“Your point of difference might be that you’re always available.”
I am a finance broker.
In high school, like most people, I had no idea what I wanted to do. Finance was the furthest thing from my mind. I graduated with marks that weren’t lousy, but weren’t great, either. I did a legal studies course at RMIT, thinking it may be a pathway to a law degree.
That didn’t quite work out. I started doing temp jobs at various law firms. Basically, I was carrying folders and filing for barristers. It was boring. But it did teach me how to operate in a corporate environment, and helped me get my next job in a mortgage settlement department of a large Melbourne Law firm.
I worked as a legal clerk: drafting all the legal paperwork and documents for mortgages that were about to settle, assisting during actual settlements.
Again, it was boring and I wasn’t happy, but I wasn’t sure what to do next.
Then, after 12 months I got a call from a friend who worked at a finance brokerage and was going on maternity leave. Knowing I didn’t like my job, she said “Why don’t you try taking my role on for a while? – See how you like it.”
So I did.
It was a small boutique brokerage in the suburbs called Regent Finance, specializing in car loans.
The first couple of months were quite tough: I didn’t really know what I was doing.
I was thrown in the deep end: it wasn’t like a big corporation with an induction and a training plan. Essentially, it was just the owner, who was the main broker, and me. I shadowed him everywhere, listening to him talking to clients, doing deals.
My task was taking finance applications from customers. I can’t say it was fun; it was a job. I was hoping it would lead somewhere, but at that point I wasn’t sure.
Month three, and I wasn’t enjoying it at all.
One Friday, my boss pulled me aside for a discussion. He wasn’t unhappy with me, per se, but he felt I wasn’t making the most of the opportunity I was given there. He said “Go home and have a think about this. Decide if this is something you really want to do long term.”
I spent the weekend giving it really good thought. I realized that my boss was right. If I gave it 100% and still didn’t like it, that would have been OK.
But putting in a half-arsed effort was cheating myself out of an opportunity. I decided to give it a red-hot go.
The following Monday I returned with a new attitude. I took an application from a customer, did all the required work and submitted it to the bank. It got approved and I signed the customer up. That was the first deal I did by myself from start to finish, and it resulted in my first commission payment.
That sparked something in me. Seeing the end result of my work got me excited and wanting to do it again.
I mean, it was exciting for me and it was exciting for my customer. They got the truck they really needed for their business, and I got paid. I thought “Wow, if I can make someone that happy, and be rewarded for it at the same time – that’s perfect.”
And from that point onwards, I haven’t looked back.
As an auto finance broker, my job is to find the best loan for a client wishing to purchase a vehicle. I assess their situation and needs, and then go out and find a lender and a loan product that best suits them. I have a selection of different banks to choose from, all offering various terms and products.
Once we decide on the best loan, I help the client with filling out the applications and submit it to the bank. Once approved and then settled, I am paid a commission by the bank for introducing the business.
Because of this, some people may have a misconception that a broker is working more in their own interests than their client’s.
After all, how does the client really know that their broker is referring them to the best deal for them, and not to the lender paying the biggest commission? That’s where it comes down to honesty & trust.
Look, there are definitely unscrupulous brokers out there who place the application where it benefits them and not the client. You find these brokers don’t last very long. A reputation can be ruined very quickly in this business if the word gets around that you’re operating in a dishonest way.
For me, a successful career is built on repeat business.
I want to keep my clients happy, because they might sell their car in a couple of years, and come back to me to buy another one. They will recommend me to friends and family. That’s the best advertising you can have.
So I look after people, even if it means slightly less money for me on individual transactions – because repeat business over time adds up to more than an extra couple of percent of a single-deal commission.
I worked at Regent for about 4 years, learning the industry and growing my network.
As it was a small firm, I did everything myself: from finding business, to dealing with clients, to liaising with the banks.
I especially enjoyed the process of getting out there, looking for business. I approached car dealers, accountants, mortgage brokers – anyone who would be able to refer their clients to me for a car loan. Brokering is a very sales-centric job. I did the cold-calling, the door knocking, everything to get business.
After 4 years at Regent, I got a bit restless.
I wanted to see what it would be like working for a larger company. So I got a job as a finance consultant at a brokerage called Stratton Finance, who were considered the largest and the best at the time.
It was totally different to what I was used to. I no longer had to actively look for business. Stratton had a huge online presence, so they provided me with the leads.
All I had to do was close them.
So in some ways it was easier: I was doing warm calling to people who were already interested; they’d already filled out applications and were waiting for a call.
At the same time, it was a lot busier. You had to call every single lead assigned to you, and you could have up to 150 a month.
There was no going out on the road, meeting people, building relationships. It was very office-based, repetitive work. And even though I did enjoy the experience, and learnt from it, it started feeling like I was working in a call centre.
So after 12 months, I actually went back to Regent Finance and resumed my old role.
I was a pleased to hit the road again, re-kindle old relationships, form new ones. I got my old and new referral sources on board again, referring clients to me.
Things went really well, and I grew my network bigger than it was before, established my reputation in the industry.
