INVESTORS Square Peg Capital, Hostplus and AirTree have led the way in a $25 million ‘Series B’ capital raising for Australian fintech start-up, Athena Home Loans, to take the home loan innovator's total funding so far to $45 million.

The backing of Square Peg Capital, along with Australia’s biggest venture capital investor and industry super fund, Hostplus, and Australian venture firm, AirTree, is seen as an affirmation that Athena is on the right path to becoming Australia’s most innovative home loan provider and the strength and calibre of its backers is a validation of the company’s model.

Venture capitalist and co-founder of Square Peg, Paul Bassat, who also sits on the Athena board, said investing further into Athena verified the vast potential Square Peg saw in the business. 

“Having worked with Nathan, Michael and the team over the last year, I have enormous admiration for the speed at which they have navigated complex financial systems to develop a robust and customer-centric mortgage service,” Mr Bassat said.

“Athena is solving a really important problem for home buyers and is certainly one of the most exciting fintech companies in Australia. We are thrilled to back the team again and look forward to supporting them on this extraordinary journey.”

The Series B raise has come six months after the company announced a Series A fund raise led by Macquarie Bank and Square Peg Capital – and three months after announcing a strategic partnership with Resimac Group.

The company was founded by two experienced ex-bankers in the sector, Nathan Walsh and Michael Starkey, who are passionate about helping Australians “make the journey to home ownership faster, cheaper and stress free”.

Athena is built to be a very different kind of home lender to what is currently in the market and a genuine alternative to the big banks.

It is powered by what is claimed to be Australia’s first ‘cloud native’ digital mortgage platform, and Athena delivers better rates through a unique funding structure, bypassing the banks to connect borrowers to superannuation fund-backed loans.

Square Peg Capital invested in Athena in Series A and further solidified its support of the home loan provider by leading the Series B round.

Industry superannuation fund Hostplus is one of the highest-performing and most forward-thinking super funds in Australia with over 1.1 million members and $37 billion in funds under management. Hostplus has spearheaded investment in the local start-up ecosystem, with over $1 billion of its fully-diversified portfolio committed to Australian venture capital managers.

Hostplus chief investment officer, Sam Sicilia, said the industry super fund’s long-term venture strategy attracted the group to Athena Home Loans. 

“We are a firm believer in the potential for tech-led innovation to deliver future prosperity for Australians and strong risk-adjusted returns to members,” Mr Sicilia said.

“Athena is a great example of disruptive innovation delivering big savings for home loan borrowers.”

Athena COO Michael Starkey said, “We are delighted to have Hostplus and AirTree joining Athena as investors. Athena’s journey has benefited hugely from the insights and support from some of Australia’s smartest investors. It’s clear the timing has never been better to offer a fairer home loan.”

AirTree is an Australian venture capital firm that invests in world-class entrepreneurs, and most recently raised $250 million to invest in disruptive Australian technology companies.

“Athena has assembled one of the strongest teams in the Australian fintech market and are building a home loan company that is very different to anything that exists today,” AirTree Ventures partner James Cameron said.

“They have built what we believe is the most technologically advanced mortgage platform in the country – and this means a better experience and better value home loans for Aussie borrowers. We’re excited to be backing them on the journey.”

Currently in pilot stage, the Athena customer proposition is compelling.

“During our pilot, we are already seeing the power of the Athena proposition to save money and change lives,” Athena CEO Nathan Walsh said.

“A single mum who will be able to pay off her home loan 19 months earlier and save $130,000 over the life of the loan. A family with three young kids who will save $40,000 on their home loan can now take the family on the first holiday in years. It’s powerful stuff.”

“Our key priorities with the investment will be to continue to innovate our platform, invest in talent and scale the business,” he said, with the platform ready to launch in early 2019.


SCOTTISH Pacific has welcomed ASBFEO’s Affordable Capital for SME Growth inquiry recommendations as a boost to flexibility for funding

Ombudsman Kate Carnell has released eight recommendations to increase the supply of capital and raise SME business owners’ awareness of alternative sources of finance outside traditional banking.

Scottish Pacific’s chief customer officer Ben Cutler highlighted ASBFEO’s plans to develop a financial products guide so that business owners know what funding options are available and best suited to them. 

