Team triumph

Team triumph

Mortgage Brokers Ottawa claims the highest number of mortgage professionals on this year’s Top 50 list. Vernon Clement Jones delves into the reason for that and discovers that there are several

Lisa Theriault drives a two-and-a-half-ton GMC Yukon. Actually, given that it’s “fully-wrapped” with black, white and red logos – all sporting the Mortgage Brokers Ottawa brand – it may weigh closer to three.

“It’s my daily drive, and I don’t feel at all self-conscious about it,” laughs the broker, a regional partner with one of the country’s largest fi rms. “In case they miss the badging, my
27-inch chrome rims should help get your attention. I’m very proud of our brand and am always out there as a representative of the business.”
 
As far as marketing statements go, there may be more subtle ones, but probably few as effective.
 
Theriault brought in $67 million in funded volume last year, earning her 21st spot on CMP‘s coveted 2010 Top 50 Brokers list. She’s not alone. The 38-year-old was one of an astounding seven mortgage professionals at Mortgage Brokers Ottawa to make the cut.
 
Mortgage Brokers Ottawa President and CEO Mike Hapke came 50th on the list, with managing partner York Polk, making it all the way to 14th, given his own $84 million in funded volume.
That’s only one ahead of another of the fi rm’s managing partners, Frank Napolitano, who attracted $77 million last year to earn 15th place, while the group’s fourth partner, Jeff Cody, brought in $57M in funded volume, earning him 32nd spot in the national ranking. Regional Partner Murray Groen, with a funded volume of $60 million came in 29th. And mortgage agent Darren Keck made the list at 45, with $42 million.
 
The collective performance represents the single-best showing of any brokerage, not only this year, but of any since the inaugural listing in 2008. While the group accomplishment is both a nod to the demographics of the Ottawa market and the widespread acceptance of mortgage brokers as an alternative to the banks, concedes Hapke, it also speaks to the strength of the organization’s individual brokers. They are, nonetheless, focused on moving forward as a team.
 
“With our model we don`t lose top producers,” a pleased, if not entirely surprised Hapke tells CMP after receiving the standings. ”Our brand is exceptional in our region and with that comes loyalty. We tend to continue to hold onto brokers after they`ve cut their teeth and come into their own. When you’re aiming for a billion in sales this year, with only 60 brokers and agents, you tend to attract the crème de la crème. So, it`s a mix of up-and-comers and established brokers, but the numbers that we have in the Top 50 speak for themselves.”
 
Hapke and Napolitano launched the company in 2005, bringing their combined 40 years-plus of banking experience in tow. They would later move their Elite Mortgage Team of 20 mortgage professionals under the MortgageBroker.com banner in 2006, two years later merging with Polk and Cody’s fi rm. It’s one Hapke had, in fact, left to start up his own business three years earlier.
 
Together the four successfully led the company to independence in 2010 before agreeing to partner with The Mortgage Centre Canada last fall. That strategic move has in the Ottawa market, says Napolitano, pointing to its exclusive broker channel access in eastern Ontario to President’s Choice and CIBC product line-ups. Those offerings such as a cash-back switch and a one-year construction rate hold have better positioned Mortgage Brokers Ottawa as a direct competitor to the banks.
 
“Being connected into a bank is not a bad thing, yet we have maintained our freedom in terms of offering clients access to all the other lenders we can access,” Napolitano says. “We make it very clear that we built our business based on what’s best for our clients. Everything else is secondary.”
 
The partners are candid about the tricks of the banking trade they’ve picked up from their years inside those financial institutions. In fact, all but one of the seven Mortgage Brokers Ottawa brokers to make the Top 50 has an extensive banking background.
 
“We’re trying to do exactly what the banks do in terms of branding, but with a local focus,” says
Napolitano, the former TD mortgage specialist, who like most of the executive team drives a “fully wrapped” pickup no more and, certainly, no less promotional than Theriault’s. “Through our advertising, our jingle and our community involvement we’ve become a recognized brand in Ottawa and that has helped us to compete with the banks.”
 
Increasingly that brand acts as a calling card for Mortgage Brokers Ottawa agents and brokers, says Groen, but ultimately it’s the brokers themselves who are extending the company’s reach in a market where average incomes are some of the highest in Canada, buoyed by federal government jobs and a burgeoning high-tech sector.
 
“If it’s a question of which came first – the brand or the brokers – it is the brokers,” Groen says. “Because the people behind the brand have made the brand what it is. Those of us on the list were in the industry before the brand was a brand, but now the brand has value that we have sort of imparted to it, and I’m sure it does help me now with referrals.”
 
A bank-style public relations approach has also gone a long way in terms of keeping Mortgage
Brokers Ottawa top of mind with existing and potential clients. Still, brokers in the capital city enjoy a higher market share than much of the rest of the country.
 
“In Ottawa, it’s not predetermined that homebuyers are going to take their business directly to the banks and that they’ll just accept what their banks offer,” says Groen. “The economy in Ottawa is a lot more stable than a lot of the rest of the country, and they are very well-educated and understand how a broker can help them. But we don’t have 90 per cent market share yet, so there is an awful lot of room for growth.”
 
Actively seeking new business remains the focus of all the company’s mortgage professionals, says Cody, even as the company’s strong Internet presence increasingly attracts younger clients more inclined to begin their search for a mortgage online.
 
“It’s really still about building personal relationships,” says Cody, who obtained his broker’s licence more than 30 years ago, later leading a top Invis brokerage with then-partner Polk before teaming up with Hapke and Napolitano. “You can’t just sit on the web and expect business to flow in.”
 
Both individual and company success have come from building a team approach to brokering even as brokers increasingly face competition from within their own ranks.
 
“We grew exponentially very quickly and a large part of that was cementing brand recognition,” Theriault tells CMP. “But also key was that we support one another. If something works well, we share it. Through training and marketing, and regular meetings with the entire company, we keep things in the open. We like to see each other do well.”
 
Part of that is knowing what individual strengths his brokers bring to the game and supporting them in areas where they need help, says Hapke.
 
Of the 60 agents and brokers, 70 per cent have now agreed to lower commission splits in order to transfer administrative duties like storing documents, preparing closing documents, submitting deals for underwriting and collecting conditions to Hapke’s support team.
 
“We see it as having helped to create the kind of sales environment you need to help agents generate business,” says Hapke, who spends most of his time on corporate direction and strategic planning, but still managed to bring in $41 million in funded volume last year, most of it generated from referrals through past clients. He’s not alone.
 
“All of the Mortgage Brokers Ottawa people on the Top 50 list are veterans of the industry, no question,” he says.” They`re passionate and as driven as they were the fi rst day I met them. It’s what you need to be.”