Shane Chawatama, sales director at Knowledge Bank, made his start in the sector as an insurance adviser before making the switch to mortgages.
Have you always wanted to work in the finance sector? (if not, what job did you picture yourself doing?)
Certainly not. Even now, my friends and family find it surprising that I am in the financial services industry. For many years, I had my sights on becoming a chef. Food has always been a big passion of mine.
How did you get into the industry?
It all began with a chance meeting with Ying Tan. A mutual acquaintance thought it would be beneficial for us to meet and discuss the possibility of me switching from the insurance industry to the mortgage industry. One meeting with Ying was all it took to make up my mind. I initially started as a specialist insurance broker, but after making the switch to mortgages, everything fell into place.
What is your favourite thing about working in the sector?
The most rewarding aspect has been the impact I can make on people’s lives. It is not just about helping people finance their homes; it is about enabling dreams, facilitating better schooling opportunities for children, and providing financial support for families. The impact on people extends to those I have worked with and managed, and there is immense satisfaction in witnessing their development and growth.
Did you ever feel there were barriers due to your race?
When I entered the industry 11 years ago, there were noticeably fewer black people at events or in leadership roles. In my mid-twenties, and new to the sector, I didn’t see peers who looked like me being successful. The lack of representation was palpable and certainly acted as a barrier. The saying goes, “If you can dream it, you can see it. If you can see it, you can do it,” but there was nothing to see for a long time.
Do you feel like diversity and inclusion has improved over your time in the sector?
Yes. The industry has now evolved. Companies are now focusing more on building diverse teams. While it feels like we are still in the early stages, with plenty more to learn and unlock, we are certainly moving in the right direction.
However, it is worth noting that many minorities and women often find themselves starting their own businesses. One has to question whether this is this because there is no growth made available in the established firms. More needs to be done to attract diverse talent and retain it. There are tough conversations to be had and feelings may be hurt, but I believe as an industry we are getting braver.
Who in the sector inspires you most?
Sundeep Patel stands out as a major inspiration for me. He is not only incredibly knowledgeable but also humble. From my first dealings with him, he was open to sharing his wisdom. Not only to offer guidance in terms of mortgages, but also as a mentor helping me to understand and navigate the industry better as a minority.
Ying Tan has been an amazing influence on my life and career. His achievements and how he has attained them are simply inspiring.
Considering their backgrounds and who they are as individuals, really makes them stand out.
Outside of the mortgage/finance market, who is your biggest inspiration?
My family. The sacrifices my parents made, the examples set by my older siblings, and the levels of ambition and boundaries pushed by the younger ones. They really are an impressive bunch and I am fuelled by their success.
What advice would you give to anyone from a minority group who is thinking of joining the industry?
Do it. Take the leap and join this brilliant industry. You will need to create a wide network around you. Find those who will act as your “sponsors” and actively seek out a diverse group of mentors, to help guide your journey. The industry is a great place to work. There are so many fantastic people who will support your growth. It is important to bring your unique background and life experience. That will enrich the company you work for, internally and externally.
Hold yourself to a higher standard. But don’t hold yourself back at the same time.
What has been your biggest career achievement?
As a broker, I chaired our “social committee”. We set this up to enrich the culture for the brokerage. Having worked in sales for a big part of my career, the culture is one which can easily breed a level of self-interest. I set out to build something to promote a positive impact within the community. To give the employees something to celebrate which isn’t solely monetary.
To do more for charity and to make a lasting impact. The results of this are the culture built, the lifelong bonds created and the impact on those supported. This committee raise tens of thousands for charity and has given hundreds of man-hours to help support local charities.
What skills and/or qualities do you bring to your role?
In a single day, my role can take me from a board meeting to discussions about system improvements, closely followed by discussing designs and GIFs with lenders and marketeers. In a day, I need to be able to add value in a variety of different areas. So, my willingness to learn, and ability to be adaptable are invaluable. My presentation skills, creativity and patience have all been formed based on my background and upbringing. These come in handy too.
What life lesson or advice helped shape who you are today?
There are a couple that have helped shape me.
Understanding that failure is not fatal. Recognising that I will not always make the right decision, and that is fine, as long as I learn from it. This helped me relieve the self-imposed pressure to seek perfection, which can so often hold you back.
“Alone you go fast, together we go far” has been instrumental. Working in sales you can easily feel it is you against the world. As I stepped into management, I learnt how important it is to take the team on the journey. To share the vision and provide clarity and guidance to effectively lead.
Where do you see yourself in five years career-wise?
In five years, I see myself as sales director – VP of sales. I love building things – and Lego remains one of my all-time favourites. At Knowledge Bank, we are building something special. The potential for what we can achieve is huge. The team is simply magnificent, and it is a pleasure to be a part of it. I still have so much more to learn from them, and the vision we have for the business is not only inspiring but has the potential to revolutionise the industry.
I see myself playing a big part in that, contributing to something with purpose, that leaves a long-lasting impression.