Stephen Marsh grew up financially illiterate. Now, the 20-year finance veteran educates middle-aged earners and first home buyers about building wealth through property.
It was November 2019, coming into the heat of a Victorian summer. Motivational speaker Chris Helder paced up and down the stage of the Mantra Lorne, talking to an auditorium of brokers, lenders, and aggregators.
There was a break for lunch. Stephen Marsh, a 49-year-old with two decades in the banking system, got talking with a handful of independent brokers. The conversation – residential loans, operational freedom, client education.
When lunch ended and the attendees began filtering back inside, it was the last part that stayed with Stephen. After a career of working with major banks like CBA and NAB, he was ready for a change – and there was something profoundly appealing about helping ordinary Australians understand the process of creating wealth through investment.
It was just a seed, the beginning of an idea, but it stuck. A few months later, Stephen was sitting opposite Kevin Agent, one of ALIC’s co-founders and investment lending managers, arranging his personal finances. Work came up. Stephen mentioned his conversation with the brokers.
“And [then Kevin] said, ‘Why don’t you join us?’”, Stephen recalls. “And it started from there.”
After nearly two years in ALIC’s transitional broker program, Stephen is a fully accredited investment lending manager, with a growing portfolio of happy clients. But making that leap of faith wasn’t easy. A late-stage career shift is never simple, and Stephen faced the added challenge of leaving a senior bank job – secure and well-paid – for a commission-based role that relied on business development skills.
His 20-plus years of finance experience put him in good stead, though. In 1999, his first role saw him work as a NAB phone lender; after trading a desk for a multi-year overseas sojourn, Stephen returned to Australia and joined Liberty Financial as their inaugural phone lender, a position that progressed to relationship management for residential lending.
The next step in Stephen’s journey was as a business development manager with CBA, where he managed a portfolio of brokers. Over the course of 10 years, he graduated into more senior, aggregator-focused roles – and that was when he joined ALIC.
According to Stephen, the biggest barrier to building wealth as an individual isn’t income. It’s a lack of financial education.
“I want to help people who’ve been in similar situations to myself,” he explains. “I came from a family with a fairly lower middle-class background. My parents got jobs, and then they worked for that employer pretty much until they retired.
“They didn’t retire with a whole lot – they’re reliant on the pension – and they really had no education about how to create wealth through investment, through lending, or through anything like that. So they didn’t impart anything like that onto me. Even though I’d worked in the industry for the best part of 20 years, [before joining ALIC], I didn’t have that understanding of the power of leveraging and lending to create wealth.”
For Stephen, the goal of brokering is simple: make people aware that there’s an alternative to sacrificing half of each paycheck to a 30-year mortgage, and then help them transition to a more sustainable, investment-focused pathway. He tells us that the majority of Australians are far behind where they need to be to retire comfortably – and the statistics agree.
“Even though I’d worked in the industry for the best part of 20 years, I didn’t have that understanding of the power of leveraging and lending to create wealth.”
The median savings for an Australian aged 65–75 years is just $4,951. The average super balance for an Australian aged 65–69 years is $392,211 – and, with a comfortable lifestyle cost estimated at $46,494 per year for individuals with their own homes, that’s just eight and a half years of runway before moving onto the pension. If comfortable retirement is a goal (and, with the average Australian living an additional 23 years after retirement, it should be), we, as a society, need to be looking at smarter ways to leverage our earnings.
“I want to educate people to be able to pay off their mortgages and enjoy a bit of lifestyle at the same time,” Stephen says. “And to get some of that financial education that only comes from people you know who are in the financial space – which I didn’t have growing up or during my early career.”
With so many financing options on the table, including burgeoning alternatives like private lending, it’s not normally low income or bad credit that stops fully employed people from purchasing property. It’s a lack of knowledge around financial strategies, especially around how strategic borrowing can be used to fast-track growth.
Informing people about their options and helping them develop a path forward is, ultimately, the best way to prime Australians of all ages for a stable, comfortable retirement.
To build wealth effectively, Stephen tells us, you need to do the opposite of what your parents taught you – spend money and borrow. Investments compound over time, so investing at an early point in your career – whether in property, stocks and bonds, or alternate asset classes – is the key to success.
“[My job] is about helping clients understand how they can use the equity in their homes to borrow more and invest. The structures that we can set up mean that they don’t have to be a whole lot out of pocket to do that,” he says. “When you factor in the rent from the properties they buy, even with the interest rate environment we’re in, the actual rates are still incredibly low at the moment … and there are still some growth markets around the country, so we connect our clients with the right people to help them find the right property.”
It’s a role description perfectly aligned with the ALIC philosophy. Founded in 2009, the company’s lodestone is the concept of ethical lending – help clients grow their wealth by connecting them with the right solution. Like the rest of the ALIC team, Stephen deals directly with lending structures and strategies, but he also leverages his network to connect his clients with other relevant experts like buyer’s advocates and insurance professionals.
There’s a common misconception that risk protection strategies like life insurance and income cover protection deliver poor value for money, but Stephen tells us that’s not the case.
“[When it comes to insurance and risk management,] I’m speaking from a bit of experience,” he says. “In the last 10 years, I’ve broken my back, had cancer, and had two heart operations. These things can crop up when you’ve got a young family, so it’s really important to have the cover to look after your family during those times. [At ALIC], we only deal with investment strategy, but, if you’re taking on debt, then you need to have protection in case anything goes wrong.”
“[My job] is about helping clients understand how they can use the equity in their homes to borrow more and invest. The structures that we can set up mean that they don’t have to be a whole lot out of pocket to do that.”
At the time of writing, Stephen has only been a fully accredited broker for a few months, but he’s already assisted a number of Australians in their wealth journeys. Using ALIC’s consultative ‘strategise and refer’ approach, those clients have gone from where Stephen himself once stood – “I’ve got no idea how to approach real estate investing” – to already owning their first property investments.
As a father with 12- and 15-year-old children, Stephen knows the challenges of balancing mortgage repayments with family and leisure spending. He’s looking forward to the long-term rewards of mortgage brokering – watching clients from a variety of backgrounds graduate a portfolio of properties and passive income streams.
In many ways, being a broker is like being a farmer. Sow the seeds of financial literacy. Nurture those seeds with tailored structures and strategic roadmaps. Watch them flourish and grow over time, creating enough wealth for comfortable retirement, future adventures, and a positive financial legacy.
Like his clients, Stephen is just starting his journey, but his future as an ALIC broker is looking bright.