Dr Divya’s client journey from a car loan to a multi-practice business

Dr Divya Sriram, now one of Sydney’s leading orthodontists, had just graduated from her dentistry degree when she hit a snag.

The 1980s Ford Mondeo she drove 50 kilometres every day across Sydney to her first job died suddenly.

Being a recent graduate, Divya initially struggled to organise a loan for a new car. As she was searching, she met Avant Financial Service Relationship Director Paul Catanzariti.

I met Paul when I first graduated dentistry. I used to live at home, and he came over to my parent’s house. He said, “Yes, we can buy this car”. You didn’t need a cent in your account, you just needed to show that you were employed,” she recalls.

After that initial loan, which allowed Divya to buy a new Alfa Romeo, Paul has helped her with her finances at several career junctures.

The most important thing about working with Paul, Divya says, is that everything is collaborative.

When you’re green behind the ears, Paul’s not intimidating. As a female as well, when you’re surrounded by men in the finance industry, he’s not intimidating.

He’s very calm and he’s very modest. And he doesn’t impose on you, he leaves you to consider. It’s never a hard sell. He’s very approachable, and he’s become my friend.”

After returning to university to complete a Master of Orthodontics, Divya worked with Paul in 2009 to purchase a small, run-down practice in Strathfield. She has since transformed it into her own thriving business, Nice Bite Orthodontics.

It was pretty much done overnight. When you buy an existing practice, there’s an equipment component and a goodwill component. My lawyer and my accountant said to me at the time, “Who is this guy [Paul]? Everything just moves so seamlessly.”

As the business has grown, Paul has consistently helped Divya to finance its expansion.

In 2016, she bought a second practice in Earlwood. Then, in 2019, she took on the challenge of expanding the initial Strathfield practice by doubling the number of chairs in the clinic and seeing twice as many patients a day.

The space was unique, which meant Paul’s expertise was invaluable.

It was a pretty significant expansion for us, and it was different to a normal build because it’s not just a commercial space, it’s a residential space. We did everything from a car park for ten cars, to access ramps at the front, fire panels, and fire systems, from scratch,” Divya recalls. ”

I said, “I’m going to need this much to draw out because this is the builder’s estimate, this is the fit-out cost, and we should allow for a 25% leeway on it”. He just got to work. I didn’t really bother to look at the interest rate or the terms, because there’s so much trust there. If he says, “We will get you the best possible rate” on something, he just does it.”

From small beginnings ­– just herself and an assistant – Divya’s business has grown to 12 employees across two clinics.

But when the redeveloped Strathfield facility was finally ready to open, Sydney was in its first COVID-19 lockdown.

Paul was extremely helpful. Everybody was calling their financiers and asking what they could do. We had a line of credit running to pay everyone working on the project. And Paul said “We can keep this line of credit, and you can just pay interest on the drawn amount,” she says.

Crucially, Paul always runs best and worst-case financial estimates, which meant she knew his reassurance was well-founded.

Paul will always give you a leeway for a dip. I’ve never seen in my practice life a dropdown, but he would always say, “If it drops this much, this is where you’d be at, and you’d still be fine,” she says.

More than a decade after opening her first practice, Divya is still engrossed in her hands-on work, and in the challenges that come with running a business.

I never thought I’d be an orthodontist. I thought I’d be a paediatric dentist…but being a specialist is always something I wanted to do. Being an orthodontist is fabulous. It’s non-invasive. It’s always happy patients. It’s minutiae, it’s detail. And now running a practice, there’s so much more to business. I love that aspect of it, too.