Best Customer Service from an Individual Office (Australian Mortgage Awards 2019): Best friends to business partner's
Helen Trembath and Carrie Wilson are the unstoppable duo who own and operate Mortgage Choice in Ipswich, Queensland.
Before joining Mortgage Choice, Carrie spent 19 years managing conveyancing departments in law firms prior to joining the team as a loan writer in 2008. Helen had held various roles in the property industry from lending to management and finally, conveyancing until she joined the team in 2009 as an office manager. Helen knew Nick Cook, then owner of the business as they used to refer clients to each other.
Carrie and Helen look back fondly on their time working with Nick. ‘Nick was an excellent boss who created an inclusive culture. He gave us the freedom to grow and make our own decisions giving us enough rope to be successful.
“It was empowering because we could make mistakes and learn from them knowing that he was there to support us when we needed him,” said Helen.
By 2012, Carrie and Helen were managing the franchise as Nick decided to retire from the broking industry. “We spent two years running the franchise as if it was our own, looking after the day to day operations and managing staff, which in hindsight felt like training for what was to come.
Then, in 2016, Nick transitioned out of the business and asked Helen and Carrie whether they would take over.
Helen said, “It wasn’t a decision we would take lightly because we had a pretty good idea of the commitment it would require but we were confident that we were good at our jobs, knew our clients and knew we could be successful. Ultimately, becoming owners wouldn’t be a huge shift in our day to day because we already knew what to expect and as far as our clients were concerned, we were already running the business, which meant the transition would have felt natural to them.
Carrie echoes Helen’s sentiments saying, “working as a loan writer is one thing but owning and operating a broking business requires a significant commitment of your time and effort. It’s not something you can do part-time. I was somewhat reluctant to take the next step because I knew there was a financial risk if it didn’t work out. At the time I was a single mother with two children in private school, which meant that I couldn’t afford for the business to not be successful.
“I’m forever grateful to my family who helped me make the decision and take this leap of faith. They told me they would support me, which made me feel like I had something to fall back on,” said Carrie.
Carrie and Helen are driven to succeed and they know the value of harnessing the support and resources around them. Taking over a high performing business is no easy feat but they were determined to keep the momentum going. “Nick had created a high performing business that year on year featured in Mortgage Choice’s top franchise rankings. When we were employees we worked hard to ensure the business was successful but it’s very different when you have skin in the game. You have a different motivation because in the back of your mind, you know that if you don’t write loans, you’re not going to get paid.
“So we created a business plan and set goals and targets. We knew we needed to consistently settle around $4-$5 million a month, which is what the business was writing but at that stage I was the only loan writer in the business. Helen was the office manager and we knew we could grow but we didn’t have the capacity to do so with only one loan writer so Helen came on board,” said Carrie.
“I’m so proud to say that, after a lot of hard work, we increased our settlements by nearly 40% in our first 12 months of ownership,” said Helen.
The pair are very quick to say that their success didn’t come overnight. “In the beginning we worked for nothing. We had no trail, just upfront keeping us going. The business had overheads from paying the lease on the office, to staff salaries and insurance all without revenue, just our own personal cash injection that we had saved in the lead up to taking over,” said Carrie.
“In the first six months we visited local lenders and businesses and introduced ourselves as the underdogs to let them know that we would do anything in our power to help their customers and this really helped us solidify strong referral relationships that exist today.
“We really couldn’t have done it without a great team behind us. The average loan size in our area is modest in comparison to Brisbane, or the Gold Coast, which means that you need a well-oiled machine with a really good process behind it in order to write high volumes. Ultimately, the team is all working towards the same goal - to deliver a great customer experience, which is why I think we continue to be successful,” said Helen.
“I really value the support that we had from our aggregator in the ownership transition period. The Mortgage Choice Queensland state office were so supportive, they weren’t overbearing and always brought great ideas when they visited the office.
“Shortly after the transition, we went to the Mortgage Choice Queensland state conference. At that stage, our loan book was still relatively small and we were working to our limits. After talking to a number of experienced franchisees, it was clear that in order to grow, we needed to employ staff. We visited another Mortgage Choice franchisee, Deslie Taylor, who shared her process with us and it was really eye-opening. So, we bit the bullet and created another admin position, which allowed us to break up the loan processing role into two parts and also devote more time to marketing our business.