There is little, it would seem, connecting the removal of plastic from a beach and imparting financial advice to home buyers.
Until, that is, you have a conversation with Damian Brander.
It’s the first nugget of information the mortgage broker conveys to The CEO Magazine as he discusses the progress of The Australian Lending & Investment Centre (ALIC), of which he is Managing Director, over the past 12 months.
Under the firm’s CSR program, ALIC, Brander proudly explains, is helping to clear discarded plastic from 50 square meters of ocean front for every loan it completes.
"Our catchphrase is ‘saving the world’s oceans, one loan at a time’," he says, before revealing he is soon off to northern Queensland to lend a hand on a beach-clearing mission.
ALIC is involved in the project with digital lending and payments provider WLTH, and Parley, the ocean-focused environmental champion.
Yet this is not some greenwashing exercise designed to tick the social responsibility box and ease the conscience of executives. It is part of a deeper ethical approach that extends beyond the beach, into the boardroom and across its business practices.
Expanding on the philosophy, Brander outlines the firm’s ethical positioning, which includes the absence of referral fees, thereby ensuring the impartiality of its advice to home-buyers and property investors.
Furthermore, its brokers are not simply ‘order takers’, as he puts it, but advisers in the true sense of the word where the customer is front and center. Such an approach is embedded in the DNA of the company, the ALIC corporate video points out, a philosophy inherited from its parent company Ethical Lending Concepts.
Being ethical is a trust equation. For us it’s about making sure we are our client’s trusted adviser.
"We do not have any reciprocal financial arrangement with any of our business partners," Brander emphasizes. "It’s the true north of all our decision-making. That is our efficacy, even at the expense of revenue.
"Being ethical is a trust equation. For us it’s about making sure we are our client’s trusted adviser. You need clarity of purpose and a passion to provide a great customer service. All of that will be eroded if the client believes you are doing anything for your own self-interest."
It’s a belief shared by ALIC’s business partners, including Performance Property Australia and WLTH, who are carefully selected for their like-minded ideology.
Yet until Brander’s arrival at ALIC, following a decade at the Bank of Melbourne, its ethos was familiar only internally and within the broader brokering industry. Externally, it was a largely unknown entity.
Not so now. Under Brander’s leadership over the past 12 months, ALIC has embarked on a brand-building exercise and begun to tell its story to a wider audience. Building on that strategy, a recently formed collaboration with the Committee for Melbourne is set to amplify its message to the 150-strong network of businesses, academics and community sectors that make up the Committee’s membership.
Running in tandem with these developments is an ambition to expand beyond its Melbourne roots to the major east coast hubs. Strategic acquisitions and joint ventures will also be explored as part of its three-to-five year plan.
All of which has been driven by Brander who, when he arrived in September 2021, found little by way of a clearly documented strategy.
"There wasn’t any vision written down and I found that strange because there is a real ethos to the business," Brander recalls. "I came in and understood intrinsically and immediately that there was an efficacy but they didn’t have it articulated. It wasn’t expressed clearly to someone who was looking to join the business."
But that all changed under his leadership. Other achievements include greater diversification – the company now employs more female brokers than male – while its technology rapidly evolved to the extent it captured the 2022 Five-Star Mortgage Innovator Award.
If every lender in Australia was able to tell their clients that their loan equals a viable, measurable, physical contribution to our planet, imagine the sustainable world we would leave for our kids?
There remains much to do at ALIC for the one-time chef and restaurant owner. But among his immediate tasks, of course, is that beach-clearing assignment in Queensland.
"It’s hard for people to conceive how they can positively impact climate change quickly," he says. "But we can all make inroads into the pollution problem. If every lender in Australia was able to tell their clients that their loan equals a viable, measurable, physical contribution to our planet, imagine the sustainable world we would leave for our kids?
"Let’s put it this way. If big business doesn’t help, then we won’t get to where we need to be."