The need for protection

ALI state manager for WA, SA and NT Fiona Gray says brokers have an important role to play

The need for protection

When she started in the financial services industry more than 20 years ago, Fiona Gray was responsible for collating faxed home loan applications and putting them into manila folders for the loan assessors at her local bank. Now, she is state manager for WA, SA and NT at ALI Group – a company that continues to inspire at a time when many Australians are at risk of not having adequate protection in place. She spoke with MPA about the role brokers can play in bridging this gap with their clients.

MPA: Your role has recently expanded to be State Manager for WA as well as SA and NT. What do you love most about the State Manager role and what are you looking forward to in working in WA as well as SA/NT? 

Fiona Gray: Coaching, training and supporting staff helps you see things through a different lens and in sharing that knowledge with others it reaffirms and strengthens the things you were already doing but didn’t notice.

When you are part of a team, they bring different skills and a myriad of experience to the table. Across our team in WA, SA and NT we’ve got people that bring different skill sets, background and experience to the table and I learn from all of them every day.

WA has a lot of similarities to SA – we’ve got that proud parochialism, but they are also down to earth like us. We’re a tight industry and we’ve got each other’s backs – there’s no real competitiveness amongst the lenders and BDMs. It’s also a bigger market in WA and it’s the birthplace of mortgage broking in Australia. That’s a strong history and landscape that deserves respect. It means I need to take a really measured approach coming into the WA market and ensure I earn my stripes.

MPA: Why is protection so important in the current environment?

Fiona Gray: There was a good article in the Financial Review earlier this year about the sharp decline we’ve seen in the number of financial advisers in Australia over the last few years. That’s mostly because their business models are no longer viable without having to charge clients hefty upfront fees. Because of the change to the way financial advisers are remunerated, they are leaving in droves. If people aren’t being protected through financial advisers, how are Australians being protected? If Australians are getting sick, and they haven’t seen a financial adviser or sought to buy trauma insurance directly, their other options may end up being friends and family or a GoFundMe page.

At ALI, we’re constantly reminded of the need for protection. There have been so many times over the years that client stories have brought me to tears. It’s a difficult but somewhat rewarding part of our job when we reach out to a broker whose client has died or is terminally ill, but because of that broker the client’s family won’t have to worry about money when they’ve already got so much on their plate. I think COVID has reinforced for all of us that you just never know what is going to happen.

MPA: What role can brokers play in raising awareness about protection to their home loan clients?

Fiona Gray: With the dwindling number of financial advisers and the lack of education around the type of cover most Australians have in their super, mortgage brokers are well-placed to have a conversation about risk with their clients. They’re not licensed like financial advisers are, but they can have a conversation, raise the topic and ask, “what would you do if your situation changed?” We can provide mortgage brokers with a general advice solution that enables them to offer that off-the-shelf product like our My Protection Plan, but hopefully most mortgage brokers have still maintained a good referral relationship with a financial adviser so that they’re referring their clients on for further advice.

MPA: You’ve been with ALI for over 10 years, what it is about ALI and your role that has kept you there so long?

Fiona Gray: At ALI there is a phrase we use a lot, and that’s “making a difference.” We’re making a difference in the lives of the families that we are helping. Growing up, I developed a strong sense of community and the need to look out for others. We’re really blessed at ALI to be led by our incredible CEO, Huy Truong. He is someone that inspires all of us daily. Huy has a strong passion for ALI and the work that we do, he is also the co-founder and executive chairman of an organisation called Thrive Refugee Enterprise. They provide loans to refugees and asylum seekers to help them build a successful business and, through that, have more fulfilling lives in Australia.

We will often have conversations and social club activities and we love hearing what’s happening at Thrive. We’ve got this real sense of pride that that person right from the top down is a good person. Our values are integrity, humanity and innovation. We are really proud of them and truly live them – and we’re just a great bunch of people with a fantastic culture.

MPA: You are also an advocate for Sepsis awareness. Why is this an important topic you would like to raise awareness about?

Fiona Gray: I survived a septic shock in 2015 when my daughter was 10 months old. I had never heard of sepsis before it happened to me and I certainly didn’t know the signs. On reflection, had I known what sepsis was, perhaps I would have been able to advocate better for myself when I spent 12 hours waiting in the emergency department – because 12 hours after arrival I ended up in septic shock in ICU. I’m one of the lucky ones – I survived, but getting to the point that I did, there was a less than 30% rate of survival.

The latest data from the Global burden of disease report that came out in January last year said that sepsis impacts 55,000 Australians every year and it’s estimated that 8,700 lives are lost. That’s nearly four times the number of deaths from breast cancer. We all know how to check our breasts and we hear about the importance of getting our prostates checked, but most Australians don’t know the signs of sepsis.

MPA: What are your goals for the next five years?

Fiona Gray: I’m incredibly proud of what I’ve achieved in my career so far and I know my experience working in all facets of the industry has set me up to be a strong leader in this expanded state manager role.

From a professional sense I’d like to be able to look back and say that I fully embraced the opportunity that I’ve got now in taking on WA, just as I did with the SA/NT State Manager role. I know as time goes by that there will be things I pick up in the process of training and supporting others that will only add to my experience and skillset.

Beyond that, I would really like to stay in this industry in a leadership role, giving back. I love it – I’ve spent my whole working life in it. My first job more than 20 years ago was pulling loan applications from fax machines for Adelaide Bank. I had to collate them with payslips and statements and put them in a manila folder before filing them in a queue for the loan assessors to work through. I remember looking at the BDMs thinking, I’d really love to do that one day. It’s a great feeling to reflect and recognise I have achieved more than that and I am now in a position to support others develop and grow their careers.