Education breaks cultural barriers

SFG member Niti Bhargava runs a financial literacy program for women

Education breaks cultural barriers

After migrating from India to Australia in 2007, one of the most stressful experiences for Niti Bhargava  and her husband was buying their first home.

Now a successful mortgage broker at Melbourne’s Resolve Finance and a member of broker aggregator Specialist Finance Group, Bhargava reflects on the situation at the time.

“We did not sleep for nights,” she says. “We were making such a big decision without our immediate family’s presence and guidance. We definitely felt that there was no proper guidance available.”

Luckily, everything went well with the home loan, Bhargava says.

“Not until I started working in banking myself did I realise that there are thousands of customers out there who are feeling exactly the same way we felt.”

Motivated by her experience, Bhargava has set up a financial literacy program to educate recent migrant women about their finances, wealth management and how to better equip themselves for the future. The program is a mix of online and face-to-face workshops. The most recent workshop was held in the Melbourne suburb of Caroline Springs and supported by the Victoria MP for Kororoit, Luba Grigorovitch.

Bhargava grew up as the eldest child in a middle-class family in northern India and says she was a sincere and responsible child who excelled in school and college and in extracurricular activities such as public speaking and debates.

She completed two master’s degrees in India and got married at 21, before migrating to Australia in 2007 on a student visa, seeking a better future in a “land of opportunities”.

“My grandfather always used to teach me two things: one, it takes only one person to break the line and excel in every single opportunity, and two, you should always earn your own money and feel the power of financial freedom,” Bhargava says.

“Regardless of your gender, you need to learn to be financially independent asap – it’s an essential life skill.”

Bhargava got her start in finance working as a relief bank teller at one of Australia’s big four banks. She says she faced a number of challenges, including having her qual- ifications  recognised;  facing  difficulties with language and communication; and being “picked up many times for my different accent”.

“But I was ready to accept this challenge because I knew my work should speak louder than any words … it took me couple of months to realise that the systems are different here, and job selection is not based on your degrees only but practical experience is way more important.”

Adjusting to Australian culture was also a challenge, Bhargava says, and for a time she felt homesick, missing India’s colourful festivals.

“The best thing about staying in Australia is that there are so many different cultures around you that before you realise it, you are already loving other cultures, respecting their values and becoming part of the other festivities,” she says.

Bhargava has progressed in her career from teller to home loan consultant, and she says she was fortunate to receive world- class training.

“I have not only gained practical experience, customer service skills and advanced training in lending and finance, but also learnt soft skills like cultural adaptability, gender equality and workplace inclusivity.”

She says these skills were invaluable when she started working as a broker three years ago. “As an ex-banker I brought a solid foundation of financial knowledge to my role as broker, allowing me to understand a client’s financial situation comprehensively … effective communication skills gained from banking helped me explain financial concepts clearly to my clients, empowering them to make informed decisions.”

Bhargava began marketing herself as a broker via social media during the COVID pandemic. She says this enabled her to connect with different communities, clients and a diverse range of women.

“I have faced scenarios like women going through domestic violence, mental health and wellbeing [problems] and financial abuse. Experiences like these helped accelerate my plans to set up a financial literacy program.”

Workshops were run via Zoom and other online formats, and broadcast on radio, but Bhargava says this year she has been able to run in-person workshops (pictured below) with the help of Grigorovitch.

“I have also been supporting women empowerment-based programs and social events financially,” Bhargava says. “These are all community programs where issues such as gender equality, female participation in finance and cultural restrictions on women are addressed.”

As a big supporter of women in sport, the broker also organised “Our Girls Our Pride” on Facebook in March to honour young girls who excel in sports and entertainment.

When it comes to the financial literacy program, Bhargava says some of the challenges include both time and cultural restrictions, as well as difficulties “generating the interest of women, language barriers and hesitation”.

“But we are working continuously to keep our motives alive and educate as many migrated people as we can.”

Bhargava, who speaks Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi, says it can be highly beneficial for customers to connect with a broker who shares a similar background.

“There is a language and cultural under- standing, and you can clarify complex financial concepts and processes, reducing miscommunication. Empathy and relatability create a stronger sense of trust and rapport … this also enhances chances of higher referral opportunities once trust is built.”

Bhargava encourages other brokers to run financial literacy programs for multicultural communities, saying it can help boost their business growth.

SFG provides an immensely supportive company culture that encourages brokers to actively participate in community outreach, she says. “Recognising and celebrating my efforts in last year’s annual conference has definitely been a great source of motivation and commitment for me to increase my efforts in engaging with the community.”

Digital tools provided by SFG help brokers engage their targeted community and provide useful data and insights.

“I’m a big fan of their continuous support, especially for financial literacy programs and for my ‘breast cancer events’ throughout the year. They are always a call away. I feel fortunate to be part of the group,” Bhargava says.