In 1995, Tribe Financial broker and founding partner Frances Hinojosa was a third-year psychology student at York University, working part-time at BMO, when the bank offered her the chance to become a full-time member of the team. Already questioning the career that awaited her if she were to continue her studies, Hinojosa saw at BMO an opportunity to do many of the things she would have done as a therapist or social worker – assisting people with challenges and helping them get as much satisfaction out of life as they can.
Even though she left psychology behind as a career, Hinojosa says she still relies on many of the concepts she absorbed as a student when guiding clients through stressful circumstances or mentoring agents new to the industry.
“When people are dealing in the world of money, there is a lot of emotion tied to it,” she says, adding that she believes her psychology background has been more valuable than a degree in finance ever could be. “Numbers are one thing, but it’s the emotional connections – dealing with people and understanding human behaviour – that will help you far more, especially in the brokering environment.”
It was at York where Hinojosa first explored the idea of emotional intelligence – the intangible, invaluable ability to establish relationships that grant access to the emotional underlayer teeming beneath each person’s persona. Engaging a client or colleague on a deeper level, however – not “How are you?” but “How are you really doing?” – requires brokers to be vulnerable themselves. That’s not a side many brokers, who are supposed to have all the answers, are always willing to show.
“I think we all tend to come [into the industry] with a bit of a hard shell,” Hinojosa says. “It’s that fear that if I show that I’m vulnerable in a situation that maybe I won’t be taken as seriously, or I’m going to demonstrate that maybe I don’t know it all. But it was those things that allowed me to progress so fast in the growth of my career – because I was willing to show that vulnerability.”
The path to the broker channel
BMO saw more than just emotional intelligence in their young hire. After only a year in customer service, Hinojosa was made lending manager of one of the bank’s branches in Etobicoke. Being put in charge of the branch’s debt-related inquiries was both new and frightening for Hinojosa, whose personal experience with credit at the time included a student loan and not much else, but she saw it as an opportunity to learn. She underwent a week-long, in-class training program and had a 30-year banking veteran as her mentor.
Hinojosa feels that banks’ willingness to train staff and invest considerable resources into preparing their employees for long-term success is why so many top brokers emerge from the banking space.
“They consistently trained me on sales strategy, how to have difficult conversations, negotiation skills,” she says. “I was able to embrace that environment and learn as much as possible. It’s hard to go into any career without having proper mentorship and guidance behind you.”
In 2003, after a two-year stint as an investment lending specialist, Hinojosa became a mortgage specialist for BMO. While her colleagues were competing for Bay Street investment bucks, she was drawn to debt’s overlooked potential.
“Everybody wants to be the investment planner, but I always loved the debt side,” she says. “I thought there was a void. ‘Debt’ was this dirty word. People didn’t say they specialized in debt. But a lot of the time, debt can be used for good.”
After a decade of turning debt into dazzle at BMO, Hinojosa began to feel somewhat limited by the constraints of working directly for a lender. Armed with extensive training and experience, she embarked on the next phase of her career as a mortgage agent.
“I wanted to bring a lot of the banking world that I did like, which was the structure but not the rigidness of it, [to brokering],” she says. “I think individuals are realizing that dealing with one institution is really stifling their ability to provide proper advice to a consumer and guide them through their financial journey.”
Transparency and trust
After a fruitful three years with Dominion Lending Centres, Hinojosa launched Tribe Financial, where she and her team specialize in what she describes as “holistic debt advice” for consumers. Fuelled in large part by the same emotional intelligence that has powered Hinojosa’s career, Tribe has, in its four years of existence, developed a reputation in the industry for building transparent, tight-knit relationships, both internally and externally.
For Hinojosa, transparency is the key ingredient when it comes to building trust, whether with clients or fellow brokers. That lack of a hidden agenda, she says, “creates a safe environment where you can have those courageous conversations with one another. When you have multiple truths being spoken at the same time, that’s when progression starts to happen.”
And progression is what Hinojosa’s career has been all about. Developing the kinds of emotional and intellectual tools that put clients at ease. Adding to her skill set until she could confidently launch a business that reflects her values. And, most importantly, assisting others in their own evolving journeys.
“It’s not about the money or the profit,” she says. “It’s empowering others – empowering our agents to be the best they can be and empowering our clients to reach their financial goals.”