The Outline Financial team began with a belief that the technical side of the mortgage process comes first. Managing partner and mortgage agent Joanna Lang got her start in the industry as an underwriter; her husband and business partner, Jason Lang, was the CFO of an insurance company before the pair launched Outline. Working in the extremely competitive GTA market, the Langs knew their technical expertise would be their competitive edge, so they built their company with that emphasis in mind.
“We don't have salespeople, per se,” Joanna says. “Everybody who comes to Outline has to survive, living in what we call an ‘underwriting pit’ for a while. And they have to become underwriters first, because there's no way you can give anybody advice if you don't know what you're talking about – if you don't know what will make this deal work or what will break it. We win because we don't sell anything to anybody. We ask a lot of questions, we analyze the information, and in our heads, we can already see where it would fit and why and what would make sense for the clients. We can really come back to them with value.”
That level of product and underwriting expertise empowers the Outline team to find the right fit with the right lender. Many banks and brokerages don’t have the underwriting knowledge among their sales staff to navigate the complexities of a borrower’s financial picture, Joanna explains. With deeper technical knowledge, Outline’s mortgage advisors can pinpoint the program that best suits each client.
That expertise has been especially useful in a highly uncertain economic environment. Over the past year, as clients have navigated the uncertainty of the pandemic, along with cutthroat competition in single-family markets, Joanna believes Outline’s expertise has proven invaluable, allowing the team to provide clients with context in the form of data and lived experience. Referral partners, too, have leaned on Outline’s technical knowledge.
“I think every Realtor probably has a horror story from 2020, with either financing changing or last-minute documentation being asked for,” Jason says. “All of our referral sources are raving fans of ours because they know we do the due diligence that’s needed to give them the comfort level to advise their clients properly.”
Building that level of expertise is far easier said than done, though. Jason emphasizes that developing underwriting skills takes years of hard work, followed by constant research and maintenance to stay ahead of fast-changing market trends. The Langs expect their team members to be among the first to understand major changes in the market as they come and to be able to provide tools and resources to meet those changes.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic put that expertise to the test – clients and referral partners turned to Outline for advice at a time when nobody knew what was going on. The Outline team was able to keep clients and Realtors informed – and that support soon translated into real purchases as the market heated up.
The Langs admit that building their business with a technical-focused approach wasn’t easy. Both Joanna and Jason drew from their personal experiences in underwriting and financial management, but onboarding staff and training them as underwriters was a long process. Nevertheless, they stayed true to their vision, believing that it’s easier to teach an underwriter to sell than to teach a salesperson to underwrite. They emphasized quality advice over sales – an approach that’s now paying dividends in terms of closed loans. Perhaps more importantly, though, it has fostered a high level of respect between everybody at the brokerage.
“I think if you have people walk into a sales role, they won't appreciate what it takes to go into getting a deal approved,” Jason says. “There are two distinct sides to this job – one is the sales side; one is the technical side, dealing with the lender. By having everyone start out as an underwriter, it brings a different level of appreciation to the job that others do.”