Last month, CMP published the results of our third annual Brokers on Lenders survey. Over 300 brokers from nine different provinces filled out this year's survey and ranked the lenders on a score between one (very poor) and five (very good).
Some have questioned the purpose of the survey, which is to simply provide another channel for brokers to communicate to the lenders. Most importantly though, it's an anonymous channel, so it can be rest assured that the scores and comments are 100 per cent truthful and unbiased by any outside influences, as CMP's only interest in conducting it is to educate.
Since CMP started polling brokers for their feedback on lenders, First National has scored in the top three, finishing first overall last year and second in 2007. Based on the overwhelmingly positive comments that came in for First National, it was no surprise to anyone to see them on top again this year.
This includes vice-president, residential mortgages, Scott McKenzie, who stresses the team atmosphere and hard work from all employees at First National for this year's strong finish. In fact, it was the one lender to stress that CMP include a team picture instead of the headshot that we asked for. While they eventually gave in to our request, as a team shot would simply be too small, the gesture was obvious. To emphasize that even further, McKenzie says that while the market has been through a lot of change in the last year, keeping a full staff has made the difference.
"When volumes are lighter we schedule a number of internal training sessions to ensure that employees are up-to-date on changes, know product features, what can be done, policies and processes," he says, adding that when the market changed from "relatively quiet to very active in a short period of time," everyone there was ready.
Another part of its success is making a conscious decision to communicate with brokers any changes, he says.
"This allows us to further gain efficiencies which ultimately lead to better service for brokers. This approach has worked very well for us for the last six months, and we will continue to focus efforts on underwriter and broker education."
He also points to First National's popular online mortgage approval and tracking system, Merlin (at least according to the comments from survey respondents who mentioned it), and its paperless technology platform, which not only gained it the highest score in the IT category, but serve as "key ingredients for outstanding broker service."
And with the highest score in eight of the 11 categories, it seems the mortgage community would agree.
While Merix has always finished relatively high on the list, it made a big jump from fourth to second place this year.
Boris Bozic, president, attributes its success to three main initiatives it has taken over the last year: providing training, education and more tools to its sales people; improving processes with things like document imaging, restructuring credit approval terms, hiring seasoned underwriters and launching a Vancouver location to service the West Coast; and working on post-funding customer service by expanding the customer service team, introducing technology for reporting SLAs and a welcome program for new customers.
But he is also the first to admit that these are only "works in progress. Directionally I believe we are on the right track. And that's something we are all proud of being just four years into the business."
Everything isn't rosy though, as it also scored low on important things like turnaround time.
"We have technology challenges currently that result in our poor scores when it comes to approval/ turnaround time," says Bozic. "It's unfortunate because just as I believe we have a fantastic sales team, I'm equally proud of the job our folks are doing at the credit centres. They don't have a lot of tools but they do the best they can with what they have. And we're going to fix those technology issues - we've committed to it."
Bozic also feels that education is an area the whole industry can improve on.
"All of us have the ability to fall into old habits and not necessarily think about the long-term implications of their day-to-day decisions," he says. "More and more originators need to take a longer term approach to their business. For example, what is their exit strategy? Do they even have one? Well, as lenders and as partners, we can help them with this."
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