Welcome 9 Awards 9 Thought Leader Of The Year Finalist 2022

Thought Leader Of The Year Finalist 2022

1. Detail your approach to thought leadership and how it influences your industry and / or organisation. 

In the early days of owning and operating Cherry Lending & Finance, Nikki quickly realised that there was no ‘one stop shop’ for finance solutions servicing the emergency service industry and there was no support for mortgages for the tight knit community that is police officers, firefighters, paramedics and their families, who without a doubt faced their own unique challenges when it comes to stress, working hours and options for financial products. 

Thanks to a unique background, specialised policies and procedures and a customer centric focus, over 70% of Cherry Lending & Finance customers are now emergency service workers and their families, with word of mouth being the brand’s primary growth driver. In the emergency services community, Nikki is now regarded as a thought leader for how this demographic relates to their finances.

Of course, with less than a quarter of Australian mortgage brokers being women, this alone brings its own competitive advantages and unique operating points. As Cherry Lending & Finance is proudly owned, operated and staffed exclusively by women, Nikki takes great pride in her nurturing approach when it comes to the world of finance. 

In turn, this also provides Nikki with a unique insight into how the mortgage broking industry could be different with more women at the helm, and it’s a conversation that she wants to have with as many people as possible. 

Historically, women are on the financial back foot when compared to our male counterparts, and Nikki aims to continue championing education as a means to help change this – both for her community of loyal customers, her industry peers, and certainly within her own team. As the biggest players in the industry still seem to be ignoring the lack of diversity and statistical disadvantages, financial female empowerment is a space that Nikki is proud to occupy.

2. Highlight the initiatives you have developed in our organisation, detailing the success of these initiatives. 

When Cherry was first established, Nikki’s primary focus was first home buyers. While the business model still factors them in as a big niche to work with, Cherry has since evolved. Many other mortgage brokers would be hesitant to ‘limit’ themselves and niche down to one industry or sector, but doing so has allowed Nikki to focus on one of Victoria’s biggest communities – the emergency services sector – and cater to their unique working environment accordingly.

As such, Nikki sought out other local operators who also specialised in this industry, such as Emergency Services Property Advisor, and the mutual benefits of such a partnership soon followed. 

In recent years, Nikki has turned her primary marketing efforts towards the production and distribution of free financial content. In turn, Nikki soon began to receive new enquiries from clients who seemed to appreciate a personal touch, and existing clients who valued her insight and guidance. In the last twelve months alone, Cherry has released two buyers resources that have been distributed throughout her two biggest client bases: the First Home Buyers guide and the Emergency Service Workers resource.

Lender policy and procedures are constantly evolving, and by keeping her finger on the pulse with these updates, Nikki has been able to provide a service that revolves around “thinking outside of the box” while promoting the industry through new mediums such as podcasts, and by embracing technology.

In addition, Nikki has also consciously spent time with other successful business leaders in her community as a means to further her industry knowledge. It’s an ongoing process though, and as a part of networks such as Masters Broker Group and the Mornington Peninsula’s Women In Business, Nikki has been able to both learn, brainstorm and develop her own success story.

3. What has been your biggest success?

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 a global pandemic.

In fact, Nikki considers her greatest success to be the fact that she has managed to build a sustainable business that’s continuing to grow, without having to sacrifice her ethics. Too many limitations on what she could and could not do was the reason why Nikki left work at the ANZ Bank many years ago, but these days, ‘working financial miracles’ for clients is just a normal part of Nikki’s average work day. 

It would seem that taking such a position was the right choice, as Nikki is also proud of her newer successes as an industry thought leader, and both participates in and instigates conversations around financial education and female empowerment via platforms such as podcasts and webinars. 

In addition, Nikki also considers her status as a ‘go-to’ within the emergency services community for financial help one of her greatest achievements, as it’s arguably the pinnacle of her many years of experience across multiple sectors.

4. Demonstrate the tactics and strategies used to positively shape the culture of your industry and / or organisation.

Nikki believes that the success of Cherry Lending & Finance all boils down to being able to provide a world class customer experience, no matter the size or type of loan a customer is after. Clients receive the same level of service that Nikki herself would expect from a broker – being able to think outside the square, and provide solutions that may not have been accessible via a bank. As one Cherry client put in a recent testimonial, Nikki takes great pride in being someone who can “occasionally work miracles”.

However, Nikki also actively pushes back against a misconception that finance industry professionals are either boring, or too pushy. While Nikki may have made a career out of doing things that others once said she couldn’t do, her prominence in the finance space – and arguably, conspicuous point of difference as a woman – is contributing towards her newfound status as a developing thought leader. 

By leveraging her nurture focussed approach through educating rather than pushing, Nikki’s online articles are starting conversations about money that many would once have shied away from, particularly women. 

Aside from developing the Cherry Lending & Finance blog and social media presence, Nikki has also been busy chipping away at new ways to change the culture and misconceptions surrounding the finance industry. One that she’s become particularly passionate about are podcasts, having recently appeared as a guest speaker on both Elite Broker produced by The Adviser, and Kickass Radio, which focuses on female empowerment in the traditionally male dominated mortgage broking industry. 

5. Describe how you inspire and motivate people in your workplace and your contribution to the development of your community.

Without the support of her community of clients, Nikki believes that she wouldn’t be where she is today – “so it’s important not to forget to support them in return, particularly for those working in or linked to the emergency services sector, who do so much for us.” 