“As the ASBFEO report indicates, and our own SME Growth Index research and 30 years’ experience of working with business owners shows, SMEs can become ‘rusted on’ to their banks. This means they might not be looking for, or be aware of, other credible funding options,” Mr Cutler said.

“ASBFEO’s report quotes ABS statistics that only 15 percent of all businesses apply for debt or equity finance, and 90 percent are approved – with the vast majority of SMEs not even applying for funding. They highlighted that banks say only one in 100 business owners over 30 years of age would consider changing banks.

“This finding is backed up by our SME Growth Index research, which shows that fewer than 5 percent of business owners actively keep an eye out for credit facilities that fit best with their business. Fifty percent don’t ever get around to reviewing their primary bank relationship and only 20 percent review this regularly,” he said.

Scottish Pacific consulted with ASBFEO for their Affordable Capital for SME Growth inquiry.

ASBFEO’s report claims business owners would benefit from a clear understanding of the different forms of capital, and that SMEs and their advisers need to determine how much capital they require and also what type of product best fits their needs.

The report referenced the current poor level of awareness by business owners about funding options, citing figures from a recent RBA roundtable: the total Australian market for debtor finance is about 4500 but nearly 65,000 SMEs could be utilising these products.

“Scottish Pacific has a 30-year history of funding thousands of business owners’ growth aspirations, with a style of funding that doesn’t put the family home at risk,” Mr Cutler said.

“So, it is frustrating to think that 65,000 businesses – more than 95 percent of the eligible market – could benefit from this style of finance, yet many are not aware of the option. Along with government and industry bodies, we’re trying to change this situation.

“It’s great for business owners to have wide funding choices and any effort the Ombudsman makes to put more options in front of SMEs, such as an SME Guide to Financial Products, is very welcome.”

The Ombudsman’s recommendations outline initiatives to increase the supply of capital and inform and prepare SMEs to seek capital, with a better understanding of all the funding options available.

“Recommendation Six is for business owners to work with their trusted advisers to get their enterprises finance-ready,” Mr Cutler said. “We work closely with key introducers, brokers and accountants, and we see there is a vital role for them to play in helping business owners source funding, and be funding-ready.”

The Affordable Capital for SME Growth report points out that the banks’ risk-weighted appetite, focused on real estate, limits the lending available to Australia’s SMEs.

It states that home ownership in the key entrepreneurial period of life (ages 25-34), is down by over 30 percent over the past 25 years, and with some forecasters expect housing markets to decline this could have a major impact on business owners’ ability to access funds.

“Ever since the Global Financial Crisis, banks have required enhanced levels of real estate security for SME loans,” Mr Cutler said.

“This has driven business owners’ interest in alternatives to the banks, including debtor (invoice) finance, fintech solutions and crowd-sourcing.

“Scottish Pacific is the independent market leader in providing funding options that don’t put SME owners’ family home on the line, instead it secures funding linked to the business’ accounts receivable so that the funding line grows in line with the business.”

Mr Cutler suggested business owners and their trusted advisers should talk to the different alternative lenders, as well as the banks, to find the right style of funding for their business.

“When you are talking to lenders, get a feel for who is here to stay with you in good times and in bad and who is able to make things work for your clients. It really pays to broaden your working capital horizons.”

The Affordable Capital for SME Growth Report, based on ASBFEO’s inquiry to address the funding gap for small to medium sized enterprises, is available on ASBFEO’s website.



RESEARCH by Adviser Ratings has found financial advisers are highly dissatisfied with major incumbent technology vendors – although they rate Netwealth, AdviserNETgain and Lonsec highly.

“Technology and investment research providers to financial advisers are on notice to better serve their clients.” Adviser Ratings, managing director Angus Woods said. “Our survey clearly shows a high level of dissatisfaction with many technology players, at a time when advisers are facing other cost pressures, particularly in the areas of education and compliance. 

“Advisers are looking for more technological and phone support from platforms and planning software to free up their time and provide compliant end-to-end solutions to achieve this. In addition, with increased adviser mobility between licensees and the growth in social media, advisers are becoming more influenced by their peers’ opinion when selecting a new platform or software solution.”

