MFAA: Can you outline your professional history and what led you to become a broker?
Lauren Hall (LH): I grew up on a farm on the east coast of New Zealand and when career days came around at school I wanted to be in a job where I could be outside doing something physical. The thought of an office job didn’t appeal at all. At 17 I left home and moved to the big smoke and started a trade. Five years and 10,000 hours later I finished my trade certificate. Being a little older and wiser I realised that maybe this wasn't what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and the novelty of working out in the cold New Zealand ‘fresh air’ was starting to wear thin, so I started to contemplate what else I could do, Journalism being at the top of that list. At the time I was a customer of a bank in New Zealand that was known for amazing customer service - in fact, their mantra is ‘unbeatable team, unbeatable service’, which I have since adopted as our mantra. I would go into the bank and the team there were always so kind and helpful and looked happy in their jobs. Banking wasn’t something that had appealed to me before, and numbers didn’t overly interest me, but I said to them ‘you guys are so good to your customers, is that because the bank is good to you’? A few months later, I nabbed an interview and started as a teller. Trades can be quite a negative environment. I was the only female in a team of 18, by far the youngest, and excited with my whole life ahead of me, which doesn’t always go down well with a grumpy team of older men. I have never had a problem talking to people and so I loved the customer focus and KPI structure of the bank. I would refer a client to our personal banker at the time, and as soon as the client walked out of her office I would be straight in, asking how it went and wanting to know what I could have done better to help that client get ahead and secure more business for the bank. Within 12 months I had worked out that the challenging, problem solving side of lending really interested me. As a kid I was brought up on books, the outdoors and in the school holidays mum would buy me a puzzle to keep me occupied on rainy days, which are common in New Zealand. Lending seemed like a puzzle to me. The client's goal being the big picture with all these unique different pieces of their position and different bank policies to fit together, and this is still how I view it today. I moved into the third-party area of the bank where brokers were my customers, and I could focus just on lending. We were a small, highly driven, successful team that lived on strong coffee, stress, and deadlines - and we loved it. While I loved what I did, I didn’t love where I was, I needed more sunshine and a better lifestyle, so I applied for a lending manager position in a bank on the Gold Coast. Skype interview done and I got the job and had three weeks to get here. While I appreciated the opportunity I was given, I never connected with this bank in the way I had with the New Zealand bank. I wanted to stand by a brand that I felt lived their values and loved their people and so when I was approached to work for Loan Market I was interested. Platinum Elite Loan Market regional broker Phil Rogers was looking to expand his business to the Gold Coast and wanted to mentor a new broker. Phil’s energy is like nothing you have ever seen - and his excitement around what he wanted to build on the coast gave me mad FOMO (fear of missing out) - I had to be part of it. As primarily a real estate mortgage broker I had to learn how a real estate agent thinks, and what challenges them in their world, so I could add value to that. I love that the foundation of my business is built on the real estate relationship, it is an exceptional relationship model built around sustainability and growth. My first Loan Market conference blew me away - as an organisation they really do live their values and love their people. There was that engagement and feeling of celebrating success that I had missed, and I could see that culture started right from the top.
MFAA: In the four years plus you’ve been a broker what skills have you acquired and sought to master in order to best service your clients?
LH: You need to be a great communicator. The language I use to communicate with a lender is totally different to the language I use with a customer. Customers need to be educated, informed, and understand simply why I am approaching a particular bank on their behalf, why I have decided on a certain loan structure and the strategy we have in place to achieve their goals. They need to understand clearly what is expected of them, and what my role is in the process. Then I need to know how the bank thinks, and how to communicate with them in a way that presents the client in the best light. After that I need to know how to communicate with an agent who is under pressure from their vendor. This requires completely different language again but get it right and it can be crucial in an agent supporting you through delays and extensions.
I strive to master the art of managing expectations, and the longer I am doing this the more crucial I see this skill. We now live in an Uber world, where everything is quick and accessible and communication is key, so setting the expectation upfront regarding timeframes, required documents and communication is really important. I find that if I set the expectation properly even when things go askew, the customer is still very engaged and positive about their experience. It also allows us to put a level of ownership on the client with regard to their role during the process and clearly outline our role and responsibility.
MFAA: How has broking on the Gold Coast changed during the Coronavirus pandemic, and how have you responded to those challenges?
