CMP: So, what’s the story behind Paragon?
Steve Rogerson: I’ve been in the lending industry for about 30 years, mainly with insurance companies and banks. We started Paragon back in 2005 when Verico was created. I knew [Verico co-founders] John Kelley and Colin Dreyer from previous associations. They were starting a company that had a different philosophy from some of the others out there, so I jumped on board at that point. We started in 2005, and we expanded to Alberta in 2007. We have approximately 130 agents now, and we’re north of a billion dollars in volume.
CMP: That’s pretty impressive for just over a decade. What’s your secret?
SR: We’re basically running very traditional brokerage operations. We allow our agents to develop their own client base. We focus more on what we call subfranchising. A lot of the networks out there have a lot of control over their agents – they’re very much top-down. We turn that upside down and allow our agents to have sub-franchises under Paragon Mortgage Group. That allows them the creativity to grow and build their own brand within Paragon Mortgage Group. It’s very much a co-operative, collaborative effort. It seems to work quite well. That culture is a big part of what we do here.
CMP: What’s your general impression of the current state of the industry? Is it a good time to be a broker?
SR: I think it’s actually one of the best times. It’s a fantastic time to be a broker. I would say a lot of that is increasing customer acceptance of what we do. Some of the growth in the brokerage industry is a result of the challenges that the banks and their captive sales forces are having in the changing market. Bank reps really only sell one product line in this market. And with what’s happening in the market, you need f lexibility in structuring the financing. You can’t do that if you have only one product, so the talents of a good broker are invaluable.
CMP: Is there a challenge affecting the industry right now – one that might not be obvious at first glance?
SR: If you look at what’s happening with online presence and the growth of the Internet in our industry, I view that as an opportunity – but also a challenge. If you’re active in online business, there’s huge potential. But it’s also a challenge; the ability to advertise across the country, and to reach out to a number of consumers at the click of a button, is allowing the customer to force down the pricing to the point that it affects profitability – not just for the agent, but also for the brokerage.
CMP: If you had any advice for brokers, what would it be?
SR: It really hasn’t changed from 2005 when we started. Back then, we joined Verico because Verico stood for openness and honesty, and that’s exactly the way we ran our business. If you’re starting out as a broker or looking to grow your business, you really have to base it on professional and ethical behaviour. There’s an old saying: “A good reputation will disappear in a heartbeat.” So you have to be honest in your approach to lenders and clients alike. Make sure you associate yourself with the best in the business. And for us, that was Verico. Another thing is that you need to be flexible in your business planning. Lenders are changing their needs. The focus in the last few years has been on pure volume, and that’s not the case anymore – 2016 is all about efficiencies and improving their bottom line. If you’re not focused on the lender relationship, you’re going to have a challenge building your business.
And I guess the last thought I’d have is: You want to embrace technology, but at the end of the day, we’re all still salespeople. We’re dealing with real people. And as far as I’m concerned, it’s those people skills you have to keep front and centre.