It was no wonder major incumbent providers that previously drove the market for financial advisers – particularly the ‘Big Six’ of AMP, IOOF and the banks – were very much on the outer in this survey.

Netwealth was the favoured administration platform for investment functionality, with Hub24, CFS FirstChoice, CFS FirstWrap and Macquarie Wrap rounding out the top five of 17. 

Netwealth was also the favoured platform for insurance functionality, with Hub24, Praemium, BT Panorama and BT Wrap rounding out the top five of 15.

AdviserNETgain was found to have the most satisfied advisers in the financial planning software space, although it was on limited licensee coverage.

Lonsec edged out Morningstar for the most satisfied advisers in the research space, according to Adviser Ratings.

There was an extraordinary movement of advisers between licensees in the last three years, especially out of the institutional space, with a 43 percent increase in the number of small licensees.

“The challenge is understanding where advisers are going and servicing a greater volume of advice firms,” Mr Woods said. “It is not just about building a better technology solution but strengthening relationships with key decision makers in these practices who are increasingly looking for ‘plug-and-play’ software choices.

 “AMP and the banks could often afford to have technology support staff on the ground, resulting in a ‘sticky’ adviser for the incumbent technology providers. There are now over 8000 practices in Australia with less than five advisers, so it is just not feasible to have this support model in place” Mr Woods said. 

In assessing satisfaction levels of advisers, Adviser Ratings used a widely-known customer experience metric, the Net Promoter Score (NPS). NPS measures the loyalty of a user to a particular provider’s product or service.

Other qualitative questions were overlaid, including fees, provider support, adviser reporting, platform functionality, robustness of research and ease of use to help understand the reasoning behind these scores.

“With most providers where functionality or features were fairly even, we found the level of service and knowledge and helpfulness of its staff, was the most important feature when coming up with their score,” Mr Woods said. “We then split these responses by licensee and geographic area to determine which type of advisers are better serviced.”

With Adviser Ratings forecasting a significant acceleration of adviser movements and a continued shift into self-licensing, it opens the door to new players.

“With satisfaction and loyalty rates at such low levels and with advisers moving to practices where technology providers don’t have a strong influencing relationship, incoming players like Intelliflo and Advice Intelligence will present a real challenge to the market leaders, IRESS and Temenos,” Mr Woods said.

“We are seeing this in the $800 billion platform space with the emergence of Netwealth and Hub 24. Swiss-based Avaloq recently announced its intention to tackle this area. Frustrated advisers will soon have more choice. It is up to the incumbents to see if they are ready for the challenge.”

The Financial Advice Landscape report is said to be the most comprehensive snapshot of the financial advice industry and provides a unique view of the advice ecosystem in 59 regions across Australia. The report incorporates Adviser Ratings’ proprietary data, census data, and results from an online survey conducted in Nov-Dec 2017 responded to by 1,103 financial advisers.


CHINESE investment in Australia’s healthcare sector has surged over the past three years – not featuring at all before 2015 – to reach a total of A$5.5 billion across 16 completed deals, according to a new report from KPMG and The University of Sydney Business School.

The report, Demystifying Chinese Investment in Australian Healthcare, which covers investments into Australia made by entities from the People’s Republic of China through mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and joint ventures in calendar years 2015 to 2017, found that investment has been concentrated in the health supplement and medical treatment sectors in Australia. 

A KPMG spokesperson said to date there had been no significant investment in pharmaceuticals, biotechnology or aged care.

According to the report, $2.55 billion was invested in 2015, $1.35 billion in 2016 and $1.58 billion in 2017 through several very large deals, including the $930 million acquisition of hospital operator Healthe Care in 2015 and the acquisition of Swisse Wellness for more than $1.5 billion across 2015 and 2016.

Major deals in 2017 included the $800 million investment in Ansell’s Sex Wellness Division by Humanwell Healthcare and CITIC capital, and the $337million investment in PRP Diagnostic Imaging by Hengkang Medical Group.

