By Sabrina Cortez

It’s not every day a broking career starts from a love story.

Doug Bohmer started out as an up-and-coming financial planner in Melbourne’s CBD. Prior to that, Doug worked in retail, sales and hospitality where he developed a strong customer service mindset.

Doug then fell in love which was the motivation he needed to make a ‘tree change’ – to Alice Springs – and fulfil his ambitions to start his own business.

He has since built Bfinance, a brokerage, where 75% of new business comes from word-of-mouth, and he has a reputation for being the ‘go-to’ broker for young professionals and families in the region.

While any new broking business risks facing teething issues, such as building a client base, Doug shares how settling in a regional community was “the biggest challenge he’s faced.”

In this Prospa Groundbreakers, Doug tells how he’s managed to build a trusting reputation in a tight knit regional community, and how he’s utilised new systems to address the unique challenges of servicing clients over a huge geographical area.

MFAA: Based on your experience, what are the differences between regional and metropolitan broking?

Doug Bohmer (DB): In my experience, the key difference between metropolitan and regional broking is how the broker and client interacts. Alice Springs, in particular, has a much more relaxed working style compared to larger cities, and as a result, I never use jargon or complex terms in my day-to-day work in regional NT. I’ll always explain things from first principles even when dealing with people with an economics PhD.

I've found my clients want simple, straight-forward, and honest advice. This is why Bfinance’s website, marketing material and emails are written in an informal tone of voice. I personally enjoy when my clients treat me like they would a friend, that they feel comfortable asking me questions, and that they don’t feel intimidated talking about finance.

MFAA: What has worked for you in terms of marketing?

DB: Currently, about 75% of Bfinance’s new business each month is generated by word-of-mouth marketing. In terms of what has worked for me, I’m not sure there is any great secret. There is a saying in hairdressing, that “you’re only as good as your last haircut,” and I believe the same is true in mortgage broking.

If you take time every day to focus on your clients, making sure they feel comfortable, that you are clear with expectations and next steps, and that you do a great job on every application in front of you – then your clients will be happy. They will keep coming back, and they are likely to share their experience with those around them – helping your business to grow.

Of all of Bfinance’s achievements, I’m most proud of the positive word-of-mouth referrals we receive, and the strong relationships we have built with those we’ve worked with. I feel especially happy when past clients return for their next property purchase, and feel great pride when clients recommend my services to their nearest and dearest.

MFAA: From your experience, what do you think are the unique challenges regional brokers in the Northern Territory face, and how have you overcome these challenges?

DB: In Alice Springs and NT, it’s very common for people to work shifts or spend significant periods of time offsite and out bush. What I’ve learnt is that a unique challenge for regional brokers is how to manage the application process when there are huge distances and communication constraints between ourselves and our clients.

I have been able to overcome this challenge by adapting my business so that my service is more convenient for local clients. This includes being available to meet clients outside normal working hours, on weekends, booking meetings during rodeo’s, and via Skype for people wanting a consultation from the comfort of their own home or office, and those based in remote work locations.

This has greatly influenced the success of my business, as I'm able to schedule meetings quickly. My clients also really appreciate this flexibility, and as a result, many new leads are keen to proceed and lodge an application following our initial consultation. It’s been our great point of difference at Bfinance.

MFAA: What do you think is the most rewarding part of being a regional broker?

DB: As Alice Springs is such a tight-knit community, I have the opportunity to really get to know my clients, their lives and their families – and so when they find a home and reach settlement day, it’s a celebration for me too. Being a mortgage broker in NT is especially rewarding as I truly understand and see the impact it has on my clients' day-to-day lives.

It’s such an amazing feeling to be able to help my clients on their journey to home ownership. For most of us, purchasing a home is the largest financial and emotional decision we will ever make. It’s a big responsibility, and I really enjoy working with clients to find the best home loan solution for them.

MFAA: What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in your market in the NT, and how have you dealt with them?

DB: Earlier in 2018, it was announced that the NT Government would be stopping the first home owner grants. This was such a significant change for our market. Specifically, in Alice Springs there is a large number of young professionals that establish their early careers here, who go on to purchase their first property whilst they live in town. As a result, the end of the grant created a peak in business, which then had a corresponding slump.

