Home Truths /The how (and why) Athena started story

Home is where our story begins.

4 min read | 25 Feb 2019 | Nathan Walsh


It was the reason I met Michael Starkey in a cafe in February 2017.

We’d worked closely together at a big bank for a decade and had seen first-hand just how broken the system was for the average home loan borrower.

The facts were pretty scary. Australian household debt at record levels – among the highest of any country.  Mortgages taking 10 years longer to pay off than a generation ago. Lack of transparency adding up to Australians paying $10 billion more each year in costs and fees than they need to. Australians needed a mortgage they could pay off faster, to create a future where they own their home, not the banks.

We’d both been venture founders before – Michael was a co-founder of iSelect, and I was founder of nabtrade – so we knew we could give it a good crack.

The fourth coffee kicked in, and we saw a way to create a genuine alternative to the big banks. What if we could divert the rivers of money (over half a trillion dollars) flowing from superannuation funds and by-pass the banks to fund home loan borrowers directly? We did the sums and the potential savings were huge – a family moving from typical big bank rates could save as much as $100,000 and 5 years over the life of the home loan.

But why stop there? We decided to right a whole lot of the wrongs we’re all too familiar with:

  • Start with our best rate possible- and keep it great from beginning to end

  • Make refinancing refreshingly simple, like a 15 minute application on your mobile

  • Use the latest technology to put the power at peoples fingertips

  • Get rid of all the annoying costs, complexity, jargon and small print

  • And give really great service from really great Australian-based experts

When we went out to the world with our idea, it was clear the powerful pull of home is built into all of us.

Borrowers loved the idea of a genuine alternative to the big banks and owning their home faster. Post Royal Commission that chorus has only grown louder.

Investors loved the audacity of challenging what was thought to be unchallengeable. Aussie banks are among the most profitable in the world, and the $1.7 trillion home loan market is the crown jewels.

And our wickedly talented team loved the idea of building Australia’s most loved home lender from scratch.

Home always comes first. That meant we needed the final thumbs up from our families to quit our steady jobs and upend our lives. But they loved the idea of helping people make their dream a reality as much as we did.

Things moved quickly from there.

Since June 2017 we have raised over $45M in equity funding, with investment backing from Macquarie, SquarePeg Capital, HostPlus, AirTree, Rice Warner, Resimac Group and Apex Capital. We were thrilled to have some of Australia’s smartest investors back us, and we’ve benefited hugely from their insights and support.

Athena’s first year focused on the design and build of a digital home loan platform delivering breakthrough efficiency, client experience and agility. It was a vivid demonstration of the power of a small, cohesive, talented team to move mountains. The big banks are constrained by pain points caused by a complex legacy of aging technology and paper-based processes. Athena’s platform delivers savings, service and simplicity the legacy players simply cannot match.

Over the past 8 months we have been operating Athena in pilot mode. We are already seeing the power of the Athena proposition to change lives. The family with 3 young kids, saving $40,000, now able to plan a trip away with the boys.  The divorced single mum, able to pay off her home loan 19 months earlier and save $130,000. The couple planning a wedding, now more affordable. It’s powerful stuff.

Two years after we sat down, Michael and I are excited that Athena is about to become the new home for Australians who want to get rid of their mortgage faster. Because life is too short for a long home loan!

You’ve got nothing to lose except your home loan!

Start saving a whole lotta time and money

Athena acknowledges the traditional owners of the land on which we gather the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. We acknowledge that sovereignty was never ceded and respect their continued and continuing connection to this place.