Aaron and Bernadette Christie-David are breaking the mould when it comes to operating their family run mortgage broking business Atelier Wealth and leveraging diversity is at the heart of their success.
Understanding the diversity of the strengths that they both bring to the business as well as finance broker Damien Walker, Bernadette’s brother, ensures that they each play distinctive roles aligned to their skillsets and can leverage their unique strengths to drive innovation and better customer-service outcomes for clients.
It also means that they are open-minded to hiring staff who do not have a technical background in mortgage broking or specific-industry experience but have specific skills in key areas like customer service. In growing their team to 14 people, they have also embraced cultural diversity with 9 team members located offshore.
“The nature of how the business is changing is forcing us to really look outside of the norm of thinking we need to hire someone who has industry expertise,” Bernadette said.
“That’s happening because we are needing to deliver outcomes to our clients differently than it’s ever been done before.”
She says that given the ever-changing nature of the broking industry, broking is really becoming about being able to deliver on three key prongs of deal structure, customer service and marketing.
“You need as a brokerage to be good at all three areas, but I think you often see brokers who are great at the technical side of the business but not so good on execution or marketing,” Bernadette said.
Aaron says understanding the diversity of the skillsets he, Bernadette and Damien bring to the business has worked well in setting appropriate boundaries between work and family and enabling them to complement each other.
“We’ve got the combination of the ideas person, the general manager and the technical person and it works really well for us because we have healthy friction and healthy respect for how different we all are and how we all work,” he said.
Aaron and Bernadette also buck the tradition of linear career paths into broking because neither had a lending background prior to establishing their business. Bernadette has an accounting background but was working in HR in the sporting industry and Aaron was in corporate marketing for Commonwealth Bank when they decided to establish Atelier Wealth.
What brought them into broking was the desire to run a family business which could enable them to be masters of their destiny while also enjoying the buzz of being problem-solvers and finding solutions for clients while they were trusting them with some of the biggest financial decisions of their life.
But, with two daughters Sienna and Zara under the age of three, they have subsequently found that the flexibility they were seeking in running their own business hasn’t always been there.
“If you had asked me two years ago, I would say that this business is not flexible,” Bernadette said.
“I was back five weeks after the birth of my daughter breastfeeding, settling loans, talking to BDMs and it was so stressful, and I feel that we really didn’t get the time to enjoy our eldest.”
Aaron says that with both of them feeling like they were stuck between a rock and a hard place wanting to run a performance-based business but also wanting to enjoy their family time, something had to give.
“I got to the point of realising I had to put on my oxygen mask first, that I had to be a bit more selfish with my time in order to be selfless for my clients,” he said.
It was at that stage they made the conscious decision to build a team of people around them who could help ensure that Aaron and Bernadette prioritised their time around the things critical to ensuring good customer service and business growth while also being able to have quality time with their young family.
“We thought we were busy before, but we are really busy now and we have less time to get done what we were getting done with the same hours before- so we had to leverage that by building a team,” Bernadette said.
Having seen first-hand the benefits that being open to diversity has brought to their business, they both agree that the mortgage and finance broking industry will only benefit from increased diversity in the broker demographic which currently remains heavily skewed towards men.
“Look at me, I don’t have a mortgage broking background and I’ve been able to come in and provide insights and experience that is different,” Bernadette said.
“Having worked in sport, I’ve seen that whenever you have an industry that is skewed toward one type of gender – you always have issues. However, whenever you bring two sets of people together you bring the best qualities, and you get the best result for the customer.”
Aaron believes that the current discussion and focus on diversity in the broking industry is really constructive and taking action to address the lack of females in broking will ensure the industry is well placed for future growth and sustainability.
“It might feel like we are very early on in this journey, but I think this is a real turning point for us as an industry,” he said.
“The industry will be a much better place for it five years down the track because we are having these conversations now – we didn’t wait for this to become a problem – we potentially can see a problem on the horizon, so we need to open that discussion now to make it happen and to make all of us aware of it.
“Some people may not see this as a problem, and it will only become a problem when it becomes a real issue and by then it’s too hard to turn the ship around. It is going to cost us far more to try and attract women in the future than it is to focus on how we retain the good female talent now and see them do well.”
They both have seen a lot of positive changes around gender diversity in the industry in recent years, including more visibility of women at industry events, more women being recognised for their talents and successes in industry awards and PD days where the focus is shifting away from a heavy sales approach to customer service.
That said, they both believe the industry remains on a journey around diversity and that more focus and effort need to be invested in driving positive change to increase the representation of females and also culturally diverse brokers.
“Broker attitudes around this are really important. If we keep being tone-deaf as an industry – that’s how we will get pegged, Aaron said.
“You can’t sugar coat the fact that females are the primary decisions makers around finances, where they want to live, the type of house they want to buy so they have a large amount of say in things. If you are going to overlook the female as part of the purchase, then you are missing a key point.”
Bernadette believes that one of the secrets to changing attitudes about the importance of diversity in broking is having a broader definition of what a successful broking business looks like.
“I’d love to see some awards or recognition for business growth or family success – something that looks at a business holistically and not just at loan volumes, something that recognises when you are building your business sustainably and profitably,” she said.
And in regard to their own secrets for business success, Aaron says it’s the ability to not sweat the small stuff, while for Bernadette it’s about never letting her gender be an issue and embracing her passion to deliver great outcomes for customers.