What can we learn from Graduate alumni?
I interviewed Mark Hodge and Kate Hemphill who are working as Agribusiness Relationship Managers (ARMs) in Rural Finance’s Shepparton office.
1. When did you start as a graduate
Mark Hodge: I started the graduate program with Rural Finance in April 1999 before the business became part of the Bendigo and Adelaide Bank Group. I was the first to go through a formal graduate program at Rural Finance and have been here since, working in different locations around Victoria. I’m currently located in the North East of Victoria at the Shepparton office.
Kate Hemphill: I joined the organisation as the first group of Ag Achiever Graduates in February 2013. My program was for 18 months and I spent time in Bendigo head office, as well as Shepparton and Swan Hill.
2. What did you enjoy most about your time as a graduate?
MH: I enjoyed the variety of work I was exposed to – at the time, with Rural Finance being government owned, I was involved in the “Land Aggregation Program” after land around Omeo in Victoria’s high country was flooded following successive years of drought. I also spent some time in the old head office in Melbourne doing rotations with the finance, treasury and legal teams where I also got to work with a lender. During this time I also did relief work for lenders in the Horsham, Bendigo, Leongatha and Traralgon offices.
KH: The best part of the Ag Achievers Grad Program was the variety, with the opportunity to spend six months in three different locations. In head office, I did rotations with the different parts of the organisation, including working on a project I presented to the Board. I worked with lenders in Shepparton and Swan Hill and was on farm more days than not. The highlight of Shepparton was working on the Farm Finance Scheme where I learnt a lot about maintaining client relationships and communicating effectively with the customer. I was in the Wimmera Mallee for sowing time and had never been exposed to the scale of farms, having come from the Goulburn Valley – some client visits we had were spent sowing the crop with the client in the tractor.
3. What roles have you held since and describe your current role?
MH: I took on a lending role as an ARM in Shepparton after completing the graduate program (Please refer to David Swain’s blog “Around the town” to learn about what an ARM does with Rural Finance). I then spent some time doing a similar role in Warrnambool and Colac before returning to Shepparton where I am currently based.
KH: I graduated from the Ag Achiever Graduate Program working as a lending assistant to Mark Hodge and another lender in the Shepparton office for 6 months. I moved into an ARM position in Shepparton in early 2015 and now manage my own portfolio of clients. I’m really enjoying working with my customers and becoming an integral part of their business.
4. How did your time as a graduate help you progress to where you are now?
MH: As part of the graduate program, I was introduced to diverse agricultural practices in different regions of Victoria. I was also exposed to the different facets of the organisation through my rotations in head office and roles in the regional offices. This has proven to be really beneficial for me in working with the customer, understanding the resources of the organisation that are available to me, that will assist their business and help to develop the client relationship going forward.
KH: The Ag Achiever Graduate Program significantly assisted me with enhancing my organisation skills leading into the ARM role I am currently working in. I worked with colleagues in valuations, loans administration and credit which assisted with prioritising work flow management to ensure I maintain a good relationship with my clients. The best thing about the Bendigo rotation in head office is getting to know everybody so there is someone to call if I need assistance.
Around the town
After spending some time in our Bendigo office, each Ag Achiever relocates to a regional office for the opportunity to work closely with the local agribusiness lenders. I’ve been based in Shepparton, part of the eastern region, for this rotation and would like to give you a flavour of what work in the regional office is like.
During my time in Shepparton, I’ve been working closely with one of our specialist agribusiness lenders, known as an Agribusiness Relationship Manager (ARM) due to the importance of maintaining strong relationships with our clients. We get out on farm a number of times per week to meet with the client in person and build on the business relationship. While on farm, we often discuss what the client has been doing, what their business goals are and what they require to achieve these goals. This is usually a kitchen table chat and has an informal feel. There are always lots of questions from both parties, which gives us a great insight into the client’s business as well as local issues and market trends. People are usually very happy to showcase their farm, to let us see how they’re developing it, utilising technology and advancing their business. We use the information gathered from the interview to prepare any finance deal back in the office, including our valuation of the farm. Something I really enjoy about the role is that every farm visit is an exciting experience, with no two visits the same.
The photos below show a land auction I attended last month, and a farm visit with a client who grows irrigated Lucerne and other crops in conjunction with their dairy enterprise. Auctions are a particularly good opportunity to meet locals and auctioneers who work in the area, while also getting a feel for the value of the region’s land. I have been working on deals with the ARM up until now and I hope to undertake a client visit on my own as I am approaching the last few months of the program.
This photo was taken when I visited a dairy farm in the south west of Victoria during my rotation in Rural Finance’s Warrnambool office. We were given a tour of the dairy as the last of the cows left the yards from the morning milking. The property owners were preparing the dairy for a changeover of milk contracts. As part of the farm visit, we also discussed their need to replace and upgrade an old tractor. This involved changing model and increasing the horsepower of the machine to increase its useability as the main tractor for the farm. This new piece of machinery would be used to sow and spread fertiliser around the farm.
Every day brings something new
Hello, I’m David Swain and welcome to the Rural Finance and Rural Bank Graduate blog. I will be writing here to update you on what I have been doing within the Graduate program here and how it might be appropriate for you, if you apply in this year’s intake.
A bit about me – I studied a Bachelor of Agriculture at the University of Melbourne and completed my final year at Dookie College. I joined the Graduate Program to gain experience in agribusiness lending, with my ambition being to become an Agribusiness Relationship Manager, supporting farmers to help their businesses succeed. I am currently in the last six months of the 18-month program and have been lucky to live and work in three different locations. I spent six months in Bendigo learning the mechanics of the business before undertaking six months in Warrnambool learning the role of the regional Relationship Management team. I am now in Shepparton learning more “tricks of the trade”. It’s been great to gain a real-life understanding of how finance works for customers and also the role of the service provider in that relationship. Whilst in the Bendigo office, I was given a number of opportunities to work with the Bank’s Executive team to develop future ideas and tools to support the business. These projects were undertaken with other graduates from my intake and we were given the opportunity to present our completed work to the Rural Bank Board, senior leaders and other staff to showcase its relevance to the everyday operation of the business.
I have really enjoyed traveling to meet new and existing clients, developing the relationship, and assisting these farmers achieve their ambitions. Every day brings something new and it’s a great working environment with a good balance of time spent in the office and out on the road. My favourite part of the job is getting on farm and talking with clients to help them grow their business and achieve their goals.