Juggling the demands of compliance, revenue generation and team management is no easy job, but in a post royal commission environment – and with a new government to boot – these are the essential pillars of any broker business. Ahead of the 2019 Broker Business Exchange, some of the event’s top speakers share their tips to survive and thrive
From compliance to market corrections, tightened lending criteria and a federal election, this year is shaping up to be even more demanding than the last. But Australia isn’t alone in its challenges.
This year’s Broker Business Exchange will not only arm delegates with the knowledge required to master their local market but also shine a light on how one country has overcome some very familiar obstacles.
In the last decade, brokers in Canada have had to contend with tighter lending standards, a housing correction, and a proliferation of non-conforming and private lending solutions.
International keynote speaker Shawn Allen says that as such changes arise in Australia brokers must become policy experts.
“As global markets contract and house prices correct it is paramount that brokers constantly analyse products and guidelines to provide the most current solutions available to their clients,” he says.
Allen founded Matrix Mortgage Global in 2008, steering it to become Canada’s largest private lending brokerage, achieving $1.1bn in volume and more than 610% growth in the past five years.
In 2018, it was named one of Canada’s fastest-growing companies in the Growth 500 list.
When it comes to building a high-performing business, Allen advises brokers to reduce waste, standardise duplication and outsource whenever possible.
“A high-performing business must have sound governance. The establishment and continuous monitoring of processes, communication, procedures and their subsequent implementation, or lack thereof, will quickly allow for any variances of these rules to be addressed so that the business may function harmoniously.”
“Constant follow-up, transparency and reducing verbal conversations to writing ... will enhance the prosperity and viability of your organisation” Shawn Allen, principal owner, Matrix Mortgage Global
He says it is therefore essential to document current workflows, assign roles and responsibilities to team members, and hold those team members accountable for their work.
“Failure to do so will result in major waste and duplication of resources, which could become very costly,” Allen says.
“Constant follow-up, transparency and reducing verbal conversations to writing as soon as possible will enhance the prosperity and viability of your organisation.”
When it comes to setting goals, many brokers have their own tried and tested ways of reaching targets and measuring success. However, targets mean nothing unless a broker – or their team members – are motivated to achieve them.
MPA Top 100 broker Alycia Inglis is no stranger to attaining targets. With degrees in commerce and economics, she transitioned from the world of corporate tax to broking in 2006, going on to establish Stoneturn in 2015.
Recognising an underserved niche in the market, Stoneturn has a dedicated focus on time-poor professionals and expatriates who wish to invest in property.
In a sales and marketing role, much of Inglis’s day-to-day focus is on targets, specifically around revenue, and she dedicates significant time to revenue-generating activities, such as talking to new and existing clients as well as referral partners, and working on general marketing messages and activations.
“Revenue goals are very useful as they are a simple and standard way of measuring the performance of the business. However, revenue is just one means of measuring performance and should be considered along with other indicators,” she says.
While setting goals is one thing, motivating a team to achieve them, and measuring their success, is quite another. “As a team we spend several hours per week focusing on improving our processes, so we’re constantly becoming more efficient and improving the quality of our service regardless of the role or task,” Inglis says.
To keep her team in top performance mode, Inglis uses a comprehensive approach that spans every role and function of the business. The Stoneturn team reviews the number of new enquiries, existing client loans and applications and settlements, according to number and dollar value and where they were derived from, on a weekly, monthly and annual basis.
“This gives me a detailed understanding of what is driving the business and helps identify areas for improvement. It gives everyone something to work towards and makes it easy to know how you’re tracking on a weekly basis,” she says.
Crucially, there is still time to smell the roses.
“We also take time out to have fun and celebrate our wins,” Inglis says.
The power of referrals
For Tracy Kearey, managing director of Home Loan Connexion, as much as 80% of her business is derived from repeat clients or referrals – a figure she attributes to a robust marketing strategy and consistent client contact.
“Finance broking is not a transactional business or about continually having to secure new clients; it’s about building a portfolio of valued clients who you can look after for life,” she says.
“It is vital to touch base with existing clients regularly so as not to miss important milestones or happenings on their life journey. The truth is there’s a fortune sitting in most broker databases just waiting to be explored.”
In business for more than 20 years, Kearey is now writing loans for her clients’ children as they commence their own journeys into the property market.
“Without doubt, building a professional broker business on relationships and referrals is the easiest and fastest way to achieve success,” she says.
Karen Bashford settled more than 600 loans in the 2018 financial year and is one of the leading brokers at South Coast Business and Financial Solutions in Ulladulla.
With 15 years under her belt, around 60% of Bashford’s business comes from repeat clients, who then refer their friends and family.
“If you are servicing your clients – contacting them for health checks, rate reviews, product rollouts and so on – you continually stay front of mind with them when they need anything finance related,” she says.
However, it isn’t enough to simply keep in touch. Brokers must also demonstrate their worth – and values – by conducting themselves in an honest, upfront and truthful way.
“Reputation is everything in this industry, especially if you are regionally based as I am. Trust is earned, and if you are totally honest with every single client, the trust will grow, and so will your reputation,” Bashford says.
Another point of difference is to refrain from thinking of time as money. “Give freely of your time, especially to clients who are unable to borrow right away.
Show them how to get to where they want to be, and you will eventually do finance for them.
Then watch how many people they refer to you along the way because you’ve taken the time, at no charge, to help them towards their goal,” Bashford says.
