Educating brokers a long-term investment

by Antony Field21 Jun 2021

Change is the only constant in finance, from evolving regulations to new digital lending products and government support for SMEs, so it’s essential that brokers and BDMs are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to keep up.

When it comes to the training and professional development of mortgage and commercial finance brokers as well as BDMs, all banks, non-bank lenders, franchise networks and aggregators recognise the importance of educating their staff.

Australian Broker asked leading non-bank lender Pepper Money and major aggregators Finsure and Mortgage Choice to share their approaches to providing ongoing training and development of brokers and other staff.

Value of training and development

Pepper Money general manager mortgages and commercial lending Aaron Milburn says the non-bank has always had a strong focus on educating mortgage brokers as it seeks to increase awareness and promote the benefits of non-bank lending for Australian families underserved by the big banks.

“So, it’s important that Pepper Money employees are aware of those benefits too, along with the broker technologies, like the Pepper Product Selector and tools that support that adoption, like the Five-Step Process,” says Milburn.

Simon Bednar, Finsure’s general manager, says education is the cornerstone of success, whether for its brokers or for its staff.

“Being at the forefront of training and development programs is what has helped Finsure stay ahead of the pack over the years,” says Bednar.

“With compliance continuing to be the major focus for our industry, particularly in 2021, Finsure has been leading the industry in this area with extensive and comprehensive in-house education programs.”

Mortgage Choice prides itself on the training and professional development it offers its franchise network, says David Zammit, general manager distribution and wealth.

“Learning and development is a critical business unit in our organisation,” he says. “Our learning and development programs must educate, mentor and showcase ongoing career advancement for everyone. We take the view that these programs are a vital pathway to sustainable business growth for Mortgage Choice.”

In-house training, PD programs

Finsure runs a broker academy for those new to the industry, which was established five years ago.

“Finsure partnered with training organisation AAMC to produce a 24-month mentoring program that incorporates a Cert IV in Finance and Mortgage Broking, a Diploma in Finance, plus a range of practical skills to equip graduates with all the expertise needed to maximise their chances of success over the long term,” Bednar says.

“We also work in conjunction with some external providers to offer legal, accounting and property advisory services, and we can provide advanced financial management reporting and business analytics to help open up new revenue opportunities.”

Bednar says Finsure also stages quarterly personal development days throughout the country, which are always extremely well attended.

“These cover a wide range of industry issues and provide a means for our broker partners to raise any issues or concerns. Finsure is set up to assist our broker partners with business-to-business solutions, and our PD days are an important part of this process.”

Finsure’s proposition is not simply a one-size-fits-all service, says Bednar.

“We can tailor our support services to be just as valuable to a large mature brokerage as we are to a new-to-industry broker. At the heart of our ethos is being big enough to deliver and small enough to care. Our numbers regarding recruitment and retention demonstrate this is something brokers value.”

Other programs for brokers include ongoing masterclasses presented by lender partners.

During the COVID-19 lockdowns when many people were working from home, Finsure launched the Festival of Learning, involving online seminars held twice a year, which are still ongoing.

The aggregator also hosts an annual Commercial and Diversified Finance Summit to cater for the many brokers now looking to expand from home loans into commercial and asset finance.

Mortgage Choice structures its training to provide continuous development, says Zammit.

“Mortgage Choice has a five-day induction. It’s a blend of online and face-to-face learning, with the latter now delivered in each of our state offices. The induction is centred around getting ready for your journey at Mortgage Choice. For example, as a franchisee and broker you will learn the sales process, business and loan structures, how to plan for scale, and the best practice on handling loan applications.”

Added to this, Mortgage Choice has a Level 1 program that helps new brokers through their first set of applications to lenders.

“Both new and existing brokers also have access to a National Credit Coach to provide education and support with systems and lending,” Zammit says.

“Our marketing team also hosts monthly webinars that cover a range of topics, from social media to local area marketing to website optimisation and creating customer campaigns.”

Mortgage Choice offers further professional development through events such as its state and national conferences, meetings, or coaching sessions with its in-house learning and development team and state offices as well as lender BDMs.

Milburn says Pepper Money’s BDMs undertake training when they first join in order to understand the non-bank’s products, services and various broker technologies.

“This allows them to confidently discuss the diverse solutions Pepper offers to mortgage brokers and introducers,” he says.

As well as product and mandatory compliance training for BDMs, all Pepper employees are encouraged to participate in in-house courses run by the Learning and Development Team, known as [email protected]

“There are a variety of learning solutions offered to help meet development needs, including soft skills, time management and presentation skills. Specific courses can be tailored for more bespoke needs as well.”

Mentors for brokers

Zammit says without mentorship and guidance, new brokers simply wouldn’t be able to run their businesses from the get-go.

“There is valuable information and wisdom to be passed down from franchisees that have been there before. They can offer advice around how to generate new leads, or what’s the best way to manage staff and business priorities.”

Mortgage Choice runs a two-year mentoring program and has also set up host franchises that offer their expertise to new franchisees.

“This is a weekly meeting between the franchise owners where they follow a structured learning pathway to develop and master the skills needed to operate a successful brokerage,” Zammit says.

At Pepper Money, mentors are key to BDM and employee development, says Milburn.

“Mentoring relationships occur across the business on both an official and informal basis and can often be peer-to-peer or reverse in nature. Whatever the make-up, it provides a strong support network and aids in knowledge-sharing and camaraderie at Pepper Money.”

