Joe Flor is a natural leader. From his start as a teller at Scotiabank, he worked his way up the ladder to become Equitable Bank’s director of national sales by the age of 38. Flor credits Scotiabank, where he worked as a student, with allowing him to get his foot in the door, and he’s remained on a steady upward trajectory ever since. After school, Flor landed an underwriting gig with Wells Fargo, but that well dried during the financial crisis south of the border.
“I was an underwriter at that point, and the whole system crashed with subprime lending and all the lenders closed up shop,” he says. “Graciously, I had a few lenders looking at me at the time. I had CIBC, First Line, Home Trust and Equitable, and obviously I chose Equitable Bank.”
Upon arriving at Equitable, Flor was immediately taken by the company’s culture – a key reason why he’s still there almost a decade later. Having accrued invaluable experience at a major bank like Wells Fargo, Flor made an immediate impact.
“I don’t want to say that I brought processes with me, but I brought different ways to position deals, how to underwrite and explain why I believed in certain files,” he says. “I had a lot of confidence from senior management. I still remember the VP of credit telling me when I got into sales, ‘Joe, if you ever want to come to credit, you’ll always have an open door here because you’re a good underwriter.’ They gave me confidence and let me do my thing, put in processes with my team, and they worked. Some of my team members now are managers, some of them are seniors, some are even in sales, so they’ve excelled in their careers, and I take pride knowing I gave them some confidence too.”
Flor has a knack for talking to people and asking the right questions, getting down to brass tacks and helping close files expeditiously. His personal touch is a major reason why he was such a successful underwriter.
“I was able to talk to brokers about deals, the next deals, their families – basically build Equitable Bank’s Joe Flor has ascended the ranks of the Canadian mortgage industry to become one of its youngest, brightest stars relationships with them as an underwriter,” he says. “That gave me a lot of confidence to get into sales. Now I can look at deals in their office and piece them together.
“I think that’s how I’ve gotten to where I have – continually having the ambition to push forward and want more,” he adds. “I didn’t stop at underwriting; I didn’t stop at sales; I didn’t stop at management; I just kept going. I’ve always had that knack for leadership. Some people tell me I’m a born leader because I take initiative and lead by example.”
Brokers are lenders’ lifeblood, and Flor and his team work diligently to identify opportunities for them. However, a key ingredient is identifying the right brokers to work with.
“What we do in terms of cultivating relationships is that each BDM has a list of key brokers they’ve identified as the people they really want to get the business out of,” Flor says. “It’s not that they don’t give anyone else top service, but these are the guys we strategize about. They’ll go see them twice a month, learn what niches they’re in, whether it’s self-employed or new to Canada or bruised credit, and we work with them to offer the products we have to get that business.”
On top of that, Equitable works with those brokers to identify key agents – the ‘rainmakers,’ as Flor calls them.
“Outside of taking them for lunches and dinners, when we hold events, they’re invited, and we reward our broker partners all the time,” he says. “We take them golfing, for example. We reward our key people. From a relationship standpoint, it’s not ‘out of sight, out of mind’ – and I think brokers appreciate that more than coming in with a box of doughnuts. At the end of the day, if you say, ‘Hey, this is how Equitable can help you,’ they value that because there are so many lenders out there who are not going to remind them what they do. It’s nice that my team goes out there and reminds them every opportunity they get.”
Shifting into reverse
Equitable Bank recently launched the Path Home Plan, a reverse mortgage for seniors, joining HomeEquity Bank as only the second lender in Canada to offer the product. The timing couldn’t be more fortuitous; as Flor points out, more and more seniors are retiring with debt.
“Everyone wants everything in life, and they live beyond their means,” he says. “As you get older, you continue carrying that debt. With home prices going up over the last few years, people are treating their homes like piggy banks. They refinance and pay off some debt, get back into more debt and refinance again, pay off that debt – and really, they’re just taking from Peter to pay Paul. At the end of the day, it’s on their mortgage.”
Complicating matters, many retired Canadians now have adult children who need a financial boost to get into the housing market. Under these circumstances, Flor says, a reverse mortgage often presents the ideal solution.
“Eighty per cent of borrowers who retire don’t have enough in terms of their retirement savings to last them beyond a year,” he says. “It’s a staggering statistic, so a lot of them use their home. A reverse mortgage allows them to stay in their home, not have a monthly payment and basically worry about it whenever they pass on or move to a retirement home or long-term facility.”