Specialist Finance Group: Taking care of business

Although COVID-19 has come with challenges, it’s also been a blessing in that it has allowed brokers to concentrate on their businesses. Specialist Finance Group head of aggregation Blake Buchanan says he has seen a lot of brokers become better businesspeople over the last 18 months

Specialist Finance Group: Taking care of business

MPA: How have you seen COVID-19 affect the way brokers are looking at their businesses?
Blake Buchanan, head of aggregation, Specialist Finance Group:
Since March 2020, there have been multiple stages of concern, development and evolution that many brokers have been through. Thankfully, one of them was brokers being urged to focus on their systems and processes to allow them to continue to trade compliantly and digitally.

In this way, COVID has been a bit of a blessing as it’s been the catalyst for brokers and lenders to sooner embrace digital efficiencies and focus on a number of areas, including marketing, use of systems, business structure and processes. SFG deployed our new CRM called SFGconnect in 2018, which even back then was COVID-ready.  We didn’t have to scramble to work out solutions for things like approved video conferencing, workflow tasks, customer portals or identification processes, as they were already in-built and available to our network.

We’ve seen brokers in record numbers who are keen to upskill so they can exploit the system to make them more efficient than ever. Being a ‘one-stop shop’, SFGconnect has all the tools a broker would need to apply their trade and more, like property reporting, credit checks, marketing, referrer and client portals, digital signatures, bank statement scraping tools, and so much more, which means there is a lot to explore and learn.

MPA: Why is now a good time for brokers to think about working on their businesses?
The best time to think about your business was yesterday, and the very next best time is today and then every day thereafter. Pleasingly, between myself, William Lockett and our management team, we have run more individual strategic and training sessions than ever before. This points to record numbers of our brokers not just working in their business but on it.

Being an amazing broker does not always mean that you are excellent at running a company. You should always seek to learn, look at what you are doing and adjust as needed for now and the future. Due to the high and extraordinary volumes that brokers are writing, along with excessive turnaround times, it’s more difficult than ever to step back, look at your business and evaluate how it’s going, what your customer experience is like, and look for macro and micro efficiency. However, you need to find the time as this investment, like many investments, will give you great returns, often in the areas of time, money and better customer experiences.

MPA: How can brokers take the initiative to grow their businesses?
It all begins with a plan. The best way to get a job done is to start it, and often it’s too easy to procrastinate or delay starting a task that can result in change. It can all start with deciding what you want to achieve, and this can be a very simple starting point. Is it a sum of money you want to earn? Is it a number of people you want to help, or is it a number of transactions per year that you want to achieve? These are some of the usual goals that brokers look to achieve.

I urge everyone to think on this and write it down, because once this is done, we can work backwards to yearly, monthly, weekly and daily objectives and tasks if necessary. We can work out what type of investment is needed in key areas of your business to achieve it and, importantly, start working towards it. It all starts with doing something.

One thing that I notice with successful and growing broker businesses is that they have good business discipline, focus on the fundamentals, and allocate time for each area of their business but especially for themselves. It’s very important that you take care of yourself first so that you can take care of your business.

MPA: Why should brokers be interested in focusing on things like marketing and planning?
I think the time for considering marketing is over. You need to have it. Our market is hypercompetitive, with hundreds of active leads, companies and franchises, social media marketing, and throw in thousands of brokers all vying for your customers. So, if you do not have a marketing program in place, you should be worried about the sustainability of your business or start planning your marketing program for your business right now.

Marketing is not just social media ads and email templates going out to databases talking about free property reports or how good you are; marketing programs are also for your existing customer base. You need to regularly communicate to your customers through marketing to ensure that they are kept well-informed and that you are always front of mind when it comes to their lending needs.

This communication with clients forms a very important part of what brokers do, and in particular with regard to our remuneration model. The refinance market has been overactive for the past 18 months, which points to reduced loan terms. These shortened terms will increase clawbacks but also the opportunity for brokers to write more deals sooner and better protect against losses.

MPA: When brokers are reluctant to try out new systems or processes, why would you encourage them to branch out of their comfort zone?
In my role, I’m fortunate to have access to thousands of brokers each year, which gives me a very good cross section and understanding of brokers at various stages in their career. What is interesting is the brokers that want more business but don’t achieve it look to blame things beyond their control, are reluctant to invest in systems or marketing, and funnily enough are usually the ones that are too busy to answer their phone or respond in a timely fashion.

You compare this to brokers who write more than, say, $50m per annum, and they all have marketing systems and tools, expertly understand the power of their CRM, understand the importance of going to PD days and other industry learning events, and respond to phone calls and emails in a timely manner. These brokers didn’t just start off writing $50m per annum, they started where we all start but they made the investment, they planned, they tried new things, they found what works, and they went for it and have been learning and adjusting ever since.

Thankfully, we have all of our members using SFGconnect, so for us the journey has not been trying to get our members to try our system but to ensure that they know how to tailor it to their unique business model and maximise the customisation and automation of it to take their business to the next level.

MPA: Specialist Finance Group has experienced huge growth in recent years. What are you doing strategically with brokers for them to speak so highly of SFG?
At a very high level, we strive to deliver and continually improve on the fundamentally important areas of running an aggregation business. Our brokers are our customers, and so it’s vital that our systems, support and overall value proposition meet and exceed the expectations of our members and business partners.

We do not have the distractions of trying to run a tech company or have our own home loan products to try and sell, so we’re able to focus on being really good at aggregation. This has delivered a market-leading CRM and high levels of support and service to our business partners, where our members have direct access to all areas of our business, including owner and managing director William Lockett.

Our leadership team are all highly experienced, with each having a minimum of 10 years’ experience but with nearly all having more than 20 in and around the broker channel. Being able to tap into this experience regardless of your size is priceless and available to all of our members no matter the size of their business. We are encouraged by our brokers’ feedback and thank them for these outstanding results.