Like many of his peers, Gord Dahlen, partner and VP of brokerage development at BlueTree Mortgages West, describes his entry into the mortgage industry as a fluke. “I didn’t grow up thinking I’d be a mortgage broker or executive,” Dahlen says. “My first experience was in 1987 with Household Trust. We were a retail bank branch, but we had some exposure to mortgage brokers, and probably the first mortgage broker I ever worked with sent deals to me.”
While that was his introduction to the mortgage world, Dahlen says the true start of his industry career didn’t come until two years later, when he took a job with Mutual Life of Canada’s mortgage division, the predecessor to MCAP
. “Because I had some retail lending exposure, that gave me the opportunity to join Mutual/ MCAP, and it took off from there,” he says.
After 11 years there, during which he rose to the position of VP of Western Canada, Dahlen was recruited to join Invis, which at the time was a startup. He was the first non-founder VP Invis hired in Canada; during his 10 years there, he held a number of leadership roles, including serving as president in 2009. After Invis, Dahlen moved on to DLC
before helping launch CFF Bank and serving a brief stint at Merix.
Finally, Dahlen decided it was time to focus on the part of the business he had developed a passion for, signing on to help build BlueTree Mortgages West in Kelowna, BC.
“I’d say my real first love was building the teams,” he says. “Whether I built the team at MCAP or I built the team at Invis, that was really what I loved to do. We built Invis from a couple million dollars to $10 billion. A lot of that was under my leadership, and that’s what I love to do. Now I’m back doing what I love to do again. BlueTree Mortgages West is a labour of love – we’ve gone from 20 brokers to 65 in under 90 days, so it’s fun.”
Coming around again
The industry experienced a great deal of consolidation in its early days, and Dahlen sees that trend starting to gather momentum again.
“Invis, Mortgage Intelligence
– those companies were prevalent in terms of consolidating the mortgage industry 17 years ago,” he says. “And I think you’re seeing more consolidation within the large networks now as well. I think consolidation is a positive as long as we’re responsible for our groups and we ensure that everybody is properly trained and we provide solid leadership and good value to the lenders. I have a unique perspective in that I’ve sat on both sides roughly the same amount of time, so I know what it takes. I understand very well what we need to deliver as mortgage brokers to our lender partners, and efficiency is a big part of it.”
On that point, Dahlen says lenders are looking for both efficiency and scale when partnering with brokers. “They need to attract their volume in as an efficient manner as possible,” he says, “and that’s why consolidation is going to continue to take place.”
Along with consolidation, Dahlen sees technology as a key factor that’s currently pushing the industry forward.
“I think there’s more synergy at the grassroots level, and owners are taking more responsibility to use technology and get communication out to staff as fast as we can because we’re dealing in such a topsy-turvy marketplace,” he says. “In 28 years, I’ve never seen information change as quickly as it does now. We leaders have to get information out more quickly, and I think that’s not going to change. I think technology is going to play a big role, but I’m more convinced than ever that the way we communicate so rapidly now, it requires a human connection, and I think brokers are in good shape going forward.”
While there are plenty of concerns occupying mortgage brokers’ minds these days, Dahlen points to external factors seeking to replace mortgage brokers as one of the biggest challenges the industry is facing – specifically, the fear that the banks will decide to drop out of the channel.
“We’re down to two major banks now involved in the front end of the industry,” he says. “We need to make sure we’re not replaced by technology and we’re not replaced by bricks and mortar or robo-advisors. We need to remain in the equation, and we need to be better at what we do.”
However, Dahlen acknowledges that this particular challenge isn’t unfamiliar to brokers.
“We’ve always had that threat,” he says. “It’s a dollars-and-cents industry, just like every other, and we can’t assume that this is going to go on forever. Again, it comes back to consolidation and professionalism and doing the right thing.”
Dahlen also points to the obstacle of today’s regulatory environment, which he says is more oppressive than ever. However, he’s confident the industry’s leaders will continue to thrive.
“One thing I’ve seen in the last 30 years is that the current crop of brokers plows right through,” he says. “The best of the best always find a way to deal. There’s no question that this is the highest degree of market intervention we’ve had from the government, in my experience, [but] that top echelon of brokers does not roll over. In fact, they grow. Whenever there’s another issue put in front of them, they tend to grow as a result and eliminate the folks who don’t do the work.”
Meeting today’s challenges will require the industry to self-regulate in terms of ensuring a high level of professionalism, Dahlen says.
“We have to make sure folks are working full-time, that they’re not just being trained at the minimum level of regulation across the provinces,” he says. “We need to make sure, at the ownership level, that our people are going out fully trained and equipped.”
Continuing to educate themselves, Dahlen adds, will allow brokers to offer better advice to their clients.
“Information-gathering is not about memorizing anymore; it’s about having access to it and being able to use that information and decipher that information for your clients,” he says. “That’s our job, and if we don’t do that – if we just load people up with business cards because they can get through the course in 30 days – that will be the undoing of us. I’m very bullish on our future as long as we have those folks who are willing to learn and be trained and be responsible for each other.”