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Billion Dollar Broker Q&A: Mark Stevenson, Bell Partners Finance

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With more than 20 years’ experience in the finance industry, Mark Stevenson, the managing director of finance at Bell Partners, is no stranger to mortgages. But it took him just eight years to settle a billion dollars in loans.

We find out how he did it.

How and why did you become a broker?

My uncle is with Mortgage Choice and at Christmases and family functions he’d always suggest to me that every broker he spoke to would always go on about how much they enjoyed their job and how much they liked being able to help people… He’d probably been in my ear for maybe 10 years before I ever gave it any sort of serious consideration. But then, in 2011, I thought: “Okay, this is something I might actually enjoy” and took the step to investigate it a bit further.

I started at Mortgage Choice… but when Finsure bought LoanKit from Mortgage Choice in 2013, [Finsure co-founder] John Kolenda was doing a presentation and straight away, I felt more at ease and happy with where I’d landed. So I moved over to Finsure.

What kind of loans are you writing now?

The predominant Bell Partners Group client that we service are self-employed clients. But it really is a broad spectrum.

Residential home loan lending has always been the bread and butter. At this stage, about 65 per cent of what we write every year is residential home loans and about 35 per cent would be made up of things like commercial property; self-managed super funds; asset finance; and small amounts of development finance. But really, if you can borrow money for it, we’ve probably done it.

How long did it take to hit the $1 billion milestone?

It took me eight years to get to a billion dollars… It’s only recently happened.

But we are fortunate… Sometimes I get to see $10 million in one transaction on a single property, and I might get two, three or four of those a year (depending on the year), which definitely helps.

I’ve never really looked at the numbers, though… I just do the business that’s in front of me. I do the best job I can.

What processes or techniques have you put in place that have enabled you to write such a large volume of business?

I’m very conscious of drawing a line in the sand between what a broker does and what the admin person does. So, I’ve created a template that a broker must complete and submit when he sends the deal through to the admin person. It [makes sure] the broker has completed the file notes properly, has completed the recommendations and our Statement of Credit Assistance, and details whether there is pricing involved.

It steps out the tasks that you might expect an admin person to do. If those things haven’t been done, it needs to go back to the broker so they can complete their part of it. The brokers know the expectation; they know that they can’t just come in and throw stuff on an admin person’s desk and make it the admin’s person’s problem when it really is the broker’s responsibility.

It’s just about making those clear definitions. And, fortunately — whether it’s due to the structure or not — we generally don’t have a lot of problems because I think the expectations of what everyone’s part of the process is, is fairly clear.

How does Finsure help you succeed as a billion-dollar broker?

I try and be a sponge for information. And credit to Finsure, that is the number one thing I use them for; I’m always going to them for advice! I try not to be too annoying… I only want to be going there when I actually need something but I tend to be good at asking the right questions, listening to the answers, and taking on board the information.

At the end of the day, I cant avoid having to make a decision sometimes, but I really seek out help [from them].

What do you attribute to your success as a broker?

Ignoring exuberance probably helped. In the beginning, I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I just knew that I had to throw every ounce of my energy and being into getting it done right. But that only lasts you for a certain amount of time.

Now, I’m very fortunate with the team that I have. A lot of the time I’m the one that gets the recognition and the reward and I often get imposter syndrome [because]… There is so much more than what I’m doing. Imy small percentage these days of the success of the business and a lot of it comes down to the work of the people that I’m blessed to have working with me.

Ive been extremely fortunate. I know theres elements of you creating your own luck and you putting yourself in the position to take advantage of opportunity, but overall, Ive been blessed with amazing people as part of my team to work around.

What advice would you give to other brokers looking to write $1 billion in loans?

One of the best bits of advice I got early on was: be slow to hire, quick to fire. I still having remember to fire [my first employee] and I think I was 10 times more nervous than he was in the conversation. It was really difficult. But, when its your business and its your livelihood and familys income on the line, it does become a bit of an easy decision.

And never be afraid to ask for help. II have never been afraid to seek out expertise in an area where Im not an expert. II have always been very open to listening to other peoples thoughts and advice.

What makes Finsure attractive to high-volume brokers?

At its crux, what attracts brokers is the ability for brokers to maintain their own brand and momentum underneath the umbrella of Finsure. We offer a lot of support and services, but at no point do we dictate how they should walk or talk or the business model they should run. So it gives our brokers — and Mark’s a great example — a lot of flexibility to really develop their own business ethos and brand within the network.

We’ve also got a very competitive fee offer, so brokers can be assured that they’ve got the lowest cost base with an aggregation business like ours, and we have a large lender panel that provides a lot of diversity. Mark talked about the way their business has been successful around diversification, so having access to lenders and financial institutions that provide that financing is extremely important.

And the other thing is that compliance is extremely important. We pride ourselves on ensuring that compliance is not a big stick, but enables businesses to make the right decisions

What advice would you give brokers wanting to grow their business?

For businesses and brokers who want to grow, my advice has always been just pick the phone up and call your aggregator and ask to go for a cup of coffee. Most aggregators, I’m assuming, will be very forthcoming in the trials and tribulations of how to be successful because we get a really good opportunity to pop the hood on a number of businesses; from regional small businesses to the large sort of corporate businesses in the major cities.

So my advice would be just really tap your aggregator on the shoulder and really use them. Don’t be afraid to ask a question.

You can find out more about Mark Stevenson and how he runs Bell Partners Finance in The Adviser’s Elite Broker podcast.

Tune in to the episode with Mark and Finsure, Billion Dollar Broker: How Mark Stevenson, Bell Partners Finance settled $1 billion in loans, below: