other mortgage brokers applying for this very award – have at their disposal.
However, that’s not to say that there won’t be in the near future. Despite the industry culture being that brokers needed to “hustle” in order to gain traction, get customers and grow their business, Nikki opted for another path. By taking the “softer” approach to networking in order to build real relationships, it’s the little things like sending Christmas cards and remembering her client’s birthdays that have all helped to build her brand in a sustainable fashion, and without the common “cut throat” income-first ideology. With a 98% customer retention rate, this is a true testament of Nikki’s ability to combine industry knowledge with a legitimately engaging customer experience.
3. Please outline your strategy – highlighting the aims, objectives and tactics – for developing/strengthening the broking industry over the next five years.
While many other mortgage broking services would be hesitant to ‘limit’ themselves and niche down to one industry or sector, it has allowed Nikki to focus on one of Victoria’s biggest communities and cater to their unique working environment accordingly.
Nikki is acutely aware of just how tight knit the emergency services community is not only in Victoria, but in Australia as a whole. While many other industries have traditionally had access to their own specialised services, there have been limited options for police officers, paramedics and firefighters. It’s for this reason that Nikki has partnered with other operators that specifically worked with emergency services personnel, such as Luke Lawlor from Emergency Service Property Advisors, one of our peers in the Mornington region in Victoria.
Together, we recorded weekly videos to share on our social media platforms to help provide clarity and reassurance. It was also a great way to give people the facts they needed in order to help them make better decisions, as of course, emergency service workers were busier than ever in 2020. By working as a collective to innovate, educate and empower – everyone wins.
With such a unique background, Nikki is also no stranger to not only surviving, but thriving, in traditionally male dominated roles, sectors and environments. It’s for this very reason that she has big plans for the future when it comes to the role of women in the world of business and finance, and is ultimately passionate about educating and empowering other female entrepreneurs.
The end goal for Nikki is to see more women enter the world of mortgage broking. With the number of females in the industry currently sitting at just 10%, that’s something Nikki would like to see change.
4. In 25 words or less, please describe “What winning the award means to you”.
This award would validate the efforts made so far to support Australia’s emergency service workers as both a business, and an active member of the community.
5. Why do you believe you should win this award?
From her branding, her website and right down to her overall approach at doing business, Cherry Lending & Finance instead actively pushed the concept of putting the customer first – really putting the customer first, and not just claiming to.
Needless to say, this approach has worked well. With the majority of her new clients stemming from word of mouth, Nikki is renowned in her sector for being both hands on and highly experienced, but in a manner that is both approachable and nurturing.
Despite the industry culture being that brokers needed to “hustle” in order to gain traction, get customers and grow their business, Nikki opted for another path. By taking the “softer” approach to networking in order to build real relationships, it’s the little things like sending Christmas cards and remembering her client’s birthdays that have all helped to build her brand in a sustainable fashion, and without the common “cut throat” income-first ideology. With a 98% customer retention rate, this is a true testament of Nikki’s ability to combine industry knowledge with a legitimately engaging customer experience, which has translated into consistent and sustainable growth for the business, even in the midst of the global pandemic.
Winning this award would be a symbol of acknowledgement that businesses don’t need to place financial success ahead of the needs of their clients, as by putting the latter first, the former will eventually follow. Taking home the award would also recognise the unique needs and contributions of the emergency services sector, and that having a designated go-to to represent them is a valued format when it comes to catering for unique industries in Australia, particularly for ones that do so much for us.
Taking home the title of “Rising Star” will also be a physical nod to both the existing women operating in the financial services and mortgage broking sectors, and will no doubt encourage more women to do the same. These “small wins” go a long way when it comes to rewarding those who actively choose to pursue a career in this traditionally male dominated sector, but will also allow them to lead the way for the next generation of female entrepreneurs to follow. Representation is important, but so is receiving recognition without compromising on your own values or those of your wonderful clients.