We met Aaron and Bernadette, owners of Atelier Weath, in mid-2019 and were immediately struck by their impressive approach to running a business. We sat down with this power duo to talk about how they manage being married and working together, and to get some interesting insights on their thoughts about the future of mortgage broking.
Tell us about the journey you’ve taken in your career.
Bernadette started out as an accountant, and then worked in HR for a number of years. Aaron’s career path took him through a marketing degree, which led him to work for Wizard Home Loans and then Commonwealth Bank.
Six years ago they got married. It was on their honeymoon that they started to map out their future life together, and plans for starting a mortgage broking business came together. They both studied to become licensed brokers, and eventually invested in a Mortgage Choice Franchise.
“Mortgage Choice was helpful in giving us the grassroots learning we needed,” Aaron said. “It taught us about applying yourself and becoming technically proficient, which was invaluable.”
Bernadette commented on how they manage to work together so well as a married couple:
“Our skillsets don’t overlap – they’re very clear. Aaron’s is sales, marketing and relationship management, while mine is managing the team, operations and compliance. We’re both brokers, but we each have our distinct profile which is really important for us.”
In 2016 they started Atelier Wealth. Now with a team of five, they operate out of two offices – one in the Sydney CBD, and one in Thirroul near to where they live.
“We’re five minutes from the beach, surrounded by lush mountains and love the beautiful nature and community balance down here,” Bernadette said. “We head into the city a few days a week to meet with our city clients, and it’s a great setup for enjoying our lifestyle and spending time with our 1-year-old daughter.”
What challenges have you had to overcome in your career, and how did you overcome them?
Bernadette and Aaron shared with us a few of the key challenges they’ve faced in their time running Atelier Wealth.
“The reality is, when starting a business, cashflow is your biggest challenge,” Aaron said. “There’s a lag before you see a decent return on investment, especially when you go all in as a family and give up both incomes like we did! Cashflow becomes a real test on your conviction in the business.”
Setting work-life balance boundaries
“Being married and having the business, we’re conscious not to make our relationship second to the business,” Bernadette shared. “What helps us do this is that we have a greater sense of purpose. We’re focused on working hard and sacrificing things now, because we know in the long-term, in 10 years’ time, that’s where the payoff is.”
Managing a growing team
A final challenge Bernadette spoke to was managing a growing team and ensuring they consistently deliver excellent customer service.
“When you’re not doing it yourself, you have to trust your team to manage clients like you would, which is hard,” she said. “Getting everyone on the same page is essential.”
Why do you do what you do? What do you love about it?
When we asked this question, there was a brief pause and then Aaron and Bernadette laughed.
“We’ve just had a really difficult client,” they shared honestly.
“It is a rollercoaster of emotions sometimes,” Aaron said. “But we love impacting Australians’ lives. We can take someone’s belief that they could never own an investment property or build a portfolio, and make it a reality for them. It brings so much personal satisfaction. They were told they couldn’t do it, and we’ve made it a reality.”
“On a personal front, I love the game of chess that is business,” he continued. “You have to navigate the next move, and have the resilience to plan for the unexpected.”
Bernadette added her unique take:
“We help people buy their homes, and turn ‘no’ into ‘yes’,” she said. “There’s also the legacy aspect in running a business, knowing we have a small daughter and showing her what we created from scratch.”
“We believe we’re creating something really special with Atelier. We’ve recently launched an initiative called Home Loans for the Homeless. We donate 30 nights of shelter for every home loan that we settle. It feels so great knowing that the home loans we write for our clients serve the greater good, and it means our clients are involved in giving back too.”
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
For Bernadette, it was a ballerina. For Aaron, a chef. But while they haven’t quite fulfilled those childhood dreams, they both treat these passions as hobbies instead!
What are your top 3 tips for other people wanting to build a successful career in the finance space?
- Learn from the best in the industry. Work with the top brokers and soak up their knowledge.
- Volume isn’t everything. We can easily lose perspective of the people we’re helping when we become focused on numbers.
- Don’t ask what the industry can do for you, ask what you can do for the industry. What can you do to give back?
- When you’re starting out, support networks are crucial if you’re on your own. It’s a lonely ride, and if you don’t have someone supporting and lifting you up it can burn you out.
- You need to have resilience. You’ll get knocked about a lot and experience a lot more ‘nos’ than ‘yesses’. Having fight in you is crucial.
- Remember your wellbeing and look after yourself. Exercise, take your dog for a walk, or just have an outlet of some kind. Work can be all-consuming otherwise.
What is standing out for you in the industry at the moment?
“As brokers, we’re being required to do a lot more work,” Aaron said. “We take it in our stride, but we’re effectively doing more work and getting paid less. No one has the backbone to say that we’re doing more heavy lifting for the banks, and getting paid less for it. And this isn’t a sob story – there just needs to be a conversation about it. Let’s acknowledge that we’re doing more work and that the goal posts keep moving.”
Aaron’s point comes down to the voice of the broker, and how lost it seems to be amidst decisions made by aggregators and the industry.
“We need to have some kind of broker representation,” he said. “Aggregators are paid by banks and brokers – that’s the challenge. Everyone’s conflicted. The whole system is conflicted. Aggregators take money from banks, so they’re not going to bite the hand that feeds them. What I imagine the future could hold is broker-owned aggregators and broker-owned association bodies.”
Bernadette and Aaron also spoke about the ‘death’ of the one person broker operation.
“I don’t think that as a broker you can do this alone anymore,” said Bernadette. “With the increase in compliance, to do it on your own you need support and we’ve found that outsourcing to recruiters to find team members for us has been invaluable.”
“Growing a team isn’t a skill you come across when you’re self-employed,” Aaron added. “To give PPG a little plug – we’ve found that we need to do what we’re good at, and let the experts do what they’re good at. As a business owner you need to let go and partner with people that have the strengths you don’t have – like recruitment.”
(We swear we didn’t prompt them to say those things about us. But how lovely!)
We’re so impressed with how Aaron and Bernadette are absolutely killing it both in running their business and managing their team. It’s a true testament to their hard work and focus. If, like Atelier Wealth, you find yourself needing to outsource your recruitment to a specialist while you focus on broking, we’d love to help you. Reach out to get the conversation started.