On recent trends, Chinese investment groups in Australia’s health sector are predominantly privately owned. About 80 percent of deals, by value, involved private rather than state-owned Chinese companies – although there is known to be a large crossover between commercial and official governance in Chinese firms. Many investors have health sector experience at home and they have shown a willingness to make repeat investments.

Advantageous international trade agreements combined with progressive domestic initiatives such as the Federal Government’s Medical Research and Innovation Strategy and the National Innovation and Science Agenda are improving Australia’s comparative advantage in advanced health sector industries and helping drive further investment attraction.

Australia is doing well relative to many other countries. By comparison, Chinese investment into US health, pharma and biotech for the three year period reached US$4.7 billion (A$ 5.7 billion).

According to report co-author, Doug Ferguson, who is the head of Asia and international markets at KPMG Australia: Australia’s success in attracting investment is due to Chinese companies seeking the “complete Australia package”.

“Chinese investors have really shifted their investment interests to Australia’s hi-tech, high quality health products and services sector in the last three years,” Mr Ferguson said.

“Australia presents a range of country-specific advantages that include advanced technology application, quality care facilities, strong management systems and the ‘clean, green and healthy’ image for Aussie branded exports back to China.

“As China’s aged care industry develops and its medical treatment sector matures there will be a greater need for these qualities and more demand for the businesses providing them. There’s still a long way to go,” he said.

Beijing-based Jenny Yao, who is KPMG China’s head of healthcare, explained in the report that the central government’s Healthy China 2030 plan provided a very clear framework for the country’s health sector development priorities. China’s healthcare spending is expected to grow by 8.1 percent annually over the next five years, representing a big opportunity for Australia’s health sector.

“The patterns that are emerging in China’s domestic healthcare sector are likely to strengthen investment demand in the coming years as healthcare assets become a key component of many Chinese investor’s portfolios,” Ms Yao said.


Professor of Chinese business and management at the University of Sydney Business School said the economic and social conditions in China explained the latest investments.

“Changing conditions in China such as rising income, wide-ranging reforms to public healthcare and new consumer preferences for the ageing all suit Australian exporters,” Prof. Hans Hendrischke said. “Foreign investment is important to build global partnerships with knowledge of foreign markets and access to international distribution networks.

“Rather than general health services, many Chinese companies seek to invest in specialist services, such as oncology, radiology, ophthalmology, IVF, and aged care. These services are replicable in the Chinese market and customised to fit the specific needs of China’s middle-to-high end consumer markets.

“Australian healthcare brands have an initial advantage in China due to their reputation for high quality products with consumers,” he said.

The report predicts that investment will broaden across all sectors in the short-to-medium term. The patterns that have emerged in Chinese healthcare investment so far will likely strengthen in the coming years as healthcare assets become a key component of many Chinese investors’ portfolios.

The introduction of Chinese policies to establish a public/private healthcare system built on ‘big health’ presents an opportunity for Australian companies to share their expertise and participate profitably in the industry’s transition and growth.

“For Australian companies, Chinese investment presents an opportunity to access capital and new markets with new supply chains with established local partners,” KPMG’s Doug Ferguson said.

“ The outcome of increased investment will be a highly competitive Australian healthcare sector that can accelerate exports as well as continue private sector investment in research and improve technological capabilities.”


       From 2015 to 2017, Chinese investment in Australia’s healthcare sector totalled $5.5 billion, across 16 major deals.

       53 percent of the investment was concentrated on Australia’s health supplement sector, 47 percent in the healthcare services sector – with no major investment as yet in pharmaceuticals, biotechnology or aged care sectors.

       New South Wales attracted 49 percent of Chinese healthcare investment between 2015 and 2017, followed by Victoria with 45 percent and Queensland with 6 percent.

       80 percent of completed deals (by value) were by Chinese private companies from diverse backgrounds, including hospitals, specialised healthcare providers, pharmaceutical companies, construction companies and private equity.

       Chinese investors are attracted to target companies that are exporting or capable of exporting to the Chinese market.

       China’s healthcare spending is expected to grow by 8.1 percent annually over the next five years.


       Mature business services and technology.

       Australia is ranked first among English-speaking countries as a destination, ahead of Canada, the UK and the US.

       The small time difference with China (2-3 hours).

