More than 25 years ago, Roger Ward had a leading broking business in Sydney. He wrote numerous loans and had a comfortable family home on Sydney Harbour.

After having a difficult time balancing work and family, Roger decided it was time for a sea-change, moving to far-North Queensland where he established Cairns Mortgage Brokers.

He has since built a successful referrals-based business and is one of Queensland’s highly awarded brokers. Roger has also taken home the MFAA Regional Finance Broker Award at the Queensland State Excellence for 2016 and 2017, and runs a successful pro-bono program helping women recovering from destructive financial situations.

Roger says he sees himself as a community leader and industry expert first, helping people understand the homebuying process and the value of having options. “We built Cairns Mortgage Brokers right from scratch to be a business that was involved in the community and a business that could leverage off the valuable lessons that I'd learned after two decades in Sydney,” Roger said.

While there are no silver bullets to becoming a successful broker, Roger shares his tips for building a profitable and community-engaged business.

MFAA: What do you think it takes to run a successful business in this industry?

Roger Ward (RW): I think what you should do is to learn one lesson early - you need to work ‘on’ your business, not only ‘in’ your business. A lot of brokers get caught up writing loans and that's all they do.

You should dedicate time every week, every day, to be working on building your business. This is an important lesson to learn and involves everything from compliance to marketing to technology.

MFAA: What is your secret to PR? How has this helped your business?

RW: I think the secret to PR is that you must concentrate on your own value proposition, and you must give independent advice. PR is not a tool for self-promotion. It's a tool to give value to the reader and this is something that you must always honour.

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to speak on the ABC to give some comment on the Royal Commission. You have to be able to deliver a critique based on your industry experience and do so with honesty.

I do regular chats on ABC radio and regularly feature in the local press as well.  It’s very important that you take a moment to, A, prepare and, B, always remember who you're talking to. You must remember that the readers or listeners have to take something of value away through your honesty and integrity in response to the information that's been requested.

MFAA: From your experience, what do you think are the biggest hurdles you’ve come across? How have you overcome them?

RW: You have to take on board that you live in a dynamic environment and unfortunately it moves without you. It’s your job to move with it. The internet serves as a very good example of that. Business owners may already have an established business in the community and a good referral network, however I feel that you must consider embracing the digital revolution to build a quality business.

Under my wife Michelle’s supervision, we invested significantly in the digital marketing space. She’s an IT professional and a marketing veteran, with background in managing the real estate section of the Sydney Morning Herald’s “Domain”. Her experience has been instrumental in building our online platform, which has been a great part of our success.

It’s of prime importance to be steadfast in the digital marketing environment, like updating your website, making your data relevant and making sure that there's some quality interactions on the site. It's a dynamic environment and you've got to turn up every week and say, ‘All right. What else needs to be done?’ We should consistently be on the front foot in this dynamic environment.

My next idea is to streamline the mortgage broking environment so that it works more efficiently for the next generation. Consumers are very much online and don’t need the person-to-person interactions as much anymore. What we're trying to do is build an environment where they can go online at any hour of the day, start exploring and start lodging an application and receive a follow-up call from their mortgage broker the next day.

It seems unusual from where I came from, 25 years ago when nobody dreamt of doing that, and there's been some huge failures by corporations attempting to do this ahead of time. Now it seems to be the right time to develop as consumers start demanding it.

MFAA: From your experience, can you tell us what is your most memorable client experience?

RW: The first one I can remember was within my first six months of being a broker, about twenty-five years ago. A rough bloke with tattoos walked in. He’d been to a bank and he couldn't get a loan. His story was he was once a qualified mechanic and had an accident at work. He couldn't work in a physical job and now worked just as a radio operator for a taxi company - everything worked except his genuine savings as he used to buy cars, repair and restore them and then sell them. This didn’t work for genuine savings.

I am from Western Sydney and I believe you've got to help the battlers. I drove to Parramatta one day and sat down with the credit manager and mortgage insurer and just said this is the situation, I know it's not conventional but the bottom line is it's real. If we don't do this we're not going to be able to get finance for this family They were good people with good income and everything else worked well. The lender agreed to it, and we got the loan over the line.

When I rang to tell him that we had been successful in getting the loan, there was a stone-cold silence on the other end. This wasn’t just about buying a house, it was life changing for him, and this silence was him crying. He lived in a housing commission property and now his family could move into a real house in a proper neighbourhood.   At times like these, you have to ask yourself, ‘what is this business really about?’ It was about him feeling so vulnerable about his incapacity to borrow and his now unskilled career.

It was an incredibly important moment that has stuck with me.  

MFAA: If you could go back in time, would you still choose to become a broker?

RW: I love being a mortgage broker, and it still makes me feel good. I believe I’m helping my clients achieve their goals.

The industry itself is under a lot of scrutiny. But one thing to remember is that mortgage broking is the one of the very successful stories in the financial services sector for the last 30 years, and the evidence is unequivocal. These days more than 50 percent of consumers seeking home finance use a mortgage broker.

It’s because of the service proposition; people trust mortgage brokers. We've been integral to driving down margins in the lending space and I just think that the industry has got a lot ahead of it and consumers have been “the big winners” in the mortgage broking environment.

The reason the mortgage broking environment was created was because people were unhappy with the lack of competition between lenders and it was built to be able to better inform consumers. I don't think we should get too bogged down by the Royal Commission. Those who do the wrong thing should be held accountable. However, we should never forget the massive upside to this industry.

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