It was a partnership born of proximity.
Sitting together in the “bullpen” at TMG
The Mortgage Group in Vancouver seven years ago, Mike Averbach and Justin Blacklock came to understand that their differences were exactly what could make a partnership work.
“Together we have a great team,” says Averbach, president of Averbach Mortgages, TMG The Mortgage Group. “We know each other’s skill set and where it’s best utilized and that’s where it’s put to use.”
Averbach’s primary role is marketing and liaising with existing and new referral sources, while Blacklock’s job as mortgage manager is servicing clients.
“My background is customer service,” says Blacklock. “I know my strengths and my weaknesses and in the past I was working on my weaknesses. We maximize what we are both best at.”
First Averbach had to sell his colleague on the idea.
“It took a couple of years to convince Justin that he was the guy I needed to take it to the next level,” says Averbach jokingly.
“Sitting next to Mike kind of motivated me,” recalls Blacklock, “seeing this younger guy lighting the world on fire.”
Before getting into mortgage brokering, Averbach was working 60 hours a week as a product manager for an online casino and sportsbook.
“After a while I knew that I could do a lot better with my time and the efforts I put into my work,” says Averbach. “I thought my passion for service and sales would be better utilized in mortgages.”
It wasn’t as big a gamble as one might think. There’s a family history with mortgages, as Averbach’s father owns a commercial lending company – Belmont Properties.
“One day I wanted to step into his shoes and wanted to gain the experience to do so,” remembers Averbach. “I had no idea the efforts I put into mortgage brokering my first couple of years would lead to what we have now.”
Although he does some commercial underwriting and marketing with the family business, Averbach says the dream has been deferred, “because I am having so much fun in this business.”
Working as a mortgage broker, Averbach realized that he needed a different approach if he was to continue.
“I spent all my time at a desk doing deals and not enough time getting out there and meeting with new clients and referral sources and marketing. I was reaching a point where I was not going to grow exponentially if I wasn’t out there marketing, because at some point business was going to dry up. I wanted to be out there meeting people and schmoozing, using my marketing skills to bring business in the door. What I needed was a way to streamline that.”
After a short-lived experiment with another company in an effort to realize his ambitions, Averbach returned to TMG and asked Grant Thomas to provide him with the resources he required, and that’s when Blacklock joined Averbach Mortgages.
Averbach and Blacklock’s philosophy may sound simple, but using customer service as a business model requires a different mindset from the usual method of brokering, according to the partners.
“Volume in not our goal, servicing our clients is the goal,” says Averbach. “Because if our clients aren’t 100 per cent satisfied, we’re not going to get that referral. If we just run ourselves as a mortgage mill, we’re not relationship-based anymore. We’re a transactional business and no better than a bank branch.
“Our clients are making the effort to go with a broker, why would we treat them like they’re just another bank client? They want a different experience and we want to provide that.”
The lengths Averbach Mortgages goes to for clients might seem to be above and beyond what a typical broker might be willing to do because of the time required, and they’ve been told that be no less than some of their lenders.
“Some lenders have come to us and said, ‘We want more business from you, but we think you’re spending too much time on one client,’” recalls Averbach.
Referring to the company’s pair of Canadian Mortgage Awards for Customer Service, Averbach says, “We wouldn’t have gotten those if we had that mindset.”
For Blacklock it’s about having a loyal client at the end of the day, someone who is more likely to refer someone to you and more likely to come back to you.
It’s not as simple as it sounds, says Blacklock.
“People want a cookie-cutter answer as to how you do that,” he says. “You can’t say ‘you need to do the following three things’ with every client, because not every client wants that. The key is to listen.
“Every client is different and every client needs something different from the experience. So all you have to do is show up and listen. If you listen to what they want and are willing to put in the time to give them want they want, you’ve got a totally satisfied client.”
It’s also not as simple as offering clients freebies, such as legal or appraisal fees.
“That’s just buying the client,” says Blacklock. “If you give good service, you retain clients and get referrals, so the money is going to come. Have we done this in a way that maximizes the money from the beginning? Definitely not.”
“We can’t sell ourselves short like that. We’ve worked too hard to be just a commodity to a client. We want to show them that we’re worth their effort in going with a broker rather than a bank.”
Unlike banks, Averbach Mortgages doesn’t spend a lot of money on advertising.
“We’re simply putting our money back into our clients with our efforts,” says Averbach. “We do marketing through our website and our newsletter, but all of that is geared towards our existing clients, our referral sources and we pride ourselves on growing organically.”
Averbach Mortgages deal mostly with A clients, first-time homebuyers and those moving from condos to a detached house and those are the groups they will continue to target because, “those are the kind of clients we want because it’s relationship-business, not transactional,” says Averbach.
“Relationship-business is the first-time homebuyer and those that are returning because they appreciated the job we did on their first mortgage.”
The relationship continues, but Averbach and Blacklock are from the school of marketing that says you must contact clients a certain amount of times throughout the year.
“There has to be a good reason,” says Averbach. “We want to provide our clients with information that is knowledge.”
“You can’t come across as selling something all the time,” says Blacklock. “When we’re contacting clients, we’re contacting them with an opportunity to save money.”
Answering questions from clients who don’t require a mortgage at that moment can seem like a waste of time, says Averbach, “but, in the long run, it means when there is a change to their situation, they’re going to call us first.”