This award recognises the professional who has most effectively identified a business opportunity and has overseen the launch and growth of an enterprise in financial services. All relevant types of entrepreneurship in financial services will be considered – whether related to product, service, business development processes, technology, staff/client management or any other area.
1. Explain how you identified a new business opportunity.
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. That is police officers, firefighters and paramedics and their families, who without a doubt face their own unique challenges when it comes to stress, working hours and finance options.
Thanks to her 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.
2. Outline the tactics used to grow your firm from start-up, win new business, gain market share and overcome competition to offer the best service possible in 2020.
For Nikki, starting Cherry Lending & Finance was never about the money – it was about community, and servicing that community.
Particularly during the events of 2020, Nikki shifted the focus back to her existing customer base, and how she could best help them through what would certainly be called a difficult year.
“We made a conscious effort to connect, reassure, empower and educate our customers by providing an enormous amount of free content online. While we touched base with our clients simply to check in, we also began to produce and circulate our own in-house videos and blogs to give them the tools to navigate their existing financial commitments along with understanding what’s involved with any potential new ones.”
In turn, this written and visual content began to circulate. While working in a big and obviously competitive market in finance, Cherry Lending & Finance’s point of difference was that nobody else seemed to be providing this. While the mortgage industry has long been a numbers game, the business began to receive new enquiries from people who seemed to appreciate a personal and more softer touch in their approach.
“By putting the needs and requirements of both our new and existing customers first without any intention of growth, our ‘education first’ approach hit the right notes with consumers, and in turn helped them to really think about putting their best financial foot forward with our help. Ultimately, mortgages are all about people, not just data – which is something that we’ve remained acutely aware of in our four years of trading”.
3. Describe your point of difference/unique selling points and how these influenced your success.
When Cherry Lending & Finance was launched, it was important to Nikki to weave a narrative that accurately represented both her, and her way of doing business. This was of particular importance when considering the fact that only 10% of mortgage brokers in Australia are women, and when also stacked up against some stiff competition like the “big banks”.
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. As such, opting for a cherry – fun, memorable, and the ‘cherry on top’ – made sense to Nikki as a branding format.
As a former firefighter with a great deal of experience in the emergency services sector thanks to Nikki’s husband being in the Victorian Police Force for over two decades, Nikki is also the only known mortgage broker in Victoria that specialises in mortgage solutions for police officers, firefighters and paramedics. She’s all too familiar with the unique challenges that these career paths present, such as the hours, the stress, and what’s involved – not just for the employees, but also for their families too.
When paired with her extensive financial knowledge and unique industry experience, Cherry Lending & Finance has become one of the key go-to providers for financial insights and mortgages in Victoria for emergency service workers, which is something that Nikki is extremely proud of. As such, year on year – even in the midst of a global pandemic – Cherry Lending & Finance has doubled in volume, despite trading as a single operator.
4. Demonstrate a structured approach to your entrepreneurship, with clear objectives and associated results.
While the success of Cherry Lending & Finance could easily be attributed to its customer first approach, it’s slightly more complex than that. According to Director Nikki Berzin, “anyone who knows me will say that the first thing to know about me is just how organised I am”.
As a ‘one woman band’ – she has to be. While Nikki takes great pride in her nurturing and soft approach when it comes to the world of mortgages and finance, the other side of Cherry Lending & Finance’s success is the structure, systems and protocols that she has in place in order to keep on top of – and exceed – the expectations of her customers.
In fact, the structured approach has proven to actually work symbiotically with the customer driven methodology of Cherry Lending & Finance. While combining the two, Nikki is better able to help and service her clients by having the paperwork and deadlines taken care of. For example, submitting the appropriate documents not just on time – but ahead of time – helps to speed up the mortgage process for her customers, and get them into their properties faster.
As a result, it allows Nikki to use her time effectively to best service her customers. It’s not uncommon for her to pick up the phone and give a client a call to check in to see how their Saturday morning property inspections went, which is something that she could not possibly afford to do without the appropriate systems in place to take care of the paper trail.
5. Detail one major obstacle you faced in the pursuit of innovation and how you overcame it.
In the early days of Cherry Lending & Finance, it was all too clear to Nikki that she had to make a conscious effort to stand out from the crowd. The finance and mortgage industry is indeed a busy marketplace, particularly when competing against the big banks who arguably had an infinite budget when it came to things like marketing, and getting themselves in front of the right audiences.
Instead of replicating them, Nikki actively sought to go the other direction – what didn’t a big bank have to offer consumers? 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. While it’s highly unlikely that a representative from a big bank is going to call you to check in on your Saturday morning property inspections, it’s the little things just like this that Nikki actively pursues to do with her clients. She doesn’t just vouch for your team – she’s on your team.
6. In 25 words or less, please provide a statement on “What is your best piece of career advice?”
Don’t focus on the statistics of working in a male dominated role or sector – go for it and make your mark by doing it your own way.