“A passionate, creative business builder, who is also a mother, lover, friend, daughter and sister.” This is how Trenna Probert responds when I ask ‘who are you?’
Not many people can capture themselves so succinctly on the spur of the moment. But Trenna has done the work to understand who she is, why she’s here, and what she wants to achieve. It’s apparent in her laser focus on Super Fierce and sister not-for-profit, Fierce Impact.
“I want to create solutions that help people to live bigger, better, happier lives,” Trenna says. And she’s doing this the best way she knows how. After two decades “in and out of financial institutions, building businesses and products,” Trenna decided to create a business that would do two things.
“I want to make it easy for women to engage with superannuation confidently, to help them care about it, act on it, and then get on with their lives. I also created Super Fierce as an economic engine room of good, generating funds for Fierce Impact. That way, we can help women who don’t have money in super, women who are living at the margins, to find a pathway to better lives.”
So, how did a girl from country South Australia end up here, at the intersection of fintech, feminism, and fierceness?
Always on, always different
“Not long after I’d decided to create Super Fierce, I was driving across the desert to Palm Springs, with my step-daughter reading quietly beside me. No distractions, just the endless road, bright skies, and a horizon that never seemed to draw closer. I started thinking about all the weird and wacky things that had led me to this moment. Because it really struck me that at last, I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Some memories were painful, and some I wish hadn’t happened. But somehow, together, they’d unexpectedly prepared me for my life’s purpose.” Trenna said.
She thinks of this proverb when telling her story:
The story starts at school, where she always felt like the odd one out.
“To be honest, I actually thought everyone else was odd. It wasn’t until I was older that I realised it was me who was the weird kid.” She copped her fair share of bullying, but it didn’t stop her from achieving her goals. Studying Economics at university was hard, albeit in a different way. Now more at home socially, she struggled with her studies due to undiagnosed ADHD, eventually shifting to other things that suited her better. “Being diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 40 was life-changing. After a period of grief and worry, I was grateful. At last, I understood so much more about myself.”
Trenna describes her mind as being always-on. “It’s not actually a deficit of attention: it’s too much attention, all the time. I feel like a computer with all the browser windows open at the same time. Wrapped around me, they’re all intense, different, and enticing. But it can be noisy in here. I don’t sleep a lot.”
She laughs and then smiles with a gentle shrug, “Today I see it as a gift and I wouldn’t give it up for anything. I’m creative, passionate, and joyful. I also seem to see connections other people don’t. Plus, I have a secret superpower. People don’t realise that ADDers have intense hyperfocus for the things we love. That means we can keep going and push past obstacles where most people would give up.”
Long before this came to light, Trenna was embarking on a career that would shape her life.
“Finance was a complete accident. I wanted to be a singer, an actor, or a golfer.” (She’s still known to break into song at any moment, so she almost achieved one goal). Beginning at Hyatt, then American Express, Trenna traversed the competitive world of firms like Macquarie Bank, with a combination of grit and hard work. She was never comfortable in a suit, and while her bright dresses and personality didn’t always fit in, Trenna got results. “I don’t see myself as a financial services person, but as a translator or connector – I see patterns and bring them together.” She was very good at it though and went on to climb the senior ranks.
Despite career success, Trenna faced personal challenges that ended up shaping her mission. The harbourside mansion, parties, and first-class flights that other people saw weren’t the whole story. Inside the relationship with her first son’s father was a misalignment of expectations. Ultimately this led to the decision to separate.
It wasn’t easy. Like so many women, Trenna discovered that she didn’t have access to all the financial resources she needed when she became a single mother. Borrowing $3,000 from her parents, she started over again at age 34. She hired a ute, packed up her things, and rented an apartment. Then it was time to find a job. After several years out of the workforce as a full-time Mum, and before that starting her first business, she worried that she wasn’t employable. But worry and self-pity were luxuries she couldn’t afford.
“There was a pivotal moment when everything changed. I was on the floor, sobbing. My gorgeous 18-month old child climbed into my lap, wrapped his chubby legs around me, and tried to wipe away my tears. When he said, ‘Don’t worry, Mummy, I’ll look after you’ everything changed. That was the kick in the butt I needed. It wasn’t his job to look after me! So I picked myself up and just got on with it.”