       Stable political environment and low sovereign risks.

       Transparent regulatory environment.

       Long term stable economic return.

       Cultural diversity.


FEDERAL Treasurer Scott Morrison has called an enquiry into the impediments to business investment in Australia.

“Business has told us that regulations are one major impediment to investment, especially in terms of the volume of regulation and compliance costs,” Mr Morrison said. “Businesses find it particularly difficult when they are required to interact with multiple levels of government.

“The Australian Government has cut more than $5.8 billion of red-tape and will continue to search for opportunities to go further, including through the Small Business Regulatory Reform Agenda I announced in last year’s Budget. 

“An examination of these and other matters will strengthen our understanding of how the multitude of regulatory systems in Australia affect business investment and assist in the development of a regulatory system that enables growth and supports the ongoing transformation of the Australian economy.”

Late last year, the Council on Federal Financial Relations reviewed the report on the Intergovernmental Review of Business Investment prepared by Heads of Treasuries. The report revealed that investment was driven by a complex mix of factors, including temporary and structural factors, policy settings and institutions.

“I have written to the chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics, Sarah Henderson MP, to request that the committee undertake an inquiry into the impediments to business investment in Australia,” Mr Morrison said.

“Business investment is critical to economic growth. When firms are empowered to invest in new productive capacity and technology, it supports innovation and helps create new opportunities and employment for Australians.”

Terms of Reference for the inquiry include the interaction between regulatory frameworks across all levels of government and how the cumulative regulatory burden can be reduced to support greater business investment; the impact of innovation policies, at the Federal and State government levels, on business investment and the role of innovation policies in encouraging greater business investment, considering approaches taken in other countries; the role that taxation policy can have on the encouragement of new business investment; the role that energy policies can have on the encouragement of new business investment; and the impact of supplier payment times, including by governments, on business investment for small to medium enterprise.


THE Institute of Public Accountants’ (IPA) pre-Budget 2018-19 submission in January recommended that the Federal Government introduce a publicly-supported venture capital (VC) fund to enhance the entrepreneurial environment in Australia.

“The VC fund could be established by either providing a significant proportion of funds to assist VC managers to attract other institutional investors to publicly-supported VC funds or by becoming an institutional investor in a range of individual VC funds,” IPA chief executive officer, Andrew Conway said.

“This level of support by government to small business equity finance will improve the entrepreneurial environment in Australia and act as a catalyst in identifying and overcoming hurdles to successful and profitable investment. 

“Many young firms face funding problems, particularly in uncertain technological or new knowledge environments because of their unattractiveness to bank lenders.

“It is a lost opportunity to the Australian economy when innovative firms with high commercial potential are constrained by the absence of external finance,” Mr Conway said.

“Any government with a strong commitment to economic growth via research and development and investment which facilitates greater enterprise and innovation activity must ensure that early-stage venture capital finance remains available to high potential, young firms.

“Otherwise, we risk a reduction in new commercialisation opportunities stemming from national investments in science and technology,” Mr Conway said.


MINISTER for Revenue and Financial Services, Kelly O'Dwyer has welcomed the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) opening up to public consultation on draft regulatory guidance for its oversight of the new Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA).

“ASIC’s draft guidance is another important step in establishing the AFCA — a new one-stop shop for external dispute resolution in the Australian financial system,” Ms O’Dwyer said. 

“We are putting the governance processes in place so the AFCA is ready to start receiving consumer and small business disputes no later than November 1, 2018.”

Parliament passed legislation to establish the AFCA scheme on February 14 this year. Under the legislation, ASIC will have a new 'directions' power that will strengthen its oversight of the new external dispute resolution scheme.

“The draft regulatory guidance sets out ASIC’s approach and I encourage all stakeholders to be involved in this important consultation process,” Ms O’Dwyer said

The draft regulatory guidance Regulatory Guide 139, Oversight of AFCA, will be open for public consultation until April 6 this year..

The updated RG 139 will be finalised and published by the time AFCA launches.

ASIC is also inviting stakeholder views on the need for any transitional relief from external dispute resolution disclosure obligations.

The consultation paper and draft regulatory guide is available on the ASIC website.


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