JAMES SYMOND: Quality recruitment doesn’t happen by accident

by Adam Smith16 Dec 2013
Recruitment of new talent has been an overriding theme in the mortgage broking industry this year, and big franchises are no exception. Aussie Home Loans is in the midst of one of its largest recruitment drives to date, with plans to take on 150-200 new brokers over the next 12 months – and that’s on top of the 700-800 brokers they’ve already got under their roof.

But, while the franchise has had great success on paper when it comes to sniffing out new talent, industry criticism abounds. One recent Australian Broker Online comment summed up the issue by accusing Aussie of turning ‘taxi drivers’ into brokers, indicating hasty recruitment tactics and a lack of adequate training. But Aussie executive director, James Symond, is making no apologies.

“I think that Aussie has unquestionably been the company in the industry that has trained more professional mortgage brokers than any competitor. And we’re very proud of that. Now, as the industry is growing – and it has been for 22 years – you certainly can’t hold on to all those people. We’re proud to have accrued some amazing people throughout the years, but also to have retained some amazing people. We’ve got over 50% of our current mortgage brokers that have been with us for over five years and we’ve got 29% of our mortgage brokers who have been with us for over 10 years. Our attrition is fabulous.”

While it may be safer in some respects to recruit new brokers from within the industry, Symond believes that pulling talent from outside is, in fact, an integral part of Aussie’s success when it comes to growing its market share. 

“The industry does need to recruit quality people external from the industry and we’re one of the only companies that are actively doing that out there. As a general rule, most of the other companies just try to recruit from within. Now, that’s a limited game. So if we get accused of trying to recruit quality people external from the industry, rather than joining the club of mauling each other – well, I’m happy to be accused of that.”

Recruiting fresh talent is one of the toughest challenges facing the broking industry today, for reasons both practical and ideological, according to Symond. Locating individuals who are prepared, both mentally and financially, to work without pay for several months while waiting for commissions to trickle in is an obvious struggle – but the issues, he believes, run deeper than that.

While other financial services professions enjoy high levels of recognition, mortgage broking remains somewhat in the shadows. People, as Symond puts it, don’t walk out of university and say ‘great, I want to be a professional mortgage broker’. Instead, it’s often a profession that people fall into and that makes recruitment, again in Symond’s words, ‘bloody hard’.

“I’ve been in this industry now for nearly 22 years. It has always been the case where recruiting and retaining quality people – in particular, recruiting and retaining quality sales people – is probably the biggest challenge for a growing mortgage broking business, because it’s not like you’ve got stock on the shelf. Everyone has the same products, everyone runs a very similar sort of service. What defines you is the brand and the perception from the community… where they see it and trust the people who deliver that brand promise. And that’s mortgage brokers.”

As far as Symond is concerned, the only way around the problem is to recruit individuals from outside the industry, train them and then offer ample opportunity for career advancement in order to keep them around.

“Mortgage broking is still relatively young. We’re still, arguably, a 20-year-old industry. Aussie would probably have the highest national [public] awareness of anyone for a mortgage brokerage, so we’re trying to do our bit in terms of getting people to understand, by way of media, who a mortgage broker is…As a whole, [mortgage broking] doesn’t get the PR, it doesn’t get the ‘kudos’ that it deserves to get.”

Regardless of what you might think of their recruitment tactics, it’s hard to argue with Aussie’s full-on approach to training, at least from a resource perspective. The company boasts both a broking academy and a mentoring program and, as Symond will happily tell you, is able to turn anyone with the right attitude into a broker, regardless of background.

“We can turn a butcher, a baker, a candlestickmaker into a professional mortgage broker, as we have done hundreds and hundreds of times. We do this through having some of the best training in the industry and through having some of the best career paths in the industry. They can be a mobile broker, they can be working in one of our corporate offices, they can be a mobile broker working in one of our shop fronts, they can own the shop front, they can own several shop fronts. There are many ways that we can train the mortgage broker through our first-class training process and mentor program and then there are many ways in which people can choose their path as to what suits them best.”

But it’s one thing to have a household brand, a massive distribution footprint and seemingly infinite training resources – it’s entirely another to maintain the high-quality service standards consumers expect in today’s market. And this, Symond would argue, is where Aussie shines brightest.

“It all starts with quality recruitment and we believe that, over 20 years in this business, we’ve come up with a formula that is very successful.

When you talk about success, we have some of the most successful mortgage brokers in the country working for Aussie. We have more mortgage brokers in the [MPA magazine] list of the top 100 names than any of our competitors. That’s under the one roof, that’s under the one brand. That doesn’t happen by accident.”

STRENGTH TO STRENGTH

James Symond has said Aussie’s recruitment drive is a sign of strength for the franchise business. 

“The business is extremely buoyant. We’re in a marketplace where the wind is at our backs and a marketplace which is extremely strong, in particular in our segment of the market around Australia,” he said.

The fact that Aussie lodged its highest monthly home loan volume on record – at $1.6bn last month, up 23% on the same month last year – has also no doubt played a part in the group’s decision to swell its broker numbers.

The company’s total loan portfolio rose from $43.2bn to $47.3bn during the financial year ended 30 June 2013 and Symond expects this figure to break through $50bn in the current financial year.

“We are experiencing record growth and are keen to lift the numbers of our mortgage brokers nationally to meet demand in a buoyant property and lending market,” says Symond.