First of all a little bit of history. I grew up in Galway in the west of Ireland (the town made famous in Ed Sheeran’s song last year) and was one of 6 kids. I wanted to come to Australia since I was around 8 years old after my uncle brought me back a Superman towel from his holidays in Sydney. Prior to coming to Australia I completed a degree in Applied Physics and worked in IT. When I arrived here one of my first jobs was as an email administrator for Macquarie Bank back when they still operating between Bond St. and Martin Place.
This is my first year in the financial services / software industry and it’s been thoroughly enjoyable. I’ve particularly enjoyed getting to understand more about the #brokerlife and as a member of this group seeing how many different variables there are in the applications you do.
Prior to joining CashDeck I was in the education industry for most of my adult life, sometimes self-employed, sometimes working in other businesses. My first venture was an IT training company which was sold to Seek Ltd. in 2004. I think education is somewhat in my blood. Back in Ireland where I’m originally from, my mother was a teacher and Dad sold school books so I was always around it. Education goes such a long way in building confidence and I always enjoyed knowing we were part of helping people to be more successful.
In October 2016, the industry that was pretty much all I knew was decimated. At the time, I owned an education broking business that helped students find the courses that best suited their needs. We were going strong, had eight staff and had one of the highest student success rates in the industry which I was very proud of. Then one Thursday morning we arrived to work to the news that the government made it illegal for us to operate. In one day, the entire industry that had been going strong for years came to a screeching halt. I had to go home that day to my family to tell them it was over after having told the staff that they don’t have jobs. Not only do they not have jobs but every other broking business in the industry is gone too so they’re going to find it really hard to get another one. And it’s Christmas soon. The stress levels were pretty high as you can imagine. My eyelids never felt so heavy!
But every cloud has a silver lining and an opportunity came up at CashDeck which has been great. Great people, great products and I’m loving the industry. While it’s not directly education there is an education element to it i.e. our wealth management tools are designed to help people learn more about their money. So I landed on my feet and thankfully, all of my staff went on to find jobs in other industries too. They are all doing fine.
So why am I writing this? Like your industry, education is very heavily regulated and in 2015/16 came under a lot of scrutiny thanks to the business models of a few organisations. Too much to go into but suffice to say they found loopholes that made them huge sums of money very quickly and they leapt through those loopholes at a million miles an hour. In any case, the scrutiny started in the form of a Senate Enquiry and in a very short space of time being a broker in education became something you were almost embarrassed to tell people about. I know some of you have had experiences where people have not exactly treated you with respect because of your profession.
Once the scrutiny started the press went into a frenzy. Bad news makes great headlines. Every day the term ‘dodgy broker’ was mentioned in an article. It was pretty relentless, stories of individual cases where a broker did something wrong and the unfortunate outcomes for the students. Don’t get me wrong, some people did some really horrible things. But ultimately there were ten or so businesses who everyone knew were doing the wrong thing but we were all tarred with the same brush. Consumer groups also took aim. They hated commissions being paid to brokers. Any situation where someone can potentially benefit for providing one set of advice over another for their own financial gain needed to be outlawed.
Then the industry pretty much turned on itself. Industry ‘experts’ started talking about dodgy brokers and dodgy colleges and how much better the good old days were when everyone was perfect and honest and not just in it for a buck. This was almost more soul destroying. But it was also silly – because it didn’t matter who was saying ‘dodgy broker’ the term was getting reinforced every time. Basically – the public were now being told ‘Why deal with a dodgy broker when you can just as easily go to the provider directly’? These messages even made their way to government publications. Because ‘dodgy brokers’ became so on the nose with the public, it became really easy for the powers that be to close us all down. I guess they knew everyone would go quietly because the public backlash was so strong. So, this is what happened. We all closed our doors and walked away quietly from businesses we’d invested our blood, sweat and tears into.
Looking back there are some things I regret. For example there was a ‘discussion paper’ asking for submissions, ideas etc. on how to fix the problem but many of us didn’t respond. We were made to feel like responding would perhaps place a target on us. So we just kept quiet. I regret not asking the industry “experts” to support their own industry and stop using the ‘dodgy broker’ term and sharing negative news articles. Again, there was just a fear that you’d be singled out if you did. I’m annoyed that the industry spokespeople / bodies didn’t find ways to tell positive stories or highlight organisations that were doing good things.
In my personal opinion it’s extremely unlikely your industry will face the same drastic outcome we did but there will no doubt be change. If I were to provide any thoughts it would be to do small things that remind people of the value and choice brokers provide. Relay stories of people who had great experiences. If someone is tarring everyone with the same brush it should be called out. And if industry people are jumping on the bandwagon using negative terminology and sharing negativity, politely ask them to refrain. It doesn’t help to get overly confrontational. It also doesn’t help to spray social media or news article comment sections. But it does help to stay on it and stick up for yourself in a positive way. The best use of your energy is preparing your business to deal with the changes that might come and to make the most of the opportunities that will no doubt come too.