For Allan Kates and Northwood Mortgage, a strong team is the key to being successful and that includes brokers as well as external partners
Independence runs deep at Northwood Mortgage, but it doesn’t interfere with making good business decisions, such as the one to join a national brokerage network after 22 years as one of the largest independent brokerages in Ontario.
“Northwood Mortgage is a phenomenal success story,” says Allan Kates, VP of sales at Northwood. He says the move to join VERICO Canada is about adding value and being able to take advantage of programs that the brokerage couldn’t undertake efficiently on its own – specifically technology such as CRM systems, online training and mobile apps.
“These are things where we wouldn’t recoup our investment,” says Kates, who has spent 10 of his 13 years in the mortgage industry at Northwood. “We get to enjoy the fruits of their labour.”
Additionally, VERICO has lender programs and attractive trailer models which will be available to Northwood Mortgage and they’re always looking to add partnerships that benefit the network, says Kates. “When a network does more than $12 billion in mortgage volume, a lot of companies want to jump onboard and do business with them.”
As far as he’s concerned, partnering with VERICO gives Northwood Mortgage the best of both worlds.
“They allow us to be fully independent,” he says. “They help our business, they don’t run it.”
This decision was not entered into lightly, says Kates. “Our Northwood Mortgage name has cost us millions of dollars to build up and we see this as a good partnership “Verico promises to provide value-added benefits on an on-going basis, which is demonstrated in our agreement with them.”
As a large brokerage with 160 agents, Northwood has built its name and its business on branding and innovative programs for its agents. It all starts with branding and building a business that is stronger than its individual parts.
According to Kates, Northwood Mortgage is one of the strongest names in the GTA, with the brokerage spending about $1 million every year on marketing in print, over the radio and on the Internet.
The brokerage has also been a pioneer in the business by offering underwriting/mortgage placement to its agents since 1994, a service for which they don’t charge their agents. “So when our lenders get our deals, they’re quality deals and they deal with three people, not 160, which allows us to get great pricing, better turnaround times and higher closing ratios,” says Kates. Northwood Mortgage also has a commercial/industrial division – run by a broker with more than 25 years of experience – that finances deals worth as much as $19 million.
In addition, agents have access to private funds through Northwood’s mortgage investment corporation (MIC). “We have plenty of money available for our agents to facilitate private transactions,” says Kates.
Through another arm of the brokerage – Northwood Mortgage Life – agents are able to offer clients their own policies.
Another area of innovation at Northwood Mortgage is its distinct programs for agents, including those who are new to the firm and the industry.
Agents can be “in-house” mortgage agents, according to Kates, which then entitles them to leads. “[Agents] still go out and source business, but they get leads from us because of our $1 million marketing budget,” he says. They are fully independent agents, but enjoy the benefits of the lead program as well as underwriting.
More typical of what other brokerages do, Northwood Mortgage also has “outside agents” who work from their home or other office. These agents generally do a high level of volume but also have the brokerage’s underwriters available to them upon request.
The training of new agents is another way Kates believes that Northwood Mortgage separates itself from the brokerage pack – employing a full-time trainer.
He adds that the underwriters also act as mentor to agents, helping them structure deals.
New agents have to submit a certain number of deals through the underwriters before they can choose not to.
“We have systems in place to ensure our people are up to speed and our lenders are protected so they don’t get low quality transactions,” says Kates.
He says what they do is unique and he says the proof is in what he hears from agents who come to Northwood Mortgage from other brokerages.
“Some of the agents we get from other brokerages come to us with little training. What happens is, the broker that brought them onboard doesn’t have the time to spend with them because they have to write deals to stay in= business. The new agent doesn’t have the support system that they need in order to become successful.”
To ensure that’s not the case at Northwood Mortgage, the company’s management team’s compensation is primarily based on the production of the agents. “They’re not chasing deals,” says Kates.
“Our approach is that we’re much stronger as a team than we are as individual brokers.”