Deal maker

By Nick Gardner

Completing enough deals comes easily to Ben Herden these days. The award-winning Gymea-based Mortgage Choice franchisee settles around $6.5m of mortgages each month. But back in 1999, as a lending manager for ANZ, the young Herden decided enough was enough.

“I was doing ok but then ANZ decided to increase sales targets to what I thought was an unrealistic level, so I thought it was time to get out” he says.

“I was 26 years old and I’d been talking to a friend who was already working for Mortgage Choice so I decided to give broking a go. It’s the best decision I ever made.”

The timing could hardly have been better. Herden describes those days, in 1999 and the early 2000s, as “the golden age of broking”.

“Mortgage broking was a completely new area of business at the time – hardly anybody knew brokers existed. But I had seen how well my friend was doing so I bought a franchise for $40,000 and immediately I started pounding the pavements, meeting potential referrers such as real estate agents and accountants and generating business.”

But then, something amazing happened. A Current Affair screened a programme about mortgage brokers and how they could, for the first time, compare deals on the market and undercut the mainstream offerings by the big banks.

“It was incredible,” he says. “In those days most people were paying their lender’s standard variable rates and there was no way of knowing that there were better deals around. As brokers we could save people a fortune and A Current Affair opened everybody’s eyes. It led to an avalanche of calls. It was fantastic.”

But Herden didn’t rest on his laurels. “Many brokers sat back and relied on these leads but I kept knocking on doors and kept creating new referrer relationships,” he says.

“Because what we were doing was so new we didn’t know what was good or bad practice, but in retrospect I made the right decision because that initial flurry of enquiries after A Current Affair eventually petered out. Beyond that, you had to rely on your own source of leads, that’s why the successful guys were those with strong referral relationships who created a broad source of new business.”

But running a successful franchise requires more than just sales skills, and Herden was modest enough – and smart enough – to realise this early on. So he took on a business coach, and has never looked back.

“It was genuinely great; it genuinely forced me to focus on working ‘on’ the business, not ‘in’ the business. It stopped me drowning in the detail and helped me develop a strategy for taking the business forwards. It also helped my management skills – I’ve always been a good salesman but managing people has never come naturally to me, so the things I learned from coaching were invaluable in creating efficiencies and managing other people in my office, helping me relate to people in a better way.”

Now, Herden says his biggest challenges are dealing with compliance and the admin it involves, and the frustrations of slow lender turnarounds. “It can be very frustrating when a big lender can turn a deal around in a day and a smaller lender can take two weeks. But largely it’s a matter of managing the client’s expectations. As long as you explain that the deal may take longer with one lender compared to another, they can plan their move accordingly. The worst thing is setting expectations too high and failing to deliver.”

Clearly Herden rarely disappoints his clients. Around 50% of his leads come from client referrals, although he is still busy forming new referrer relationships, growing the business and winning a clutch of awards along the way, including being twice named as a Mortgage Choice High Flyer and twice winner of the Mortgage Choice National Business Excellence award.

Herden says winning the business excellence award for the second time was the “Himalayan peak” of his career. “It recognised all the hard work I had put in to improving the business and working with the business coach, and to see it all come together and to be recognised on a national level was just fantastic,” he says.

He is planning on expanding the office staff from two loan writers to a third within a year and advises any young brokers entering the market to invest in good admin staff.

“Employing somebody to do the admin is essential because it frees up so much of your time to spend on doing the things you do best – finding new business and closing deals,” he says. “They may not write business but they enable the business to grow by freeing up your time. I cannot emphasise their importance strongly enough.”

Published on: 31 October 2014.

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