Growing up in a household where equality was the norm has always given Granite Home Loans founder Bridget Sakr a strong passion for diversity and inclusion, which she has actively promoted in every role she has ever had in the mortgage and finance industry.
Bridget credits her passion for diversity and inclusion to what she calls an “untraditional multicultural upbringing” where she and her sister were encouraged by her mother to be financially independent and her two brothers were taught to not be reliant on women staying at home and carrying the domestic workload.
“I thought what my mother did was quite visionary,” she said.
“My mum’s gender division was completely equal and inclusive. She taught all of us to cook and clean and for the boys to not be reliant on women to be housewives because she fully expected them to be working as well.
“How did she know when we were so young that women were going to be working more and that men and women later on would have to work together as a couple?”
Bridget has always leveraged inclusion as her foundation for leading diverse teams and interacting with diverse customers and industry stakeholders and says that diversity is much more than just looking at representation.
“Diversity is not just about having enough females – it’s the next layer down. Making sure people feel included, looking at whether they are remunerated appropriately and asking do they feel comfortable being who they are. Sometimes they don’t and their performance is hindered,” she said.
“When you cascade diversity all the way down, you get loyalty and you get tenure because people want to stick around.”
Bridget first entered the mortgage and finance industry in the early nineties as a graduate with the Commonwealth Bank. Starting her career in business lending gave her exposure to the mortgage and finance industry at a very young age.
From there she worked in mortgage insurance with Genworth where she experienced a variety of roles and eventually progressed into the senior leadership team in her early 30s, later becoming an officer of the company in her 40s. She later spent 18 months working with the MFAA whilst establishing her own mortgage management business - Granite Home Loans – in early 2018.
Her various roles have enabled her to experience the mortgage and finance industry from various lenses across broking, lending, Lenders Mortgage Insurance (LMI) and through the eyes of the industry body, which she says has given her a holistic view of the industry.
Through all these roles, the one thing that has always stood out for Bridget is the passion of the people working in this industry.
“Over the years, I’ve dealt with many different lenders in the industry, many different aggregators, regulators (APRA and ASIC), brokers (large and small) – all sorts of different elements of the industry. What I love the most is that everyone is working for a common cause and that is to help people into home ownership,” she said.
Bridget attributes her years of experience in LMI and the ability to build strong relationships and trust with people in the industry as helping her identify a market opportunity that blossomed into Granite Home Loans.
“After all these years of genuine personal relationships that I’ve built and skills acquired with input and effort invested, I identified that I could potentially target a segment of the market not served by traditional lenders,” she said.
“So along with my partner Craig, I decided to embark on assisting tertiary qualified professionals buy their home at high loan to value ratios without the need for LMI, which is Granite Professional.
“These potential borrowers on paper were credit-worthy but were finding it hard to save their deposit. We all know how hard it is to save these days.”
But after establishing a solid business, COVID-19 meant that Bridget needed to pause the Granite Professional product. The housing market was too uncertain to continue to lend at high LVR’s and funding became difficult in March 2020.
So Bridget, still grieving the tragic death of her daughter Veronique and her three cousins in February, had to make some serious decisions about her business, deciding to pivot into a new opportunity in self-managed super funds (SMSF) lending in both residential and commercial.
Bridget has had to put on additional staff during the pandemic to cater for the success of SMSF lending and she says if 2020 has taught her anything, it’s the importance of being resilient, adaptable and having faith.
“I was confronted with the most horrific couple of months – the tragedy of losing my daughter and then COVID struck and there I was having to deal with the uncertainty of my business,” she said.
“I didn’t just have to look at what life was going to look like for my family and how I was going to cope every day without my daughter, but also how my business was being impacted - I had to stop and think about what we were going to do.”
And how has she been able to be keep moving forward with such optimism and strength following the loss of Veronique?
“I had to learn to re-birth Veronique from a physical person to a spiritual person,” she said.
“I am a Catholic and my faith has been extremely pivotal to my strength and my resilience to get up every day and know that she is always with me and she wants to make sure I am ok.
“The other thing that has kept me going is the human spirit from family, friends and the broader community that comes out of tragedy and the outpouring of love and compassion.
“Veronique’s school friends have helped me cope with my grief by staying in touch and even asking me to do Tik Toks. Veronique would certainly be having a good laugh from above. Veronique’s school community has also been extremely supportive and honoured her memory in so many different ways.”
Having endured her own emotional vulnerability over the past few months, the one wish that Bridget has for the mortgage and finance industry on diversity and inclusion, is for industry leaders to drop the armour of masculinity and embrace their vulnerability as that will enable true diversity to rise up.
“If you can show your vulnerability and be who you are and be respected for that rather than putting this armour on and trying to fight the fight to get to where you are – wouldn’t that be a different world,” she said.
“I’ve been in the industry 25 years and I am now known for being Bridget because I have earnt my stripes, I’ve achieved many things, I’ve done a lot to help shape the industry – but I had to do the hard yards to get here.
"We need to make it easier for women to be heard – to be seen as true equals, to be who they are and to not feel like they have to adapt their style to fit in to a masculine environment.”