From collections to co-ownership, the Ideal Mortgage founder has never forgotten that he works for the customer
By Lisa Gordon
ASK ANYONE who’s dealt with Nick Hamblin, and they’ll say he is a tireless advocate for his clients.
It’s a philosophy that dates back 25 years to his first industry-related job at a financial collections agency, and it carries over today at Ideal Mortgage in Halifax, N.S., a full-service brokerage founded by Hamblin and his business partner, Keith Leighton, in 2006.
The success of their customer-centric approach is evidenced by the company’s roster of about 4,000 clients, 80 per cent of whom are repeat customers.
As the company’s Co-Broker/Owner and Past President of CMBA – Atlantic, Hamblin advocates developing the East Coast mortgage industry through broker education, measured and effective regulation, and industry collaboration.
Here, he shares his thoughts on achieving success in today’s mortgage industry.
Canadian Mortgage Broker (CMB): Tell me about your career. When and how did you get started in the mortgage industry?
NH: I started on the collection side of things when I took a job in the mid-1980s at Financial Collections Agency. I thought I would last for about a week, but I was there for a couple of years. During that time, I learned to do collections in a different manner. I would gather details from customers and then I would go out and arrange alternative loans to help clean up their credit. It turned out the finance companies and collection clients loved that; I accepted a job with Trans Canada Credit (TCC), provided they would teach me the lending side of things, too. Eventually, I became a branch manager. When Wells Fargo took over TCC, our roles changed and we could not do what we once did. So in partnership with Keith Leighton, a TCC colleague, I started Ideal Mortgage in 2006.
CMB: What services do you provide at Ideal Mortgage?
NH: We offer the full range of mortgage services: private, triple A, residential and commercial, using a variety of financing solutions. We have three full-time salaried employees, a document fulfillment specialist, an underwriter, and a full-time marketing and data management professional. We are expanding into Newfoundland soon, and looking at New Brunswick in the near future. We’ve spent a couple of years building infrastructure and a model, and we’re ready now for that expansion. We also finalized
an association with Dominion Lending Centres in June.
"OVER-REGULATION CAN REDUCE OPTIONS FOR CONSUMERS, DECREASE EFFICIENCIES AND INCREASE COSTS – AND THAT MEANS EVERYONE LOSES."
CMB: What do you like about working in the mortgage industry?
NH: I like serving my clients; being a mortgage broker allows me to do what is in their best interests, literally and figuratively. “Clients come first” has been our motto since the day we opened. It has served us very well. We always say that if we do a mortgage once and never hear from a customer again, we’ve failed miserably.
CMB: How would you say you have evolved as a professional since you started out?
NH: In some ways I haven’t changed at all, as my principals and work ethic remain the same; but in other ways, I’ve done a 360. Regulatory changes have altered where we get our business from and the lenders with whom we deal. The need for consumer education has increased tenfold, but rather than complaining about improper regulations, I’ve become more involved and proactive with my colleagues at CMBA Atlantic to be part of a stronger collective voice advocating on behalf of consumers.
CMB: What do you feel are the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the Canadian mortgage industry today?
NH: The biggest challenge we have is regulation. I’m all for regulation that protects consumers and increases the professionalism of our industry. But over-regulation can reduce options for consumers, decrease efficiencies, and increase costs – and that means everyone loses. We have always had one of the strongest banking systems in the world, and if you look at the low level of Canadian bankruptcies and foreclosures, the debt-to-income ratio that the Department of Finance regularly highlights is actually a red herring, in my opinion. At CMBA, we are working to ensure the regulations are about consumer protection, fairness, and professionalism in our broker industry, not based on unfounded fears and knee-jerk reactions.
CMB: On the flip side, what are the biggest opportunities?
NH: I think there is an opportunity for brokers to work together for the sake of our mortgage broker industry, hence my strong support of and involvement with the CMBA. I think we must use our influence in order to make changes in the mortgage landscape. On the bright side, other opportunities lie in the diversification of product offerings. We need to start looking at expanding the alternative mortgage world. I think that’s really where the opportunity lies.
CMB: How are you involved with CMBA – Atlantic? What value do you see in a national association?
NH: When the Mortgage Brokers Association of Atlantic Canada was formed, I was asked to be a Nova Scotia director, and I did that for two years. Then, I was nominated to be president and I think by all accounts, I had a very successful two-year presidency. It’s been a difficult road because we are a young organization with limited resources. But, we ran successful conferences, increased our membership, and when I left we had money in the bank. We also started the search for an executive assistant. With some cash in the bank and an EA about to be hired, we should be able to do much more for our membership. As for the national group, we all work in the same industry and we all work with the same national lenders. We have regional differences, but a shared common goal of advocacy for consumers.
Ideal Mortgage is looking to expand from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland soon and New Brunswick after that
"‘CLIENTS COME FIRST’ HAS BEEN OUR MOTTO SINCE THE DAY WE OPENED. IT HAS SERVED US WELL. WE ALWAYS SAY THAT IF WE DO A MORTGAGE ONCE AND NEVER HEAR FROM A CUSTOMER AGAIN, WE HAVE FAILED MISERABLY."
CMB: Tell me about some recent professional achievements.
NH: I’ve had several. On a personal basis, I am proud of the continual growth of my business and that of my company, Ideal Mortgage. I am proud of the team we have built and the potential and interest we have for continued growth. From an association perspective, I am pleased with membership growth, the success of our regional conferences, and the relationships we have developed with federal and provincial regulatory bodies. My colleague, Janet McKeough, and I have twice met with federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau and have been contacted by members of his department. To have their attention and awareness is important for our industry. This is something we will continue to develop.
CMB: What is the secret to your success?
NH: People have asked me what makes me successful and I have always said I’ve surrounded myself with very competent women. There’s my wife, Jennifer, who is my biggest fan – she understands and supports the demands of the industry. Then, we have my team: Cathy Cameron, who has worked with me for over 25 years, is my document fulfillment specialist; and there is Pam Young, my underwriting specialist. And apart from them, I also have to thank my balanced and reasoned business partner, Keith Leighton, who often talks me off the ledge when things seem to be going sideways. Finally, there is my dog, Ruddick. After a long day, he loves me unconditionally and that makes everything all right.
CMB: What advice would you have for someone starting out in the mortgage industry?
NH: Find a brokerage that can offer a great deal of support; one that can help you with training and has the ability to offer mentorship. In any industry, it’s about building a client base. You need to have the support that will allow you to do that while learning the tools of the trade. That enables you to make a living while learning; hence our team model at Ideal Mortgage.
CMB: What’s on the horizon for you, career-wise?
NH: I think I’ll be plugging away here for the next decade or so. I’m really looking forward to the growth of Ideal Mortgage. I’m hoping I can advocate for our business and help our team grow by recruiting brokers and finding new partners. My goal is to get to a point where I can work more on the business instead of in it.
CMB: What hobbies do you enjoy in your spare time?
NH: I’m a boating fanatic. I have two sailboats and a 15-foot powerboat. Other than my wife, that’s my respite from the vagaries of the mortgage industry. For 30 years, I sailed competitively and I was fortunate to have the means to do some international sailing. I had a great time staying young by hanging out with young people on the deck of a sailboat and being active. At the end of 2016, I retired from competitive racing and I bought a C&C 33 racer/cruiser. I did this so my wife and I could enjoy sailing together, because competitive racing wasn’t her scene.