Forum aims to upskill, mentor women in growing sector
While it’s only been running for two years, the Women’s Commercial Finance Forum has gained solid support from female brokers in its mission to help them develop skills and knowledge and grow their businesses.
Set up as a private Facebook group in February 2020 with just a handful of members, the WCFF has grown to include almost 700 Facebook members and 800 followers on LinkedIn. A new virtual community launched last month and it already has more than 67 members with accountants, insurance brokers and lawyers already signed up.
WCFF is the brainchild of Sydney’s Yasmine Shah, who has more than 15 years’ experience in finance broking, in roles such as credit analyst and finance broker. Shah’s most recent roles were senior business development manager and national partnerships manager for fintech lender Tradeplus24 Australia.
Now the head of tribe for WCFF, Shah (pictured) describes the group as an independent cross-industry body, a trusted network and community for women working in all commercial fields including finance broking, accounting, business advisory, insurance, legal and venture capital.
“I have always had a deep fascination with the function of business and as a broker especially enjoyed helping self-employed clients,” Shah says.
“The conversations were refreshing. Business owners are passionate, driven and full of ideas. They are doers and go-getters. I felt it was a great honour to work with them to achieve their goals.”
Shah says her career led her to the commercial sector three years ago.
“Immediately I experienced a sudden drop in the number of women I could see and work with. I became empowered to find more women who loved this space as much as I did and to work with them to create opportunities where more women could come and enjoy the spectacular joys of the commercial sector.”
How the forum came about
Shah says when the private Facebook group started in February she was hoping to find “a handful of peers to connect and collaborate with”.
“Then something amazing happened. The Facebook group became a safe place where we could shine and upskill at our own pace without fear of judgment. The group became a warm and inviting place. Then the members leaned in, they invited their friends and before long we became a strong and vibrant community.”
Shah says the passion and experience that WCFF members share is both exciting and humbling.
“How they lift each other up, back each other and spur each other on. To this day, the posts that get the most impressions are the ones where we are celebrating the achievements of our peers, and this says a lot about who we are as people, as professionals and as a community.”
The forum held its first face-to-face events in December 2020 (including this event pictured above in Melbourne) when Shah and a team of volunteers hosted more than 100 members at Christmas brunches in the eastern states.
In June 2021, WCFF put out tenders to the industry to raise capital to build a website, exclusive online social platform and learning library and to organise bigger and better events across Australia.
“Very quickly leading organisations in our industry across bank, non-bank, fintech and services came forward to lend funding support. I would like to make a special mention and thank our partners and ambassadors. Some of them like Tradeplus24 have backed us from the very start of our journey.”
Shah says WCFF members update their skills while having the opportunity to grow their network and knowledge of aligned industry sectors across the broader commercial industry.
The aim of the WCFF is to unite women in commercial under one banner.
“We started our journey as a forum for brokers by brokers so a large part of our content is centered around commercial Finance. Our online virtual community contains several forums where our members can discuss pertinent topics and share ideas,” Shah says.
“Our mission is to engage and empower women from all commercial specialisations to come together in a trusted network and community where they can collaborate, connect, upskill and grow their businesses.”
The WCFF meets regularly and offers commercial finance mentoring, cross-industry networking events and education to its members.
Commercial finance mentoring
Finance brokers are offered local monthly commercial mentoring sessions delivered by WCFF’s highly experienced team of commercial brokers around the country, says Shah.
“Typically over brunch/lunch these workshops are 90-minute deep dives into topics our members nominate. Our mentors cover everything from soft to technical skills and we invite our partners and ambassadors to join us.“
Cross-industry networking events
WCFF holds two hybrid events per state, open to women from all commercial specialisations. Up to 10 events are committed for 2022.
“We invite women in local areas who run their own businesses to attend our events and showcase their business for free,” Shah says. “We interview female leaders and entrepreneurs at our events to learn and be inspired.”
WCFF recognises the need for life-based education that “cuts through the noise” and help its members to build confidence.
Shah says education has to be a balance of soft and technical skills-based knowledge.
“It needs to make allowance for the individual member and their current understanding of their business, their client base, their network and opportunities.”
Shah says what's more important than education itself, is what comes after it.
“Most education programs neglect this important step, and it's the step that can be the differentiator of whether a broker will use and apply the learning, or place it on their shelf. This is something that our members often cite as a key frustration they have with upskilling, and we are always listening.
Shah says in the current climate, it is easier than ever to access debt for business growth but there can also be very little understanding about what the debt “actually means” to the business and the key stakeholders in the short and long term.
“For diversification to be successful, there needs to be a deeper dive, a peeling back of the layers with the client, and above all, there has to be compassion and care to ensure they fully understand their obligations.
“These are the elements that women finance brokers bring naturally to their role, which is why they make excellent commercial Brokers. These are the attributes that women in all commercial fields also have in common. They may provide different services from different perspectives, but in the end share the same goal – to ensure their clients are successful.
Shah says the forum is for women who are serious about growth in the commercial sector and want to help their clients with solutions beyond mortgages and consumer loans.
“Our broker members' skills in commercial range from beginner, currently writing commercial to specialist.”
Shah encourages women wanting to diversify into commercial broking to join WCFF.
“Surround yourself with like-minded women who love helping business owners as much as you do. Come ask your burning questions and seek the advice of your peers; we will listen because we care. “
Check out the WCFF website here.