Looking at it from all sides

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It's obvious when speaking to Chris Whyte that he’s passionate about the business he’s in.

“I’ve fallen in love with the finance side of the industry. It’s nice to finance something that starts from nothing and becomes a completed building,” says the recently appointed executive VP and COO of Home Trust. “I saw both sides of that – from the business development and lending side, and then I spent some time on the work outside when the market was soft. It was informative for my career because it’s good to see both sides of an economic cycle. It’s good to see what can go wrong with a real estate development.”

Diverse experience
Whyte also has experience on the bank side of the industry, where he got his start before transitioning to the broker channel. 

“I started out when I finished grad school in the banking business and initially got into real estate finance right off the top,” he says. “So I did sort of corporate commercial, land development, construction finance. I did that with a number of institutions – TD, National Bank, CIBC.”

It was at the latter bank where Whyte made his first foray into the broker channel when he took on a role at CIBC subsidiary PC Financial, overseeing the distribution channels for PCF mortgages. He then delved deeper into the brokerage side of the industry with a stint at CIBC’s FirstLine mortgage business. 

“That’s when I got involved more significantly in the broker origination channel,” he says. “It was a very different business from the way the bank operated. It was much more customer-centric. The nature of broker focus was really around serving the customer, and that was driving a lot of the

However, it was Whyte’s next role at D+H, heading the service provider’s Canadian lending business, that perhaps taught him the most about the mortgage business – and, indeed, the broker channel. 

“I kept my toe in the mortgage and broker space in working with the Canadian mortgage technology at D+H,” he says. “You sit right in the middle of the economic model of the business, so when you’re working in that business, you have to deal with lenders, brokers, insurers. I found that to be a very interesting perspective because you’re seeing all the data and all the ways the industry is trying to be successful. You’re sitting at the eye of the storm and seeing how the industry is operating.”

Industry trends
It’s safe to say Whyte has a massive amount of experience, and that certainly lends credibility to his personal predictions for how the mortgage broker space will evolve.

“One of the big trends is the rise in technology,” he says. “In my early forays in the business, a big chunk of the business was manual. There was a little paper being pushed around. I’m seeing technology improve customer service. I’ve worked with some brokers in the industry who are cutting-edge in how they leverage social media to get their brand out and educate consumers and get them through the front door of their origination process.”

Another major trend Whyte has identified is the divergence of two very different business models within the broker channel, which he believes will continue for some time. However, he has an idea about which camp will win out in the end. 

“Some segments of the industry really are trying to build value by offering best possible rates, and I’ve seen others focus on more holistic service – offering great rates and personalized, full-touch service,” he says. “I think the jury is still out on the pros and cons. My personal advice is the fulsome
advice model has a bit more legs. When you compete on price, you’re more easily interrupted. There is always someone who can be cheaper. Price is always something easy to identify and compete with. But knowledge and advice are more nebulous and secret sauce. The broker who can do that and still offer great value will solidify his position.”

As for the challenges facing the broker industry, Whyte believes a sustained period of good business has caused many to rest on their laurels.

“A lot of people have concerns that the Canadian market is overheated,” he says. “I think it may be a bit overheated, but I don’t see anything that says we’re doomed for a big fall. I do think the sustained strong market in mortgages has potentially made the whole industry fat and lazy. I think we may have forgotten how to hustle for business.”

However, if history is any indication, even if business becomes harder to come by, brokers will almost certainly be up for the challenge.

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