The news that Renee Tocco, founder of commercial and asset finance firm LoanEZI, sold her business in part to fintech Prospa (ASX: PGL) marks yet another milestone for the young entrepreneur, who has cashed in on two of her three companies in the space of a fortnight.
Originally trained in naturopathy, her unique entry point may have been the key to holding her own in an environment of growing consumer disenchantment due to the usual archetypes of the finance world.
In the wake of her successful sale to Prospa, Business News Australia hopped on Zoom with Tocco to talk about the unlikely origins of LoanEZI, and the challenges of maintaining authenticity in a male-dominated, commercial lending space that is "still very old school."
Despite high profile positions within companies like Telstra (ASX: TLS), ReneeTocco stresses that her background and education are as far from the traditional ideals that have so far dominated the finance world.
“My personality isn't the general finance broker - they’re generally men over 55, super reluctant to change,” she argues.
“And that's not me. I'm entrepreneurial, I'm innovative, I love change.”
"The general progression for someone to start their own finance brokerage firm is they're a bank teller, then they're a bank manager, they gradually work through the space,” adds Tocco, zooming in from Queensland.
Prior to 2016, the Young Entrepreneur Awards Ambassador had identified there was a desperate need for brokerage firms within asset and equipment finance. It was from those seeds LoanEZI that was born, hitting the ground running.
Since then, Tocco has been able to identify problems hiding in plain sight and get to work providing the solution. More recent plays such as MedEZI (a financier for cosmetic and medical procedures) and ezICT (a business lead generator) exemplify her eye for opportunities in the space.
Backed by an all-female team, Tocco's Loanezi uses technology and the cloud to give small business customers access to finance across a range of services from personal finance, to heavy machinery and office fit-outs.
For many customers aspiring to be more sustainable in their businesses, installing amenities like solar panels can be quite costly upfront. As a result, LoanEZI has become as focused on the implementation of solar power as it is on telecommunications.
A pro-environmental lean has been present within the company since the beginning, says Tocco, and these values "line up very nicely" with that of Prospa - LoanEZI's new owner. Initially meeting over unrelated reasons four years earlier, Tocco struck up a natural rapport with founders Greg Moshal and Beau Bertoli,
“There was just a real connection. Whenever I would try and ponder on what my next journey would be I don't fit in anywhere in the lending space," Tocco said.
“The founders that I have been connected with over the last three years, Greg Moshal and Beau Bertoli, I think they also felt that with me, like ‘oh, she’s one of us,” and I felt that about them."
Tocco also recently sold medical lending firm MedEZI for an undisclosed amount to a client’s dental clinic in Adelaide, who had been using that brand for referrals for the last two years.
“[My client] bought it, and he's an entrepreneur too," Tocco says.
“But he expressed that his skillset isn't establishing a brand and kicking it off, which is really what I've done with that brand. I never really went hard at it because LoanEZI was doing so well.”
Over time, Tocco has developed a philosophy that financial well-being is as vital to individuals as physical and mental wellness; an ethos that continues to inform her direction.
“Studying naturopathy for four years changed my life. It made me go from here to there in terms of my own physical energy, my mental control, the power I had over my own life....I could never have been the success I am without that kind of degree,” Tocco said.
“When people don’t have access to appropriate finance, especially for small business, or even know how to properly access it, that can be a make or break for individuals....So I’ve always taken a super holistic approach to any opportunity I can identify – not just identifying gaps in the market, but seeing if we can deliver it with excellent service, and seeing if the end result will actually benefit the client.”
It's a message that has long been neglected in the world of finance and has resonated with customers, as well as the Prospa team.
For this entrepreneur, big changes are in the mix; the third part of her business has begun a transition from being a finance brokerage into a business lead generator, a new brand called ezICT, which she is “holding onto on the side.”
The acquisition of LoanEZI is expected to be completed on 21 October for an undisclosed amount. The purchase also coincides with the appointment of Tocco to the role of northern regional manager at Prospa.
Commenting on the shift, she says it will be hugely exciting to be exposed to a larger market than what could have previously been possible running the business on her own.
“The reach I will have with Prospa will be substantially larger than I have in my business,” says Tocco.
“It’s an ASX company, which is exposure I’ve never had before.”
“I'm gonna have a team of incredibly elite professionals, I've got to take some of my team members from LoanEZI into my new team. All of us influence the commercial broker channel in Australia, which is a huge channel of people. It's actually amplifying my circle of influence further, so I'm excited about that.”
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