It was almost a year ago that the CEO of Mortgage Architects Ron Swift accepted the Lifetime Achievement award at the 2012 Canadian Mortgage Awards, sharing a vision for the industry that continues to expand.
“The competition is more fierce than it’s ever been, with credit unions and new brokers all fighting over the triple-A customer,” says Swift, reflecting on current state of the business. “Things are slowing in the mortgage market, and we need to find ways to make our brokers as efficient and effective as possible.”
That’s been his raison d’etre since taking the helm of Pacific Mortgage Group, parent to both MA but also lender Radius Financial, now actively growing its funded volume from across the breadth and scope of the channel.
Still, He and the team at MA are just as busy helming the growth at that network.
One of those changes included the brokers-recruiting-brokers advertising campaign, which features MA members endorsing the network with an eye to attracting professional from outside the network.
“We are building brand awareness with our advertising campaign, creating a higher profile,” says Swift. “Why Mortgage Architects? What is good about MA? Brokers want to hear from other brokers about the positive aspects of the business, not the corporate line.”
That strategy appears to be working. MA again grew in December 2012, welcoming Mississauga’s The Mortgage Practice into the fold. The acquisition was only the latest of several brokerages to join – with The Mortgage Practice bringing a team of 80 brokers responsible for more than $200 million in volume annually.
MA now boasts more than 500 brokers nationwide. But Swift is quick to point out that MA isn’t looking at sheer numbers, but the effectiveness of those 500.
“For our agents, we try to help them be more productive by finding more loans, not leads,” he says. “Yes, there are other brokerages that have greater volumes, but they have way more people on staff. “Our metrics show we have the highest productivity with our agents.”
New client and lead management tool technology has been brought online through the 2012 revamp, and with it comes a better ability to measure agent and broker performance.
“We need to understand and measure the numbers,” stresses Swift. “We are preoccupied with the end result, the final numbers. People don’t look at how efficient you are in the mortgage process, from leads to commitments to funded loans. We need to understand where the agent is spending their time.”
Beyond understanding what numbers need to be crunched, there is an ongoing need to train and improve brokers and agents.
“Five or six years ago when real estate was busy, when lenders could do more things, the business was coming to you,” he says. “Now with all of the regulation and rule changes – the requirements of qualified and unqualified clients ¬– the question is: ‘Do you know how to service these people?’”
For Swift, the solution was to hire on a full-time trainer, with a mandate to set up a program to train brokers nationwide.
“How do you train 500 people across Canada? That is why we needed someone to fill a national trainer role.”
Swift’s credentials include holding down a variety of leadership roles at MCAP before coming over to lead Mortgage Architects in September of 2011. A former mortgage broker and native of Vancouver, Swift, now based in Toronto, has an extraordinary knowledge of Canada's retail mortgage business.
The latest challenge presented to brokers, as Swift sees it, has been the growing popularity of rate websites. But instead of hoping they will just go away, he feels such websites should be used as a starting point for brokers – but not as a selling point.
“How do you adjust your business with the popularity of rate sites?” he says. “First of all, you need to not let the customer get hung up on rates. Stop selling on rate, start selling on services.”
With the rate differential among lenders so small, it is incumbent on the broker to bring the client up to speed on what a basement-priced mortgage can mean down the road.
“There is one constant in the industry – that most consumers will break their mortgage if they are in a five-year fixed. We all have access to the lenders, but we need to show the client that they need a mortgage that allows them to ‘walk away’ without paying a big penalty,” he says.
Apart from educating the agents and brokers, the alternative lenders could learn a few things from the big banks – Mortgage Architects included.
“We have all fallen down on the refinancing aspect,” he admits, adding that the new client management technologies now allows even the smallest brokerage to remain up-to-date and in touch with a client, so as to meet their refinancing needs and retain them as repeat customers.
Like most broker networks, recovering from the tightening of mortgage regulations back in June of 2012, MA felt the hit, but is optimistic for the coming year.
“The new rules did affect the marketplace and impacted our business,” says Swift, “but we are better off now than a year ago. We will continue to grow.”