I have been able to overcome this. I had to change and keep my business steady by focussing on the basics – establishing a solid mortgage and finance business are long-term strategies. I also looked at how I can help my clients with their changing finance needs

MFAA: The industry is going through increased regulatory changes. How have you been impacted by these changes?

DB: It’s absolutely true that there are more checks and documents required now. But the recent changes haven’t affected the way I run my business, the advice I give, or the loans I write.

Since I started Bfinance back in 2014, I’d always followed the “will my clients be able to sleep at night” test. In cases where I feel that clients may be putting themselves under unnecessary financial stress, I’m always honest with them and encourage them to choose a loan option and amount that is suitable for them.

For other clients, this means I’m checking in regularly with them for a period of time until they can save for a higher deposit or pay off a debt.

Working in a small community like Alice Springs for four years now, I’ve learnt integrity and reputation are everything. I've found that clients appreciate my honesty and insight - and that even if they don't get the result they were initially hoping for - that they come back a few months or years later when they are financially ready.

MFAA: In your opinion, what do you think makes you different from other brokers?

DB: Prior to becoming a mortgage broker, I worked in retail, sales and hospitality. As a result, I approach the business of broking with a strong customer service mindset. Since day one, my focus has always been – and continues to be – on delivering a great service and home loan experience for my clients.

I am continuously investing in my business to introduce more efficient and streamlined ways of doing things, and I'm always looking to other industries for ideas on how to improve. I like to do things in a way that make sense to me, even if no-one else is doing it.

MFAA: Can you tell us about your most memorable client experience?

As part of my service, I always highly recommend to my clients that they review their personal insurances (life insurance, income insurance, etc). In general, I’ve found that people don’t enjoy thinking about insurance as much as they do finding a home, so at times I do feel that I’m being pushy or pestering my clients when I keep bringing up the importance of insurance. 

A few years ago, I had a very young couple that I suggested they should consider upgrading their insurance. A year after purchasing their home, they contacted me to let me know that one of them had become totally and permanently disabled – and to thank me for encouraging them to adequately protect themselves. Whilst this was an incredibly difficult and traumatic time for them, it was lucky they were covered for the changes in their circumstances.

The reason this particular example is so memorable to me is because it helped reinforce my belief that I can help set people up to be happy and on the right path financially. Although things like personal insurance may not be as glamorous as buying the new home with a pool, it’s important. If the couple hadn’t reviewed their insurance, their event would have been far more devastating. As it was, the couple has been able to benefit from the insurance and they are now slowly transitioning into a new career that they find rewarding.

MFAA: How do you celebrate your business wins?

DB: I celebrate my business wins every day! For me, the biggest celebration of working for yourself is getting the time to enjoy the things that make you happy.

With the flexibility that running my own mortgage broking business brings, I am able to schedule morning sessions at the gym or coffee time with my friends throughout my work days. These small breaks help me to stay focussed, and keep me on track, both personally and professionally.

MFAA: What is your advice for new brokers entering a regional market?

DB: My advice is to get out there and get involved in the local community. Four years ago, when I started Bfinance, I was new in town and only knew one person in Alice Springs. I joined sports teams, attended local events and helped out on committees for town initiatives. This was a great way to meet new people and build relationships. It helped to get my name out there and for people to get to know who I was and feel comfortable with me.

Another aspect worth mentioning is that when living and working in a remote community, you also need to be approachable and ready to 'talk shop' at all times. Quite often I run into my clients at the supermarket, in the ice cream shop, at the pub, even hiking a nearby mountain! It’s important to be there for them, and to always be genuine about it.

MFAA: How do you see the future of regional broking?

DB: Positive! Regional clients want to deal with a real person with a real service, and develop real, long-term relationships. This means that if you do a good job, clients will keep coming back and stick with you for life. In a regional community like Alice Springs, it has been possible to build a loyal client base in a short period of time. It’s a great time to be a regional broker and I’m excited to see what the future brings!