LH: Four years ago, the business expanded from Townsville to the Gold Coast, separating our team of eight across two locations. At this time, we established remote platforms utilising the Google suite, allowing our team to operate seamlessly while being physically located 3,000kms apart. Our Gold Coast clients will regularly work with a lending specialist in our team based in Townsville and they often comment on how it feels to them as though we all sit next to each other at the same desk. I have clients in Melbourne who tell us that it’s easier to work remotely with me as their broker on the coast, and my lending specialist in Townsville, than it was to deal with their branch lender whose office was on the corner of their street in Melbourne. Loan Market have also invested in creating their own software over the past few years allowing us to interact with clients via beautiful virtual Goal Setters and Game Plans. Having already laid such a strong remote virtual platform and having virtual tech ready to go, COVID-19 allowed us to accelerate to another gear while other businesses struggled to adapt to such a drastic and immediate change.
We are long term relationship based, speaking to our client base annually. COVID-19 reinforced the value of the time we put into providing clients with a clear strategy and the time we spend educating them around budgeting, saving and putting surplus income into reserves. Our client base on the Gold Coast is diverse and different industries were impacted at different levels. We have seen some industries retract, while others have flourished. The change to a number of industries working remotely has also reminded Australians how liveable and affordable the coast is. You no longer have to commute to work, you can now live where you want, and work from home. Why would you live in a unit in the CBD of Brisbane, spending money on parking and petrol, when you can now afford a house five minutes from the sandy beaches of the Gold Coast and work out of the spare room. I am excited by what the next 12 months will bring for brokers on the coast - there is great opportunity if you are ready for it.
MFAA: You won two awards in this year’s MFAA National Excellence Awards, Young Professional & Newcomer, what do you do that helps you stand out from the pack?
LH: It comes back to that mantra I mentioned earlier - unbelievable team, unbelievable service. The customer is centric in our world, and as a team we put everything into our client achieving the very best outcome. We align ourselves with other professional businesses who share the same values, who can care for our clients’ wealth creation goals and protect their assets and income. I have an outstanding mentor. A previous MPA Young Gun and the best real estate mortgage broker there is. To his credit, he was an open book and took me everywhere he went, and to my credit, I listened, took notes, and sponged it all up. I valued the time he spent teaching me, and I knew how lucky I was to be aligned with a Platinum Elite Broker with such an outstanding team. I remember when I went through the Loan Market Broker Academy, during the last week the BDM’s of the different banks came out to visit me. I was the only one in the class and they all came, all 25 of them, and they all came because I was working for Phil. Immediately, I cashed in on his good reputation.
The backbone of my business has been built on the real estate relationship and this involves understanding the challenges involved in an agent listing and selling a property. It’s not about referrals, it’s about integration, really understanding their business. I go as far as being a member of The Real Estate Gym, attending AREC, going to auctions, literally being so on the pulse with the real estate world that I have become part of their team. This builds sustainable relationships - and winning REB Women in Real Estate Broker of the Year Australia - a Real Estate Award after only six months as a broker reinforced to me that what I was doing was different, this wasn’t the norm, it was next level and I was on the right track.
MFAA: The Gold Coast is renowned as a fun-loving, exciting place to be. What would you say are the advantages to being a broker on the Gold Coast?
LH: Ten times a day I would say to someone on the phone ‘ah another day in paradise’ and I mean it. I am proud to call the Gold Coast home, it’s paradise and people who live here feel the same way. From a lifestyle point of view, I can swim in the ocean at 6am, in the cleanest water in the world, and be in the office by 7:30am, feeling like I have already won the day. Where else can you do that? From a business point of view, the Gold Coast is big enough for there to be plenty of business to go around, but small enough that you can build a strong brand and reputation and before you know it, someone is calling you who got your name from two different people over the weekend, those calls are exciting, you know you are starting to become known.
MFAA: Looking to the future, what are you most excited about?
LH: We joke about world domination – really, it’s just that the goal is so big and exciting that there isn’t a ceiling. To quote the legend Gary Vaynerchuk: ‘love the process and the grind’. I find so much satisfaction in what I do every day, that it becomes more about the work, and less about what I get out of the work. That’s a mind shift, especially if you are goal orientated, but it's a reminder to enjoy the journey and to surround yourself with the right people. COVID-19 has changed our world immensely, and I see property becoming firstly an integral part of our economy’s growth, and secondly the foundation of creating futures for families across Australia. With brokers closing the gap on 60 per cent market share, that makes the future a super exciting time for us. To sum it all up - fortune favours the bold.