There have been many ups and downs since then. That’s life, after all. But with the goal to protect and provide for her child, Trenna says nothing could hold her back. And while she has rebuilt her life, Trenna has experienced first-hand the impact that a lack of financial security has on women. It left a deep impression.
Life, career and a new type of partnership
Soon the red thread of destiny showed up again. The friend she’d hung out with while working as golf caddies at the age of 19 in Japan, ended up finding her a job at Macquarie. After some time their friendship blossomed (apparently over investments research) and eventually turned into marriage, together with the joy and challenges of bringing together Craig’s two young children and Trenna’s son. The final ingredient was a child of their own, creating a noisy blended family with four kids.
More than ‘just’ marriage, Trenna and Craig continued working together beyond Macquarie in several businesses. Over time these evolved into Revolver Capital, the financial consultancy they built together to help innovators and entrepreneurs to grow the value of their business. There they planted the first seeds that grew into what Super Fierce is today.
“Craig built a low-cost super fund for a client. We quickly learned that they didn’t know how to talk about it to clients – how to explain the impact of fees on super and the benefits of a low-fee fund. So Craig holed himself up for a weekend to create an algorithm that would run the numbers and show people the difference. He’s got that type of mind. In numbers, he sees themes. I translate those into stories and then together we turn them into products to help people.”
They soon realised the value of what they’d created and tested it as a business. “We called it Beat the Fees and designed it for accountants and financial advisers to use with their clients. After testing it with around a thousand people, we built a minimum viable product, ran in-market tests to learn, and we were happy we were able to make more money than we had spent.”
In the start-up world, that was a promising start. But it didn’t get Trenna’s heart pumping. “Like most Aussies, I didn’t care much about super. And to be honest I was a bit sick of dealing with the stale, pale, male fin services sector. I mean, they’re lovely people and many of them are my friends. But I was just so bored with that scene after more than two decades. I remember asking Craig, ‘When do I get to do something fun? Like food or fashion?”
Not long after, Trenna found her version of ‘fun.’ In late 2018, the idea for Super Fierce was born.
Solving the big problems
Trenna’s friend Victoria was looking to get her finances sorted out, and Trenna had a cool new tool to test. So, they ran the numbers.
“I remember the look on Victoria’s face when we told her she could retire with an extra $114,000, just by changing to a low-cost super fund. She was shocked and delighted and it really impacted me. I started to believe that this was a tool that could make a direct, immediate, positive impact on people’s lives. It was intoxicating! And I wanted to have that feeling again.”
The other piece in Trenna’s puzzle was her dissatisfaction with big, systemic problems. The gender pay gap and the finance industry’s attitudes to women were among them.
“These are such big issues, and I always struggled to work out what I could do. Especially as I typically don’t have the patience for incremental change. But I was getting increasingly frustrated. Even men I respect deeply didn’t seem to understand the layers of disadvantage that women had faced for so long – the inherent exclusion built into societal and financial systems. And their complete misunderstanding of a woman’s needs.”
It was, appropriately, at a dinner on International Women’s Day that the penny dropped. “I was dining with men who are very close friends of mine. Normally we debate and laugh, but that night was different. Some of the extraordinary comments about women in the workforce showed me the divide in understanding was far greater than I realised. I was so upset that I left dinner. I’d assumed that they must know better, but they didn’t.”
Trenna also recalls a dinner with her husband Craig, where they discussed a report on the gender retirement gap (as you do on date nights). “I didn’t know I had an opinion until we started talking about it. There were suggestions in the report, like men contributing to their partner’s super while she’s on maternity leave. I was furious! Poor Craig was a bit shocked with the intensity of my response as I declared ‘Are you bloody kidding me? It should be an expectation, not an option. Legislate it!”
The final straw came when the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services at the time, Kelly O’Dwyer, announced a $109 million package – over 10 years – designed to address the gender retirement gap. “At first, I was excited, but the more I thought about it, the more my heart flattened in disappointment. I thought about how that would be thinned out over a decade and in successive governments, and my cynicism bubbled up.”
(Ms. O’Dwyer’s subsequent retirement from parliament, because she couldn’t successfully combine work with her family life illustrates, painfully, the issue).