Being committed to the local community also helps, and that doesn’t always mean charity work. Bashford advises her fellow brokers to get involved in their local business chamber to meet like-minded people and potentially new sources of business. She says it’s all part of giving back.
“Trust is earned, and if you are totally honest with every single client, the trust will grow, and so will your reputation” Karen Bashford, GM, South Coast Business and Financial Solutions
“Supporting your local community is paramount. Meeting like-minded business people, building new relationships, sponsoring and volunteering for community events – these things will all increase your connections and also your profile,” she says.
For both Kearey and Bashford, these activities strengthen their professional reputation, creating a positive feedback loop that accelerates the success of their careers and businesses. Kearey entered broking in 1998 to satisfy her professional ambitions while working around her obligations as a single parent.
After working in administration support for an all-male mortgage broking team she obtained her qualifications and joined Home Loan Connexion.
Then in 2013 she took the opportunity to negotiate a 50% buyout of the business in order to better manage its future success. Today, Kearey is the firm’s number one loan writer in Australia.
The secret? There are two sides to building a strong professional reputation. “Remember, it’s what your clients say about you when you’re not in the room that really counts. Hence, staying in constant contact, servicing and providing clients with information and resources to assist with meeting their financial goals is of utmost importance.
Good news travels, but bad news travels faster!” In short, a broker’s reputation with clients is based on follow-ups, honesty, transparency and keeping your word.
However, when it comes to their peers, the formula changes. First and foremost, Google needs to be consulted before affiliating with any new business partner.
“Do your due diligence by researching any person or company you’re considering building a relationship with,” Kearey says.
Elsewhere, she says the secret is to be seen and get known. “Network, connect and build strong and reciprocal relationships with business referral and lender partners. In addition, seek out possible opportunities where you can contribute, share your expertise and make a difference to the finance industry as a whole,” she adds.
The move from residential to commercial lending is probably one of the most discussed points in broking, but savvy brokers have been positioning themselves ahead of the curve for some time. MFAA data show that between 2016 and 2018 the number of brokers who also sold commercial finance products increased by 124%. Furthermore, commercial loan settlements reached almost $9bn in the six months to March 2018.
Many businesses have run diversified operations from the start. Managing director Peter Vassilis opened the doors at Black and White Finance in March 2017 and, drawing on his experience of working as a commercial BDM with a non-major, the firm offered both commercial and residential services when it first started up.
Vassilis says the challenges of running a diversified business are easily overcome, but maintaining good relationship management is key.
“Fundamentally, lending principals are the same between the two. It’s just different terminology, different jargon, or different grey areas in commercial lending. Those are probably the biggest hurdles when diversifying,” he says.
Vassilis also advises that brokers establish a support network for their new business focus, whether by joining a forum or networking group, or recruiting a mentor.
“You don’t know what you don’t know,” he says.
“It pays to stay close to BDMs and relationship managers and to participate in, and engage at, educational seminars and PD days. It also pays to ensure you have adequate commercial lending arms for all kinds of scenarios, and you need to ask questions all the time. Stay humble; never assume you know it all.”
“It pays to ensure you have adequate commercial lending arms for all kinds of commercial scenarios, and you need to ask questions all the time” Peter Vassilis, managing director, Black and White Finance
The hard work is worth it. Black and White achieved $10m in commercial lending in the first year of operations through a mix of motor vehicle and equipment finance, commercial property purchases, debtor finance and SMSF lending.
In the second year, that increased by 50%, and Vassilis says things are on track to set another personal best in 2019.
The issue of diversification has triggered wider discussions across the industry in recent months, with many now asking if the finance broker of the future will remain a specialist or become a generalist. For Bashford and Kearey, the answer is clear-cut.
“To enable your clients to be yours for life, you need to be able to provide them assistance regardless of what type of finance they require,” Bashford says. Meanwhile, Kearey says part of her success as a broker has come from her ability to grow with her clients.
She says many of her original home loan clients are now self-employed and regularly come to her for business funding. However, simply diversifying into SME lending on the chance that your clients will become SME owners isn’t the solution.
“It’s about keeping pace with the evolution of a client’s lending needs. That’s essential to the longevity of any broker’s business. Brokers need to remain at the top of the game to succeed,” she says.
That 2019 has been difficult is no secret. In April, insight published by Westpac revealed that only 9% of people believe the property market is the safest place to invest savings.
The figure represents a 45-year low.
“Yes, the banks are making it a little tougher for us to get loans approved, but we can sort of manage that,” Vassilis says.
“If we can somehow turn the low sentiment round, with lower rates which are imminent or lower benchmark assessment rates as we see now from the RBA, APRA and the banks, then it could really turn things around.”
Part of the task of managing sentiment comes back to managing customer expectations. Bashford says explaining the challenges in the current lending environment is key to this process, and the conversation should cover approval time frames and second-choice options.
“Make sure you underpromise and overdeliver. If the deal will be difficult to set, make sure that is explained to the client at first meeting and advise you will do your very best, but no promises,” she says. In terms of day-to-day operations, Inglis says change is part and parcel of running a business. “The challenge is how to juggle changes and how to incorporate them into your existing processes, business model and team roles in a timely manner, which minimises the impact on your ability to service customers.”
While it isn’t possible to weather every storm, it is possible to shelter from the damage that can occur.
Arming brokers with the knowledge required for this, the 2019 Broker Business Exchange takes place at The Westin Sydney on 5 June.