The slow build

The slow build

The slow build

If you know Sabeena Bubber as the founder and driving force behind the charitable organization 100 Brokers Who Care, you’re likely to view her as one of the Canadian mortgage industry’s most passionate and prominent philanthropists. But that characterization fails to take into account Bubber’s block-buster success as a broker or the extensive, wide-ranging industry experience behind it. It is Bubber’s reputation that helped bring the charity to life and that continues to attract her peers to the cause.

“The thing that’s important to me is not the transactions so much as making a positive difference in the lives of other people,” she says. “That’s part of how I run my business.”

In 1993, long before Bubber had a business of her own, she was a fresh-faced commerce grad working on loans and mortgages for Avco Financial Services in Regina, Saskatchewan. Her success at what was an intensely sales-focused job soon had Bubber on track to becoming assistant manager.

“I learned everything I needed to know about selling loans at 32%; selling mortgages at 18%; underwriting people based on their capacity to pay, not their GDS and TDS; and truly understanding credit and how to sell to the consumer based on payment, not on interest rate,” she says.

Once she stepped into management, Bubber began investigating the part each product offered by Avco played in driving a branch’s profits. She discovered just how much revenue was floating in the ether in the form of write-offs and bad debt. Chasing it down became her pet project.

She might not have been aware of it at the time, but Bubber’s experience dealing with delinquent borrowers would help shape her into the broker she is today. She has become especially fond of her alternative and private clients, who, without proper guidance, could easily become one of the Beacon score casual-ties she used to so tirelessly track down. Sitting across the table from numerous borrowers who knew they had no way to pay back their loans has also helped her develop a keen BS detector.

“I always took that personally,” Bubber says of the deception. “There was always a little feeling in my gut that said, ‘Something about this doesn’t feel right.’ Since that day, if something about a deal isn’t sitting right, I will take time to see what I’m missing.”

A new path

After moving on from Avco in 2000, Bubber spent just under two years as an underwriter for US-based Equity Plus Financial Services. Shortly after 9/11, with interest rates plum-meting, she graduated to a mortgage specialist role at RBC.

“I was like, 4.79%? That’s like shooting fish in a barrel, man,” Bubber says. “But I knew nothing about A mortgages. I didn’t know what CMHC was. I didn’t understand anything about 5% down. I had to relearn everything I knew about lending and mortgages, but I understood the other side of the business, which really helped.”

Bubber exceeded all expectations, but the response from RBC was dispiriting. After generating more than $40 million in volume on an $11 million target, Bubber says she was chastised by the higher-ups for her lack of insurance sales.

“Instead of a pat on the back, it was more like, ‘Look at all the ways you failed.’ I thought, ‘Hmm. Maybe this isn’t the right environment for me,’” she says. “It was always my end game to do something where I was self-employed and nobody could someday decide that they were going to give me the golden handshake and sever me from my job after I’d put my blood, sweat and tears into it.”

At the beginning of 2005, Bubber took control of her destiny, launching Integre Mortgage Partners and, with it, her career as a broker.

“I loved it,” she says of her early days as the head of her own company. “I really enjoyed feeling like I was in control of my environment, my business, how I was structuring it.”

But Bubber soon learned that doing everything on her own as a business owner – training, HR, administration, compliance – was limiting her potential as a broker. She established a respectable ceiling of $48 million in annual volume that she couldn’t break through.

Things started changing in 2013, when Bubber and three other Vancouver-based brokerages looking to save costs and generate a higher volume of deals amalgamated under the Xeva Mortgage umbrella. After stepping away from her ownership duties and concentrating solely on brokering, Bubber’s volume jumped by $20 million in her first year. She’s now averaging $75 million in business every year.

“When I had my brokerage for so many years, I realized that by wearing all those hats at once, I wasn’t enjoying certain aspects of being an owner,” she says, “so I decided to leave that with somebody who I knew was completely capable of it [Xeva CEO Trevor Hansen] and to do what I love, which is managing my clients.”

Rewriting the future

Bubber’s subsequent success has made her one of Vancouver’s most trusted brokers and enabled her to become one of the industry’s most respected humanitarians. In addition to 100 Brokers Who Care, she has launched a series of seminars for women going through separation and divorce, in which she and a crop of other professionals – Realtors, therapists, lawyers, financial planners – provide divorcées the information they need to make smart decisions for themselves and their children during a time of upheaval.

“When you get married, you set these goals for yourself based on being a unit all the way to the end,” Bubber says. “Then it all falls apart and you have to rewrite your future in so many ways.”

In the end, isn’t rewriting the future what brokering is all about?