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IWD 2023: I had dreams of being a TV presenter not a mortgage broker – McKenzie

  • 08/03/2023
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IWD 2023: I had dreams of being a TV presenter not a mortgage broker – McKenzie
To celebrate International Women’s Day 2023, Mortgage Solutions has spoken to women working across the sector about their entry point and journey through the world of finance.

Nicola McKenzie co-founded financial advice company Dunham McCarthy Group in 2011 with her husband. The group specialises in estate planning, mortgages and insurance among other spheres. 


Have you always wanted to work in the finance sector? (if not, what job did you picture yourself doing?) 

NM: I did not dream of working in the finance sector as a child. I had aspirations of becoming a TV presenter, and later, wanted to pursue a career in law. I studied media and communications at university and worried that it might have been a waste of time. However, as the co-owner of the Dunham McCarthy Group, I get to combine my interests and skills.  


How did you get into the industry? 

NM: I started working at HSBC Bank when I was 17. It was just to make some money while I was in college and university, and I never thought it would become a long-term career. I met my now-husband who was working as a mortgage and protection adviser. We met when I was buying my first property, and he was the mortgage adviser. He inspired me to become a mortgage adviser, and the rest is history. 


Have you ever found it challenging to fit in as a woman? 

NM: I faced some challenges in establishing myself as a businesswoman as opposed to an adviser. People often assumed that my husband was the one in charge, which was frustrating because we both played equally important roles. There are also unique challenges that come with being a black woman in business, however, I try to see obstacles as opportunities and aspire to pave the way for other women like me.  


Have you noticed an improvement in the number of women in the field since you’ve worked in it? 

NM: I have noticed significant growth in the number of women joining the industry, however, the number of female business owners remains low compared to male counterparts. 


What are the most significant improvements the finance sector has made on gender equality? 

NM: There have been some notable improvements in encouraging women to enter the sector, such as events like Leading Ladies day within our network Primis and the COVER Magazine Awards that celebrate women’s accomplishments in finance. It’s essential to inspire and support each other and the next generation of women. However, there should be more practical advice geared towards women in the finance sector who are looking to build their businesses, to encourage more to become business owners. That’s why I’m currently working on a project called ‘Venture Planner’, an online platform that offers guidance on all aspects of starting and growing a business. 


What would you say to encourage other women to join the finance sector? 

NM: It is a dynamic and constantly evolving field that offers a multitude of opportunities and is a great career choice with flexibility. Even though it has traditionally been male-dominated, don’t let this discourage you or make you feel like you don’t belong. Surround yourself with a support network of like-minded people who will encourage and uplift you. And keep learning and growing – the finance sector is always changing. 


What skills or qualities do you bring to the role? 

NM: A combination of focus, discipline, hard work, people skills, self-awareness, and knowledge. However, I’d say that my biggest skill is my determination and perseverance. I also think that growth and development are ongoing and never-ending processes, therefore I’m always looking to improve. 


How does your role fit or benefit your lifestyle? 

NM: Running my own business allows me to have a flexible schedule. This enables me to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Additionally, being self-employed means I have more control over my income and can adjust my workload to suit my needs.  


What are your hobbies? 

NM: Fitness and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. I enjoy weightlifting and cardio, and I have a YouTube channel where I share my workouts and tips. I also enjoy singing and have taken lessons and performed at open mic nights to improve my public speaking skills. Lastly, I am a fan of documentaries, particularly those that cover finance, scandals, and aviation. These hobbies allow me to unwind and recharge, and they also provide valuable learning opportunities. 


Which improvements gender equality improvements would you like to see in the finance sector? 

NM: Companies must be accountable for their hiring, promotion, and compensation policies. I think practical policies that promote diversity and inclusion should be introduced, including flexible work arrangements and parental leave. These initiatives could help bridge the gender gap in leadership positions. I also think that it is important that women’s contributions to the finance sector be recognised and celebrated. 


Which women in the finance sector or corporate world inspire you most? 

NM: I have a great deal of admiration for Anne Boden, the founder of Starling Bank. She has done an outstanding job of disrupting the traditional banking industry, and I appreciate her innovative and diverse approach. Another woman who inspires me greatly is Oprah Winfrey. Although she did not come from the corporate world, her journey from poverty to becoming one of the most influential and powerful women in the world is genuinely inspiring and demonstrates what is achievable with hard work and perseverance. 


What is a life lesson or piece of advice that helped to shape who you are today? 

NM: “All progress is made outside the comfort zone.” I genuinely believe that becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable is essential to achieving success. When we step outside our comfort zones, we can experience challenges and grow. Additionally, there is no substitute for hard work, you must put in the hours to be successful at anything in life. 


How do you apply that to your working life? 

NM: By embracing new opportunities, even if they seem daunting or unfamiliar at first. Whether it entails taking on a new project, attending a networking event, or giving a public speech, I always strive to push myself. I also work very hard. I may not always be the most skilled at every task I apply myself to, but I put in the hours. 


Where do you see yourself in five years? 

NM: Having expanded my business to include a wealth division that provides in-house pension and investment advice. I also aim to continue growing our existing mortgage and protection business while focusing on expanding our apprenticeship program. Ultimately, I aspire for the Dunham McCarthy Group to be a one-stop-shop for all legal and financial matters. 

Lastly, I intend to launch and grow our business plan software to assist other aspiring entrepreneurs in avoiding some of the mistakes I’ve made while replicating some of our successes. 


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