Becoming a Mortgage Choice franchise owner worth the challenge

How Kristie Gould went from loan processor to brokerage boss

Becoming a Mortgage Choice franchise owner worth the challenge

It’s no simple task to take the reins of a well-established brokerage, especially when the person you are succeeding is such a household name in the local community.

This was the challenge that faced Kristie Gould, who became the franchisee of Mortgage Choice Warners Bay two years ago when long-time owner Debbie Worthington left the business after about 15 years at the helm.

Gould is thriving in her leadership role and is grateful for the support Worthington gave her when she transitioned to running the brokerage, based in NSW’s Lake Macquarie region.

“I feel quite lucky that I was able to come into a business that was already established, doing really well and had a good network of clients,” Gould said.

She said Worthington ran a highly successful business, with plenty of referral partners, and was heavily involved in the community, running trivia nights, raising funds for the local netball club and other sponsorships.

“Debbie always put the clients first and she had a lot of good relationships with property developers in the area and we’ve helped a lot of first-home buyers because of that,” said Gould.

How Gould became  a broker

Gould has been a mortgage broker for seven years, joining Mortgage Choice Warners Bay in 2017.

She said she grew up in the world of finance, her father having worked for banks all his life and she wanted to head in the same direction.

“So I started work at a bank, but initially when I was starting my career I always wanted to be a broker.”

Gould worked at Newcastle Permanent and also St.George Bank in various roles including bank teller, personal loans, branch manager, business banking and lending.

“I loved finance, loved working at the bank and loved having conversations and helping people but sometimes you get to a point where you feel a little bit restricted so it was really nice to branch into brokering because there’s lots more [lending] options and we can help a lot more people,” said Gould.

Gould’s credit skills and finance knowledge came in handy when she became a broker but she said she was also driven by the desire to help people.

“It’s something that I’m really passionate about … there’s so much satisfaction in taking someone from the start of any journey to the end and seeing a positive outcome, whether that’s in the [bank] branch doing a basic transaction to writing a loan – there’s a lot of value in all of the interactions you have.”

Gould said she knew Worthington from her time working at Newcastle Permanent and joined the Mortgage Choice brokerage as a loan processor.

Becoming a franchise owner

After 12 months in the role, the pair decided that Gould should become a business partner. The plan was that Worthington would transition out with Gould taking over as franchise owner after four years.

“Personally we had a very similar nature – we always had the clients’ best interests at heart and that’s something that I’ve been able to continue on with the business,” said Gould.

She admitted it was challenging at first when she went from being a loan processor to a broker, because the clients already had existing relationships with Worthington.

“I did feel a lot of pressure .. Debbie had built relationships with clients and you’re trying to build that rapport .. but Debbie was really supportive and always encouraged me to assist in any interactions with the clients that we could so it made it a really streamlined process.”

When Worthington left, Gould said it was important to let clients know that “we were still there” and “reintroduce” herself to customers.

While Gould already knew most of the clients, she and her team of six focused on a retention strategy, reaching out to clients more frequently to let them know they would be looked after.

The brokerage contacts customers every six or 12 months to “check in”, through a phone, call, text message or email.

In terms of changes since she took over, Gould said the brokerage moved into a newer and larger office.

“We also had a look at all areas of our business to work out ways to make things more efficient. We  have digitised. We had a lot of paper before and it just didn’t seem relevant.”

Gould said in the last few months the franchise had reached a point where it could look to grow and diversify.

The business has attracted a lot of first home buyers and it focuses on this market. Gould said there were a number of government incentives for first home buyers.

“Our strategy is to hold their hands and really help them through the end-to-end process.”

Gould has also hired a new broker with experience in commercial lending, also introducing SMSF lending to clients.

The brokerage has also continued with local sponsorships, supporting a netball club and soccer club.

“I like to get into the canteen and help out. It’s great to have conversations and educate people.”

Market trends

Gould agreed that lending activity had dropped off recently, with fewer properties on the market.

She said some customers were rolling off fixed rate terms and struggling with cash flow so they looked at options such as interest-only loans to consolidate debt.

“Through conversations we’re having with people, you can definitely feel the pressure. We’re contacting clients six months out from a fixed rate expiry so we can start working on a plan early.”

Investors make up about 20% of the business’ book and while there wasn’t a lot of purchasing going on in the Warners Bay area, Gould said clients were exploring buying property in other states.

Refinancing had also dropped due to lenders’ “strong retention strategies”.

Gould said most of her customer leads came from repeat business, with the brokerage having a strong presence on Facebook community group pages.