To reflect the recent changes with lending criteria for emergency service workers – 70% of Nikki’s client base – she made an enormous effort to get this vital information circulating. For Nikki, it was about so much more than a tweak to the rules, as these changes meant that emergency services workers could now do so much more with the money that they had worked incredibly hard to earn, and with Nikki’s help, could leverage their wages to enter the world of investing. Quite simply, she pushed this information to inspire them – and it worked.

Overall, Nikki’s extremely passionate about using her own experiences to help educate others – particularly women. While a background in firefighting and finance may not make sense on paper, Nikki Berzin’s superpowers are normalising non-traditional roles for women, breaking down barriers, and ultimately not letting fear hold her back. 

Nikki’s role at Cherry Lending & Finance means that she’s now well and truly in the position to help other women to get financially fit, take control of their future, or even join the industry as a career path. In fact, it’s for this reason that Nikki jumped at the opportunity of being a guest speaker on Kickass Radio, a platform that specifically focuses on female empowerment within the mortgage broking industry.

Podcast aside, other strategies that Nikki is considering include putting on more female team members at Cherry, particularly those who are serious about a career in finance, and would like the opportunity to pursue a Cert IV in Mortgage Broking. 

6. Highlight any innovation attribute to you and how it has impacted your organisation. 

By translating complex information into easily digestible resources, Nikki’s clients receive a nurture centric level of service that customers simply don’t receive from the big banks. However, there’s only so many hours in each day, and Nikki has embraced technology as a form of innovation to help propel both herself and her business into the future.

In addition, the roll out of ‘Ava’ – who can only be described as Nikki in an avatar format – will use artificial intelligence to better service online enquiries or frequently asked questions, and ultimately help to solve consumer queries without sacrificing the customer service that Nikki is known for.

Despite the world of finance having a reputation for being traditional and a sector that works within a certain set of parameters, Nikki takes great pride in always being one step ahead. While ‘Ava’ will have a huge role in how Cherry Lending & Finance uses the avatar as a marketing tool, introducing ‘Ava’ has also enabled Nikki to effectively add another staff member, giving Nikki more time to focus on her business as opposed to being tied up with the day to day operations. 

While ‘Ava’ is already working wonders when it comes to helping Cherry’s clients find the information that they are looking for in a more efficient manner, access to Nikki and the brand’s personal touch still applies. By embracing technology as a new age form of innovation, Nikki is still able to apply a structured approach as a means to maximise the resources available to her, and to continue to deliver real world results for her clients and grow the business at the same time. 

7. Detail one major obstacle you have overcome, and how your leadership ensured a favourable outcome?

While a major day to day obstacle for Cherry Lending & Finance is competing against the big banks, for Nikki, true leadership in the finance industry is about shattering glass ceilings and misconceptions about the world of finance. 

Whether it’s to work in the industry, get a leg onto the property ladder or to start investing, Nikki is actively pursuing any opportunity that showcases the fact that anything is achievable, no matter your age or gender. As her background shows, Nikki is all about showing as opposed to telling. 

By sticking to her ethics while continuing with her development as an industry thought leader via guest speaking on podcasts and webinars, Nikki has discovered that her best resources are actually factors that other larger operators simply don’t have access to: personalisation, honesty, patience and a fierce determination not to leave a single customer behind. 

When not busy helping everyday Australians to get a better grasp on their financial affairs – particularly women – these days, Nikki is extremely busy looking for ways to encourage more women to enter the mortgage broking industry. 

Given that less than a quarter of these industry professionals identify as female, Nikki is all too aware that you can’t be what you can’t see, and has spent more time than ever starting these types of conversations on many different platforms as a means to connect with a wider audience.

Despite having significantly smaller resources to work with when compared to other firms with a much bigger marketing budget, Nikki’s managed to receive some pretty admirable recognition from places that were once thought to be off the cards. In fact, two examples of this include being elevated to ‘Elite Broker’ status with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, and recently being approached by Bank Victoria to become a broker of choice. 

8. Demonstrate how you have been recognised as a leader in the industry. Have you participated in talks? Have you been invited to speak? Have you been quoted as a person of note within the financial industry?

Nikki has certainly had a busy year steering the ship at Cherry Lending & Finance, but just a handful of her key achievements linked to her development as an industry thought leader include the following – 

  • Guest speaker on the Kickass Radio podcast, a platform designed to empower more women to join the finance and mortgage broking industry 
  • Guest speaker on The Adviser’s Elite Broker podcast, telling her story from an angle of “from firefighter to putting out financial fires”
  • Guest speaker on Connective’s ‘Compliance Fit’ webinar, which had close to seven hundred attendees
  • Approached by BankVic as a ‘Broker Of Choice’ to go on pilot to offer BankVic product and services

While financial education via online blogging has long been one of Nikki’s primary focuses, it would seem that she’s starting to get attention on different platforms, particularly those linked to public speaking roles. 

Covering and analysing the latest industry news and trends, The Adviser is where mortgage and finance brokers turn for news. The well established media brand now also produces a series of podcasts specifically for members of the broking and finance industries, such as the esteemed Elite Broker podcast, where Nikki was recently featured as a guest.

In addition, Nikki was also a recent guest on Kickass Radio, a podcast hosted by Jo Sainsbury dedicated to delivering empowering and engaging conversations about women, for women, and by women. The core purpose of the podcast is to support the career success of women in nontraditional roles within the mining, rain, construction and – surprise – finance industries. 

As such, Nikki’s invitation to these shows indicates her rising status as an industry thought leader within the Australian finance sector – something she’s extremely proud of, and intends on pursuing further.