The perils and triumphs of originating in 2021 without Zoom

by David Kitai10 Mar 2021

John Donlon’s business model isn’t necessarily suited to a pandemic. The co-founder of GoldCoast Mortgage in Beverly, MA. has built his model on deep human connections, finding partners with whom he and his team can provide a genuine value add. He explicitly doesn’t deal in hard, transactional conversations and prefers to forge lasting partnerships “whether that takes six months or 16 months,” he said.

Those relationships are forged through in-person meetings, hosting real estate agents and financial advisors for lunches or dinners. When the pandemic upended that, though, Donlon didn’t go chasing after the latest tech tool that promised to recreate the feeling of that 5:30 cocktail. Instead, he continued working on genuine connections as best as he could, coming to realize that he was providing exactly what his partners needed.

Through phone calls, socially distanced coffee walks, and curbside drop-offs, Donlon and his team have worked to reinforce longstanding partnerships. They’ve focused their conversations beyond the transaction of a mortgage deal, positioning themselves to never become a vendor. It’s a process that Donlon admits has been challenging and somewhat incomplete, but it’s a process he intends to stick with.

“The basis of 100% of our business is just adding value to our business partners who then think of us when their clients have financing needs,” Donlon said. “We’ve hosted hundreds of partners, but the facilities we rent to host them have been vacant for a year now. That was our secret sauce and what we’ve had to do now is find ways to bring value to our partners beyond an eyeball-to-eyeball setting.”

Read more: How to make the space for female originators

While Donlon’s issue has been faced by almost all mortgage professionals since this time last year, he told MPA that his approach has been somewhat different. Where the industry flocked to Zoom and other video conferencing tools, Donlon avoided it, expecting that it would tire people out rapidly. He’s avoided trying to get his messaging out in group settings, too, as it would dilute his traditional person-to-person approach.

While Donlon and his team were clear on what they didn’t want to do in the face of a pandemic, they struggled somewhat with what they could do. In the months since the pandemic began, however, their strategy has hinged on connecting beyond the deal. As anybody who has worked from home for the past year will tell you, feelings of isolation and disconnectedness are all too common these days. By focusing the content of their conversations on the pain points their referral partners face, Donlon believes he’s overcoming some of the challenges the pandemic poses. He’s refocusing on the content of his conversations, rather than the medium they’re being held on.

Donlon and his team stick to a rule when talking with referral partners: they can never reach into their toolkit. His primary goal is to not be seen as a vendor. Rather, he and his team want to embed themselves in the back of a partner’s mind for when that partner finds a client in need of financing. It’s an extremely old-school approach but Donlon remains committed to it.

Read more: Mortgage president explains how originators are holding themselves back

He’s making that commitment, not just because he wants to help maintain his business’s ethos, he’s doing it because, post-pandemic, he expects that deepening relationships will serve his team well.

“The extra service or attention is very well received,” Donlon said. “A partner phone call that isn’t trying to sell the partner something is usually recognized as caring and compassionate. When it’s a non-invasive conversation about a true value add it does rise above the rest. People are craving the interaction and the transfer of true value, not just the fake value that comes from trying to sell something.”