Mortgage Managers: James Shinners

Mortgage Managers: James Shinners


: Hammonds Plains, Nova Scotia

What advice would you offer to brokers who would like to set up an independent brokerage?
Becoming independent will require a good business plan and an initial financial investment to set up a good website, rent and renovate office space, have signage, etc. It is also extremely important to stay focused on your mortgage business and avoid getting side-tracked in other unrelated businesses.

What is your strategy for generating new business?
We wouldn’t recommend that a “newbie” become independent. Aside from a good business and marketing plan, you really need a solid client base to draw on. Then, using a good Customer Retention Management (CRM) system, you can farm your client base for referrals, refinances and new purchases.

What is the most important thing a broker can do to grow their business?
It’s an old business adage, but location, location, location is really important. We recommend getting a retail location in a high traffic area where clients can come to you. While we do not understand all the sales psychology behind it, we close 95 per cent of the (qualified) business that walks in our door.

What trends have you noticed this year? Have you had to adapt your business strategies to the market conditions?
Although there is a lot of “buzz” about rate sites, we have avoided this strategy. If your strategy is to be the Tim Hortons of mortgages, that’s great. Our strategy, on the other hand, is to be the Starbucks of mortgages. While they both offer coffee, people are willing to pay just a little bit more for first-class service and leave our office with a better taste in their mouth.

What are your goals and strategies for the years ahead?
Our near-term goals are to double our volume and the number of quality brokers we have here in Nova Scotia. This will enable us to take advantage of some economies of scale, volume bonuses, and greater market presence overall. Our goal over the next two years is to have brokers in all four Atlantic provinces.

Have you diversified outside of mortgages? If so, how have you incorporated this into your business?
We are currently exploring various mortgage-related investment programs for our clients including syndicated mortgages, GIC investment programs, and investment opportunities with private lenders. Offering your clients life & disability insurance is not only a great source of income, it is a great way to protect your clients during a difficult time. We recently had a client pass away unexpectedly and their Manulife MPP Life Insurance paid off the mortgage, leaving the husband mortgage-free. Our brokers also participate in our unique profit-sharing, residual income model that enables our brokers to earn more than 100 per cent of their gross commissions from helping us acquire new mortgage brokers.

As an independent, what extra pressures do you feel surrounding volume bonuses? Is there any loss of diversity of product as a result?
While we do not do the same volumes as the “superbrokers,” we really have not lost any of our lenders. Therefore, our product offering has remained the same. I believe we have a very good reputation with our lenders and we offset volume with efficiency and top quality clients.

What is the secret to building a successful brokerage?
To be a successful independent brokerage, you really have to be a brave entrepreneur. You have to love helping your clients, you have to love ongoing training, you have to love looking after the day-to-day operations, compliance and accounting. You also have to be more agent-centric than the national brokerages by providing knowledgeable support, training and encouragement.

What are the advantages of being an independent brokerage?
The main advantage of being independent is really the sense of accomplishment we get from building our own brand and a business we can call our own. We don’t have to answer to tyrannical corporate policy or worry about being affiliated with brokers who are unethical.

Have you considered joining a large network?
We’ve been mortgage brokers for 10 years, five years as independent and five years with a national brokerage, so we have seen both sides of the coin. We had initially joined a national brokerage with the hopes of receiving ongoing training, support, camaraderie, but we received little of that. In fact, we experienced fellow brokers stealing our clients, having to train ourselves, and figuring things out on our own. So, since we had to become self-sufficient anyway, we decided to leave that brokerage and start our own firm. That brokerage tried to scare us into staying by threatening that we wouldn’t survive the year as an independent, yet here we are five years later.

How do you think independent brokerages can continue to thrive in today’s market?
Five to 10 years ago, it was all about volume and the lender’s commission structure was set up for that. Today, with more and more lenders offering “trailer fee” programs, an independent brokerage can earn just as much as they would if they were with a national brokerage; you just have to have a long-term mindset and not be in business for a quick buck. At the end of the day, the client only wants their problem solved: find me a good mortgage that meets my needs. If we can provide that, the logo on the broker’s card is irrelevant to the client.