Thinking outside the box can have huge benefits, suggests leading mortgage exec
For Lisa Helfrick, broker at Mortgage Intelligence, the foundations of a successful mortgage career lie in learning the ropes at every level of the industry.
“I started working as an assistant helping the mortgage broker with files, documents, and eventually taking the course to become a licensed assistant,” Helfrick told Canadian Mortgage Professional.
“My boss at the time was training me to eventually take over. I took over her business eight years ago and cannot think of a better career than this.”
Helfrick said that in contrast to other financial services sectors, the mortgage space gives her ample opportunities to think outside the box.
“When you deal with only one institution, you are stuck with their rules,” she said. “In mortgage brokering, you have so many options for people. I love figuring out which lender will do a particular deal. It’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of world. You have to have the ability to look outside the box for a solution.”
While Helfrick has more than 20 years of experience in the financial services industry, she said that it is only in the mortgage sector where she found her true calling.
“I have been in the mortgage lending industry for longer than I would like to admit,” she recounted. “I started working with CIBC shortly after high school and then moved onto HSBC and spent 15 years working there in many roles. After having my first child, I knew I was never going back into banking.”
“One of my colleagues that hired me at HSBC had left banking a few years earlier and was a mortgage broker. One day I picked up the phone and let her know that I was looking for a job… [and] here we are 18 years later.”
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Familiarity with every level of the mortgage space proved especially helpful during the crisis years.
“The most challenging time in my career was when COVID hit and people lost their jobs and were afraid of losing their homes,” Helfrick said. “It was a tough time for many. For the first couple of months all I did was answer the phone and respond to emails.”
The constantly client-facing nature of the broker business meant that Helfrick had to be there for her clients during their times of greatest need.
“I was someone they could reach out to and just talk things through,” she said. “I had no clue what my future would look like, but I knew we would all get through it eventually. It’s about being there for your clients when they need you.”
Being the reliable guiding light for her clients also meant that Helfrick had to continuously keep her knowledge of the business up to date.
“I pride myself and my business [on] helping my clients understand the process from beginning to the end, [and] having the ability to explain things to clients so they can understand the ins and outs of a mortgage,” she said.
Helfrick said that she stands by the value of elevating the consumer’s interest.
“I meet with 99% of my clients in person or over Zoom,” she said. “They know exactly who they are dealing with and know I will answer their questions.”
“Treating people with the respect they deserve and being there to help them goes a very long way. Pick up the phone when it rings. Take the five minutes to answer a question. Return their phone call or email as soon as possible. We have to be better than the banks and value our clients above everything.”
This person-centred approach has yielded abundant dividends for Helfrick, who was named Broker of the Year (Regional - Prairies) in the 2023 edition of the Canadian Mortgage Awards.
“It was the biggest honour of my career,” she said. “This year has been one of my most successful years yet. I have reached a huge milestone of being in the top 10% within the brokerage. I am proud of each and every milestone. I am proud of my success and all the people that have been a part of it. Without my clients I would not be where I am today.”
At the same time, Helfrick stressed that this award was not a culmination, but just another step in her continuous ascent of the learning ladder.
“There is not one lesson I have learned over my career,” she said. “You learn each and every day how to make yourself better and make your business better. You have to be willing to adapt with the ever-changing times. You have to be open to learning new things all the time. If something didn’t work one way, try it another way next time. You have to be able to grow and develop all the time.”
And not to be underestimated is what Helfrick believes to be the transformative power of sheer grit.
“In this industry you have to be able to weather the storms,” she said. “There are always ups and downs in the markets. Being able to adapt to all the changes will help you survive in this industry.”