For many years, Matt Cunliffe ran by the rule “Don’t fear that which has not yet occurred,” but at the start of 2019 he found himself plagued by the uncertainty facing the mortgage broking industry at the time. He told MPA about the “light at the end of the tunnel” that gave him the strength to move forward and the confidence to make quick decisions when COVID-19 hit.
Cunliffe started his career as a broker in 2008 having worked for ANZ since part way through university. At the time, he had left the bank for a period of leave, only to come back to an employment freeze due to the GFC. On the hunt for a new lending role, he successfully applied for an employed broker position with Mortgage Choice. The change suited him so well that in 2015 he went on to buy out his boss and take ownership of all three franchises after becoming general manager a few years prior. In 2017, the business expanded, incorporating a fourth area.
“The first month of being an owner was the rudest awakening I’ve ever had,” he said. “I’d been operating the business as a GM for two or three years before that official change but to wake up in the morning and have the realisation I’m not just doing it for me anymore, I’m doing it for 28 different families, was a massive shock to the system.”
Despite the added pressure, the transition was slick and day to day operations went from strength to strength for Cunliffe and his team of 28 staff. The takeover was indeed a career highlight for the broker who had spoken about the possibility of doing so four years prior.
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Winning Franchise Broker of the Year at the AMAs in the same year was also another big highlight, as was seeing the brokers in his team make the Top 100 after starting out as loan processors under his guidance.
A dark place and the light that shone through
2017 was also the year Cunliffe made a life-changing decision that would see him overcome the fear of uncertainty and strengthen his confidence before COVID hit. He applied for the Owner/President Management program at Harvard Business School and was accepted the following year.
Early in 2019, Cunliffe found himself in a dark place. At the time there was some friction in the Mortgage Choice network as well as the talk of broker remuneration changing in the leadup to the federal election.
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“I try to run by the rule of don’t fear that which hasn’t occurred, but I found myself getting into a really dark place around things that had not yet happened,” he said.
The support of his wife and the love of his kids enabled him to push through the difficult times, while preparing for the Harvard Business School course later in the year was like a light at the end of the tunnel for Cunliffe, who was due to fly to the States in September for the first unit of study.
“The timing of it was freakishly well,” he said. “We knew where the industry was going by the time I went across there, but, leading up to it, the drive to want to get there to see what it was all about and experience it was what pushed me through.”
In the course, he learnt a range of things about finance, marketing, operations and law, but the common thread throughout was the ability to have confidence in yourself and the business decisions you make – an indispensable skill to have in place at the start of the pandemic.
“In the past I probably would have been more cautious to make strong decisions about business practice with fear of the possible negative outcomes as opposed to backing myself into a change because that’s what I believed and that’s what I had faith in the outcome of,” he said. “Being able to make some decisions on the fly at the beginning of this year because of COVID meant that we came through it quite well.”