The desire to help people improve their lives through finance has always been a strong passion of Smartmove Professional Mortgage Advisors CEO Darren Little.
Growing up in regional South Australia, finance was always Darren’s first love. He ran a credit union in the school library during lunchtime in his teens and spent 26 years working in banking, predominantly in the broker channel, before joining Smartmove.
“If you look at finance - it can be so bad for some if they get that bad advice - but gosh it can be so good for people if it is done right and that’s a big motivator of mine,” he said.
It’s this same motivation, that has encouraged him to embrace diversity to help grow Smartmove from a boutique brokerage located in Sydney’s lower North Shore, to one of Australia’s largest independent mortgage broking groups with a team of 80 people and four offices across three countries.
“One of the things that I am really proud of at Smartmove is the culture of diversity that we have across our business now,” Darren said.
“From a professional perspective that diversity creates so much opportunity. Especially now running a business across three different countries, that understanding and listening to others is so important as we navigate our success across different teams and cultures to come together to achieve amazing things for our customers.”
Darren admits that up until 12 years ago, he’d spent most of his time in regional South Australia and didn’t even own a passport. But since joining Smartmove back in 2014, he has seen first hand how embracing cultural and geographical diversity, has enabled the business to significantly scale-up.
Opening a second office in Rhodes in Sydney has attracted a more culturally diverse group of brokers to Smartmove, who now have more than 50% of their team coming from different cultural backgrounds. A strategic review of the language used in recruitment advertisements and turning some of their training content in their Broker Academy into digital delivery, has also increased the number of female brokers who now work at Smartmove. Just last month, the first part-time female broker graduated from Smartmove’s Broker Academy.
Key to this increased diversity at Smartmove says Darren, has been a willingness to try different things and taking a conscious approach to attract difference into the business.
“If you’d said to me 3-4 years ago that we’d have a part-time mortgage broker I probably would have questioned whether we could do that,” he said.
“But these days we are more upfront about sustainability and empowering our teams to work like a community and they are more structured and have more support.
“She is a return-to-work mum and has come back to the industry and has successfully completed our academy. For us if it’s the right person it’s about not being closed to the possibility of how they may work.
“It’s about trying things differently and especially as we become more and more professional as an industry, I think the opportunities are going to come whether that be part-time, full-time or whatever there is just going to be so many more roles that are going to come out of it and being open to different approaches is key.”
He’s a big promoter of greater diversity in the mortgage and finance broking industry because he believes that it creates so much opportunity for the industry, particularly around providing great customer service by being better able to anticipate and respond to diverse customer needs
“Having a wide variety of team members and really diverse teams is really critical for business success in any sized business,” he said.
But he adds that getting to a place where the industry is more diverse in the representation of different genders and cultures in brokers, requires a greater commitment by industry leaders to thinking differently and being prepared to try new things.
“There is quite a fixed mindset in the industry, but it is something that can be changed by trying new and different things instead of just doing the same ole, same old,” he said.
“For us as a business at both a customer and team point of view - it’s listening to our customers’ needs and responding accordingly. I look at the last couple of years, we could have easily written a lot of business and not invested back into what we are trying to do longer term.
“But we want to change and influence the way we go forward and the best way to do that is to invest in our people and that’s really critical for us. We are keen to keep trying and pushing the dial - that whole cultural diversity in our business now - what that has meant for Smartmove has been really amazing.”
Darren’s secret to success over the years has been working in a role that he absolutely “loves”. His advice to his younger self and a mantra that he continues to live by, is to always grab every opportunity and make the most of it.
“There is no point in dreaming big if you are not going to execute on it,” he concluded.