Alex Shein thought he wanted to be a financial advisor when he graduated from UBC’s Sauder School of Business. He and his then-classmate/current business partner, Lev Keselman, had planned on providing the kind of ‘holistic client service’ modern advisors are expected to deliver. But nobody wanted to take their financial advice from a couple of twenty-two-year-old kids. Shein and Keselman turned to mortgages.
Shein is now a managing partner at Peak Mortgage Company in Vancouver, but he hasn’t lost his drive for holistic service. In working to build Peak, Shein has incorporated a holistic client-focused approach into his business. He has worked an understanding of investments, tax and estate planning, and personal finance into his client approach. He says his broad focus has been a differentiator for his business. As a mortgage broker, he can become the “connector” between all the different aspects of a client’s financial life.
“We’ve seen that for big ticket items – those $2 million mortgages – you win those based on the advice you give the client. You don’t win those based on rate,” Shein says. “There’s obviously a market for everything. Some ‘rate discounters’ focus on digital delivery with less manpower, and there’s going to be a market for it. At Peak, though, we believe that you cannot win in that market.”
Shein cites as an example HSBC, which has swept up tons of business from these ‘rate discounters’ because they’re able to go cheaper. He says that for independent brokers, the real value-add has to come from client service.
What a holistic approach looks like
Shein’s model starts with questions. He approaches client conversations and prospects by finding out what they do for a living, what they want out of their mortgage, and how it fits into their business or their career. He doesn’t discuss product until the conversation nears its end and he knows exactly which product can best serve a particular client. In doing so, he can offer products that might seem less ideal if looked at in isolation, like carrying a higher rate, but they might also reduce the client’s tax burden and saving her more money overall. It’s small moves like this, Shein says, that can both benefit the client and ensure their continued loyalty to a brokerage.
Building loyalty doesn’t just mean working directly with the client. Shein’s holistic service involves connecting directly with a client’s accountant, lawyer, and financial advisor to coordinate the mortgage and ensure the plan fits within the client’s wider financial life. This helps him deliver better holistic service to his client and establishes relationships with other professionals who may well become sources of new business in the future as they refer their other clients to Shein.
Shein’s approach has helped him and the Peak team weather the storm during the COVID-19 pandemic. He says their numbers are up roughly 17 per cent year over year, due in part to the way a holistic approach better serves a higher net worth client. Those clients have been among the least economically affected by the pandemic and have become even bigger players in the housing market.
That said, even among the wealthy there is a steady increase in anxiety and uncertainty about any major financial decision. Shein says that in such an environment his holistic service can help moderate anxiety and demonstrate to clients that this is, in fact, the right move for them.
While Shein says that his approach might not be for everybody, he encourages other brokers to take on some of the holistic approach he has been using. To do that, he says, brokers need to invest in their own education: attending meetups and group discussions about taxes, attending workshops about trust incomes, etc. Even if a broker is nowhere near needing to personally understand how trusts work, having a grasp on that sort of income is crucial when you’re sitting in front of someone with a $20 million trust and hammering out a mortgage.
“Brokers should invest in their own education,” Shein says. “If you have a few spare minutes, go and learn something. You really, really, really have to be out there and understand all the different strategies that people utilize in order to make their money work for them more efficiently. I think, first and foremost, taking a holistic approach is about education.”