Only 25% of the mortgage industry is female, and in 2018 fewer than 30% of the employees in tech’s biggest companies and 20% of faculty in university computer science departments were women, despite research consistenyl highlighting the value and importance of diversity in the workplace.
Marie Mortimer, founder of loans.com.au, shares her experiences as a woman in both finance and technology, her advice to others, and her experiences starting and growing her business over nine years.
- What was the most challenging aspect of starting loans.com.au back in 2011?
When I started loans.com.au in 2011 it was just a concept and a very different business model to our core business at Firstmac. Firstmac is our parent organisation and Australia’s largest non-bank lender and wholesale funder, who primarily distributes loans via third party networks such as mortgage brokers. loans.com.au was launched as a direct to retail model and a lot of people internally and externally to our business were very negative about this direction. Also, at the time nobody was really offering a full home loan application online to retail customers, so it was very different changing the customer mindset that they could jump online and do it all themselves to save thousands of dollars.
So, as well as being challenged by our industry peers, we were also challenged by customers as we had to change their mindset and help them understand that switching home loans is easy and, in their control, not their banks’.
- What have been the biggest challenges in sustaining and growing the business since then?
Everybody thinks being an online lender is as simple as having a cool website with a great rate. It takes a lot of work to plug that website into an entire backend system that makes the loan decision process simple for everyday Australians. It also takes a lot of work to get people to visit your website and apply, because it’s not like a shop front where you have face to face contact and it’s easy to talk to a customer and get your message across.
It has taken 9 years of trial and error and constant improvement to get customers to switch to loans.com.au and stay. The competitive landscape is always changing, so we stay true to our business model and our customers, which means we have a very loyal following. We now have over $6billion in settlements, which makes us bigger than some smaller banks and credit unions.
- How did you overcome these challenges?
I’ve overcome these challenges by breaking them down and being methodical about my approach. Sometimes it can be disheartening and exhausting when you have a setback, however there is always a way. Sometimes you must get creative and think outside the box, sometimes you’ve just got to roll up your sleeves and get on with it. I think with experience, I’ve learnt where to fix something and where to move on. Don’t look back, look forward.
- As a woman in finance and tech, a minority on both counts, what is your advice to others considering launching into either of these industries, or graduating this year from those fields of study?
Take the risk and back yourself. As a female in a very male dominated profession, being the minority is the norm. But the good news is that there has been more focus on this in recent years and there are a lot of places to get help. It might sound cliche, but more women need to have confidence in themselves, and take the risk, ignore the noise around you. It’s easier said than done, but if you have a vision or a dream, you’ve got to go for it. Be a risk taker, that’s what we need all women to do, in order to challenge the status quo.
I also think that so much focus has been put on diversity at the top executive level of organisations, and that has done great things towards achieving parity, however I believe that we need to focus on the earlier stages of the career. Young women shouldn’t shy away from male dominated industries when they are choosing what to study. We need more women in finance and technology because diversity brings a different point of view and innovation. You may think you will be the minority, and you probably will be, but what you will be able to bring is something unique. Don’t underestimate yourself!
About the expert
Marie launched loans.com.au in 2011 and has since grown it into a business with $6 billion worth of home loans under management. Marie has been instrumental in changing the way Australians apply for home loans by moving them online and away from traditional bricks and mortar banks. Marie is passionate about developing the FinTech industry in Australia, particularly in the consumer space. When she isn’t at work, Marie loves to spend time with her husband and two young children.
Image description: Headshot of Marie in front of a white background. She has short black hair and is wearing a black blazer over a black and white patterned blouse.