Despite steering one of Centum’s busiest mortgage brokerages through Canada’s most anxiety-ridden real estate market, Centum InTouch Mortgage Solutions owner Enza Venuto exudes a kind of motherly, pragmatic serenity that makes whoever she’s speaking to feel utterly protected. So it’s little surprise that Venuto’s clients keep coming back – they know that when they step into the InTouch office, their needs become hers.
Venuto’s approach is best described as one based on satisfaction – her own. She realized early in her career that she does her best work when she’s happy with her level of success. That might be anathema to many brokers: Why would you be happy with where you are today if you can close an extra deal tomorrow? But for Venuto, that endless drive for more that so many brokers maintain even after establishing highly successful businesses is a sign that their lives may be lacking something more important than loan volume.
“You can have all the money in the world, you can have all the glamour in the world, but if you’re not happy, what’s the point?” she says.
The golden handshake
It would be unfair to expect a broker new to the game to share Venuto’s relatively Zen perspective. She herself came to mortgages after a 25-year career in retail banking, where she concentrated on helping blue-collar clients pursue their dreams of homeownership. When CIBC bid Venuto farewell in 2000, she had no intention of leaving those clients behind. Within weeks of leaving the bank, she was working as a mortgage agent and laying the groundwork for her first brokerage.
It was in these early days that Venuto formed her surprisingly rare ‘enough is enough’ philosophy around earnings. As her family’s primary breadwinner, her goal was was simply to maintain the same level of income she had enjoyed at CIBC. She calculated that four or five mortgages a month would be enough. Anything more than that would be a bonus.
That’s the same outlook she’s asked her staff at InTouch to adopt: Decide what level of income you’ll be happy with and then work toward that. Don’t overreach; don’t sacrifice your personal life for money. Rather than limiting her agents’ growth, Venuto has found that asking them to work within reasonable parameters has allowed them to dedicate themselves entirely to the clients they have. As far as business models go, you could do a lot worse than one that has created scores of successful brokers and thousands of loyal clients.
“It’s all about what you want to achieve,” she says. “I wanted to be all about making a good living.”
Part of making a living that she was both happy with and proud of involved targeting business-for-self clients, still one of the most credit-challenged populations in Canada and still one of Venuto’s specialties. At CIBC, she saw firsthand how many independent business owners struggled to secure funding. Once her first brokerage, Centum Finding the Right Mortgage, was ready to roll, Venuto immediately began courting BFS clients, promoting herself as the broker to call when the banks say no.
In addition to the satisfaction that comes from pulling off difficult deals, Venuto knew that succeeding with BFS borrowers meant steady business. “Those clients will keep you for life,” she says.
Business-for-self deals often aren’t the most attractive to new brokers. Getting to know the ins and outs of a BFS client’s story can seem painfully time-consuming for someone rushing to build up a client base, and it’s a tall order for anyone lacking the proper training. But it’s a clientele Venuto says mortgage professionals would be wise to cater to, as their loyalty and willingness to provide referrals helped her generate $10 million worth of business in her first year. To date, she has brokered more than $2 billion in mortgages.
Size doesn’t matter
That total would be even higher if Venuto had felt a need to keep expanding, but her dedication to being the best has never required being the biggest. Twenty years into her career as a broker, Venuto still runs what is very much a family business. She works side by side with her sons, Claudio and Anthony, as part of a small team that allows her to get involved in every deal the company does.
That contact is critically important for Venuto, and it’s a major reason why InTouch has remained modest in size. As a company grows, the distance between a brokerage’s owner and its clients tends to expand. That wouldn’t do for Venuto, who works with one or both of her sons on every InTouch loan.
“I get to know what’s happening every moment – not just through the CRM,” she says. “That’s why I stayed small. It’s about the communication.”
Running a boutique brokerage has its challenges, but a lack of business hasn’t been one of them. Venuto closes between 15 and 20 deals a month, most of which come from referrals or repeat clients. There’s no battle between quality and quantity at InTouch – Venuto learned long ago that you can’t have one without first delivering the other.
Building a brokerage around the concept of happiness might be a tough sell in today’s competitive, expand-or-expire business environment. But Venuto’s ongoing success makes a strong case that there is power in being content.
“I don’t study other models of business at all,” she says. “But I wouldn’t make any changes because I’ve always done the same thing. At the end of the day, it’s what works for me and what makes me happy.”