Since returning to the mortgage and finance broking industry last year after a five-year hiatus, Bank of Queensland’s (BOQ) General Manager of Broker, Kathy Cummings is noticing some positive changes around diversity and inclusion.
“Having had a break from the industry, I can see we have made much progress – there are more women involved in leadership positions and there is a general recognition that things had to change from the way they were,” she said.
“To see so many women also now winning industry awards – they are the leaps that the industry has taken to really recognise and establish the contribution that women bring to the industry.”
As a life member of the MFAA and one of the broking industry’s veterans, Kathy has blazed an impressive trail and says her love of growing people and growing businesses has gifted her some incredible career experiences.
Her current role at BOQ is almost serendipitous for Kathy having joined the bank under Chief Executive George Frazis, formerly the CEO of St.George Bank, where Kathy started her career as a part-time bank teller back in 1982.
As a working mum of young daughters, Kathy says the convenient hours of working in a bank branch were what first attracted her to banking but she soon discovered a natural strength in people leadership and a deep passion for contributing to the growth of businesses.
“I just love building businesses – that’s what my passion has been over the past 20-30 years, she said.
“So, when George (Frazis) asked me to come and get involved in BOQ and build the business out in the broker space, my values were aligned. I could see that BOQ was on a journey and George is very passionate and I love working for passionate leaders.”
Throughout Kathy’s career she has seen the banking and broking landscape change quite significantly. She witnessed St.George transition from a building society to a bank and then worked for the State Bank of NSW which was later acquired by Colonial and then taken over by CBA where Kathy established CBA’s mortgage broker channel and built a dominant market position.
Over those years, Kathy has focussed on being a transformative leader and an innovative problem-solver and believes that diversity is critical to enabling innovation in the broking industry.
“As soon as you bring diversity into the mix you bring together a wealth of different views and experiences and that’s how you get the best solution to a problem,” she said.
“Going right back to the early days of St.George and then Colonial with the franchise model we had to be innovative. I’ve always looked for what’s going to grow the business, what’s going to be a mutual win and beneficial for both sides and, again, when you get diversity you get that thinking.”
Kathy’s first 12 months at BOQ didn’t quite go to plan as the global COVID-19 pandemic shut down travel and forced Australians into periods of lockdown. However, she believes there have been many silver linings from COVID for the broking industry – particularly when it comes to demonstrating adaptability and versatility.
“We’ve all moved forward rapidly, and we’ve been able to consider doing things that we wouldn’t have been able to do previously – particularly around things like electronic signing of loan documents – that’s made it easier for customers,” she said.
“I think our communication levels are also much stronger. The fact that we are all now using Zoom and WebEx, that’s become an extra dimension to how we relate to customers. We all did things differently and it opened our eyes up to the way things could be – that’s certainly been the case for BOQ.”
Other positive changes she has observed in the industry since returning include the overall quality of home loan applications from brokers, a stronger code of conduct and a general lift in the participation and visibility of women.
“The recognition programs for women and the fact that so many aggregators now have an event or an award for women is great,” she said.
“There used to be a lot of golf days – these days there are all sorts of different things that are being done to celebrate the success of women and the success of business.”
Although she is noticing many positive changes around gender and cultural diversity in the industry, Kathy notes the industry still lacks female representation, particularly in senior aggregator roles. She would like to see that change over time as she believes women are fantastic at relationship management and sees it as a growth opportunity for the industry.
Her biggest wish for the industry going forward on diversity and inclusion is ensuring women are successful as brokers. Part of that, she argues, will require a shift in the thinking around child-care being a woman’s primary responsibility.
Kathy admits to having “mother’s guilt” when she first started working full-time when her daughters were both young but says a conversation with the principal at their school helped her realise that a “happy and contented” mum equalled a happy and contented child. However, women can often struggle to feel contented if they are trying to combine running a business with primary caring responsibilities.
“That’s the thing that needs to shift - the thinking within the family unit that women are the primary carer – that thinking has to shift to a shared arrangement,” she said.
“I know many men who are the primary carer – but that is a journey I think we are on and I’m not sure women want to give that up totally – a lot of women want to be the primary carer but balancing that with a career is a challenge.”
So, what’s her secret to a successful career in banking?
“Value your time,” she said.
“I used to outsource anything that wasn’t valuable to me and I still do because if you don’t put a value on yourself you will end up not being able to do the things you are going to have the most impact in.
“If you outsource things that you don’t need to do you’ve got time to be impactful and create value.”
And in regard to any advice she would give her younger self, Kathy promotes having the courage to back yourself.
“You’ve got to have the courage of your convictions – ultimately anyone who knows me knows that I am a very genuine person and a passionate person and that’s how I’ve built my reputation in this industry.”