In Melbourne’s beautiful Albert Park close to the lush and leafy St Vincent Gardens, sits award-winning boutique brokerage Picket Fence Finance. At the helm are directors Cameron Stillman and David Kearns, who cater to clients in Bayside and its surrounding south-eastern neighbourhoods. As a relatively wealthy part of Melbourne, the brokerage services a large demographic of mid-30 to mid-40 year old professionals with children who are looking to upsize.
But in an industry where ‘diversification’ continues to be a term that is thrown around at any and every opportunity, Stillman and Kearns are bucking the trend and have made a conscious choice to focus their business solely on mortgages.
“We just specialise in broking,” says Irish-born Kearns. “We want to be known as a really great boutique mortgage business.”
“We contemplated going down the one-stop-shop [route], which most people are doing,” adds Stillman. “But we said no, we’re going to stick to our knitting and we’re going to do it and do it well.”
Five years on
The duo founded the brokerage in 2011 after they realised that the brokerage they were both working at was heading in a direction that felt at odds with their imagined path. Five years on, the brokerage has won numerous awards including Platinum Broker – Westpac 2014, Editor’s Choice Winner 2014, Victorian Broker of the Year – Bankwest 2014 and, most recently, Premium Broker – ANZ 2016. With their business as robust as ever, Stillman and Kearns also have plans to expand interstate in the future.
“We’ve got a few ideas about how we want to grow the business and that’s probably going to involve other offices here in Melbourne – and then ultimately, potentially Sydney and maybe even Queensland, but baby steps at the moment,” says Stillman. “We’d love Picket Fence Finance to be a household name in the next five or ten years.”
Stillman is now going on 15 years as a mortgage broker, but his intense “past life” trading futures and options both in Sydney and Singapore set him on the path to finding more balance.
“It was a change for me from an intensity point of view,” he says. “I was trading multimillion dollar contracts and suddenly just doing $300,000 to $400,000 home loans, but I think I was just ready to make the change.”
In complete contrast, Kearns used his 11-year career in hospitality management to his advantage when he started out as a broker.
“[I introduced] myself to cafe owners, pub owners and hoteliers who are always looking for money for their next projects and so it went from there,” Kearns says.
Low doc loan focus
As specialists in low doc loans, Picket Fence Finance has seen a significant upswing in self-employed clients going to the brokerage over the years, and benefitting from the low doc flexible financial solutions.
“I’ve always looked after self-employed people,” says Stillman. “I’ve always done quite a lot of low doc business – a lot through the banks but a lot through non-banks as well.
“They make securing a mortgage for self-employed people a reality, but ultimately people have two options: they can either not borrow the money and wait until their tax returns are done, or borrow the money now, pay a slightly higher interest rate and maybe use that money to increase their wealth and investment portfolio.”
Everyone is an opportunity
“I think every single person you meet is an opportunity,” says Kearns when asked what new brokers should look out for when seeking new business. “They will either know someone with a loan or be in the process of getting a loan or know somebody who is refinancing at any given time.
“I would also say you’ve got to treat broking as a career, as a profession. It’s full-time – it’s not a part time existence. It’s really important as well to develop your own referral base. I come back to when I said when I first started in broking I targeted all the people I knew in hospitality. Create something for yourself, be it accountants, real-estate agents – whatever niche market you might have, just go and develop it.”
Stillman and Kearns both agree the best part about broking is finding the right solution for their clients. “For me, it’s finding a solution for clients who are in a pickle, and saving clients money,” says Stillman. “It’s a nice feeling knowing the client’s walking away with a solution when they couldn’t find one, and possibly a cheaper interest rate than from what they were on previously and reducing their monthly repayments.”
Where the grass is greener
But for Kearns and Stillman, giving back to the community is an important part of being a good business owner. “The grass is greener on our side of the fence,” is the brokerage’s motto, and in keeping with the theme Stillman and Kearns launched a charity initiative – The Grass is Greener earlier this year to raise money for charitable organisations and trusts.
“Basically for every single loan that we settle, be it a purchase, be it commercial, owner-occupier or investment, we donate $50 per loan that’s settled into this fund,” explains Kearns. “We nominate six charities and we [also] get involved with those charities,” rather than only donating money to them.
“We believe business is more than its four walls. It’s an opportunity to give back and care for the community you live, work and play in.”