Bednar says mentoring is extremely important.

“We actively encourage mentorship at Finsure as we believe it can be crucial to a person’s development and, particularly in our industry, help people onto the pathway to become long-term brokers.

“Mentors can offer insights that may not necessarily be obvious when learning training material. Mentorship allows senior brokers to share their experiences to improve their mentees’ development and motivate and help inspire candidates to reach their full potential. Through our mentor program, we have helped over 200 individuals complete their 24-month training and emerge as fully qualified mortgage brokers.”

Training and development trends

Milburn says there has been a big increase in training and PD days being delivered online, and virtually, in the past 12 months, out of necessity.

“That changed the face of training delivery overnight. However, the economic recovery has led to many customers refinancing or purchasing properties, creating a lot of work for brokers. They are now so time-poor they are unable to dedicate long blocks of time – scheduled over successive days – to training. Training options that can be delivered in bite-sized pieces, or on the go, through podcasts, will likely proliferate in future,” says Milburn.

Mortgage Choice has embedded just-in-time training into its mentoring program.

“The state managers build broker knowledge and introduce concepts and scenarios designed to challenge the broker ‘just in time’ as they progress in their career,” Zammit says.

“More recently, our franchise business managers [FBMs] in each state have taken on further responsibilities and now deliver the practical components of our induction, especially around systems and lending.

“And more than ever, FBMs are playing a vital role in the training of our network – they’re assisting in the execution of marketing and business plans, as well as training franchisees to scale up from beginner to master.”

Bednar says Finsure has been very much focused on compliance for the last few years, with the introduction of the best interests duty and changes to responsible lending legislation.

“The advent of new technology has meant broker training on new systems is more important than ever,” he says. “And given the isolation of so many during the pandemic, there’s also been a shift towards focusing on personal growth and mental health education.”

Evaluation of training

Milburn says Pepper Money “monitors the effectiveness of its training and PD programs through broker feedback, surveys and activity”.

“Our leaders will attend broker meetings with newer BDMs to provide one-to-one coaching and feedback; in addition to this, all employees also participate in quarterly check-ins with their direct reports to make sure they remain on track with their development and are set up to achieve their personal goals.”

At Mortgage Choice, Zammit says, learning and development programs are housed within a robust needs-analysis framework that identifies knowledge and skills gaps and includes a measurement mechanism to gauge effectiveness and ensure continuous improvement.

“The measurement lies in a feedback loop built into the training process,” he says. “We can assess the skills and knowledge of the trainee to assess effectiveness of the training and identify further knowledge and skill gaps. Feedback is provided to the learning and development team to facilitate further learning and development programs.”

Bednar says Finsure regularly conducts surveys and asks brokers to complete questionnaires at the end of every webinar. “Our professional development days are a great opportunity to gather feedback from brokers and lenders alike, with our BDMs asking during the event what their experience is like, what they look forward to and what they would like to see at these events in the future.”

Impact on company growth

Mortgage Choice has rebuilt its learning and development strategy over the past 12 months, Zammit says, and recently unveiled a series of programs that build on the key pillars of education, mentoring and ongoing development.

“These changes have also been fed into our wider recruitment strategy, which has seen great success. We’ve seen growth in the onboarding of greenfield franchisees and also significant growth in the number of loan writers and loan administrators across the business in 2020.”

Milburn says Pepper is passionate about providing ongoing education to the third party broker channel.

“It’s vital that brokers are prepared and educated for the future, come what may, so that they can capitalise on every opportunity that exists in the market.

“Having held that position on education for many years, it is clear that raising awareness of the non-bank proposition has led to an increase in more Australian families getting the loans they need, and a growing number of brokers willing to recommend their customers to Pepper Money.”

Bednar says that since the introduction of online webinars Finsure has seen a massive increase in engagement across its network.

“2020 was our best year ever for settlements, and it came during a time when brokers were asked to log on to all training sessions.

“Having carried those online training formats through to 2021, we are continuing our upward trajectory as brokers learn more ways to improve their business, meet their compliance obligations and connect with support partners who they may not have had the chance to contact if we just held face-to-face events.”

Partnerships with industry bodies

Pepper Money works closely with a number of peak bodies, participating in roadshows and education series for brokers on specialist and commercial lending.

Milburn says its BDMs are constantly liaising with aggregators to attend or present virtually at PD days on Pepper’s products, customer scenarios and case studies.

Bednar says every month Finsure hosts a series of masterclasses in conjunction with its valued lender and service partners. These are aimed at delivering the most recent industry updates and helping train brokers in the latest innovations.

“Our team will work closely with our partners to ensure the content is relevant to our network and will help them remain at the top of their game. All masterclasses are accepted under industry associate and body CPD programs thanks to their educational content and expert presenters.”

For new brokers, Mortgage Choice partners with an external provider to offer a fast-tracked Cert IV in Finance and Mortgage Broking. Zammit says this provides for a seamless education phase for new starters.

“Participants are then enrolled in a two-year Accelerate Mentoring Program, which enables participants to receive the Diploma in Finance and Mortgage Broking Management. But before any loans can be written, each broker requires lender accreditation. These accreditations are usually completed with the assistance of our state offices.”

Mortgage Choice also works with peak industry bodies to complete industry-wide training requirements. Zammit says an example is the Banking Code of Practice training, which required all brokers to be accredited, and it worked with the MFAA to complete that.

Mortgage Choice brokers are members of the MFAA and complete the necessary CPD as part of that membership.