But there was still a part of me that felt I needed to broaden my experience.
By 2013, I was feeling a bit stale again, and decided to try something different. I jumped to the other side of the fence and went to work for an actual lender, Liberty Financial, as a Business Development Manager.
This meant I was no longer broking, but instead going out to brokers to try and get them to refer their clients to us and apply for our loan products. I figured I had an advantage, having been a broker myself and understanding how they work.
Again, it was a big corporate company, but I enjoyed it, made good friendships there.
As a BDM, I had targets and budgets I had to reach. I was assigned a patch of Victoria, and had to mine it to build a broker network that would bring us the business.
I was at Liberty just over a year. Then, even though I liked it, I realized that I missed being a broker and felt drawn back to it. Because my relationship with Regent had always remained strong, it made sense to return there again.
This time, I came back in a contractor capacity, meaning I no longer received a salary and was paid on a commission only basis.
That was fine by me, as I still had a solid referral network to send me clientele, and I got to work growing it even further.
Since then, I have remained with Regent, but under their umbrella, I’ve established my own ‘branch’ – Melbourne Prestige Finance. This allows me to differentiate myself in the market, and extend my, and Regent’s reach further.
I’ve also expanded into property finance. I’ve teamed up with a home loan specialist and now we work together to complement our specialties.
I recently launched a website to harness web’s capability to bring in more leads. And though it’s a great tool, it’s a secondary source.
I still find that the best way to find and grow business is through personal relationships, direct contact with referrers.
So the activities around that remain my priority. I set aside a great chunk of the week to travel and visit the referrers. And it’s not just trying to get new ones, it’s important to keep in regular contact with existing ones to ensure they don’t feel taken for granted. The visits can be anything – a coffee, lunch, sometimes dinner.
Just to let them know you appreciate their business.
And it’s the same with clients. As with any other sales job, to succeed as a broker, you’re selling yourself before anything else. When you’re talking to people, if you can’t establish a rapport with them, it doesn’t matter what you’re trying to sell – you won’t.
To establish rapport, you have to listen. Don’t sell.
People don’t want to be sold to. They want you to listen to what they want, and then for you to offer a solution. So I take the time to listen. Even if it turns out I can’t offer a solution to their problem, if I can help with advice or a referral, that’s rapport – and a potential future relationship.
When a customer comes to see me, we always go for a coffee.
Doesn’t matter how busy I am, if I can show that client that I have all the time in the world for them, that’s the key. Making people feel like they’re the most important client you have.
I love the look on someone’s face when they pick up the new car that they’ve always wanted. Especially when you go the extra mile and jump through the hoops to find ways to finance people that might have difficult credit histories or tricky financial situations. It’s very satisfying to see how happy and grateful they are when you succeed and get them that new car or home loan.
Of course I don’t enjoy it when applications get declined.
That’s the hardest thing. I’m a pretty proud person, and I don’t like getting no for an answer. But more than that, I hate disappointing people.
However, in this business, you’re not going to have every application approved. Some things are just out of your hands, no matter what and how you try.
Some customers can be difficult. Their expectations are completely unrealistic.
For instance, someone will come to me and say “Sam, I want to buy a brand new Mercedes Benz for 150K.” But they may simply not make enough money to support a loan like that. So, you have to say “You know, you can’t afford that. You might need to look at something 40-50K.” And sometimes people won’t accept that, they may go elsewhere.
Some of the time people can react badly to declined applications, they sometimes tend blame you and that’s unpleasant. But that’s only a small part of the job. On the whole, finance broking has been a positive experience for me, there isn’t much I don’t like about it.
Finance is a great industry to get into.
If you’re willing to put in the hard work, it can be very rewarding. You can make as much or as little money as you wish. If you’re constantly knocking on doors, hitting the pavement, asking for business, you’ll be ok.
But you really have to do the hard yards: the cold calling, the door knocking. Plus you have to have a strategy, you need to have a point of difference.
There are a lot of brokers out there.
A dealership owner will have brokers visiting them every single week to try and get them to refer their clients to them.
So what separates you from the next guy? First and foremost, you must realize that the dealer just wants to get his product out the door. They want the deal done.
So you have to have credibility. You have to have access to multiple lenders and you have to be on-call. A car is an emotional purchase. So when a dealer calls you saying “I have a client wanting to purchase a car”, you have to get onto it straight away.
You can’t let a customer go cold. You have to be there, ready.
So your point of difference might be that you’re always available. You pick up your phone 7 days a week, 24/7.
When first starting out, I offered to come and work from dealerships’ offices on Saturdays, their busiest day. For them, there’s nothing better than having a finance expert on hand to talk to clients there and then. They loved it, and I got a lot of business that way and built many relationships.
I’m happy doing what I do. I want to grow my networks, my reputation, my business. That’s the goal.
There’s not a lot I would change about my career. Those breaks I took to work for other companies, sometimes I think, well, if I didn’t do that and stuck to what I was doing, I’d have a bigger network today. But at the same time, I had some great experiences, itched the scratch when it needed to be itched. So I’m not looking back, wondering “What if…”