the adviser logo

The one question you need to ask clients

by Demii Kalavritinos30 minute read
Todd Duncan, High Trust

In this episode of Elite Broker, Annie Kane is joined by Todd Duncan, founder of High Trust, to find out the one question brokers need to ask to connect emotionally with clients, the trick to talking to fewer people but doing more business and how much time brokers should be spending on income-producing activities.

Tune in to find out how one broker closed 71 loans in a month after hosting one seminar, and what Todd Duncan’s key tips for brokers are.

You will also hear about:

  • The things he learnt from his mentor
  • Why empathy is critical
  • How he measures trust




Make sure you never miss an episode by subscribing to us now on iTunes!

Did you like this episode? Show your support by rating us or leaving a review on Apple Podcasts (Elite Broker) and by following The Adviser on social media: FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn. If you have any questions about what you heard today, any topics of interest you have in mind, or if you’d like to lend your voice to the show, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more insight!

Articles of interest:

Bank slashes interest rates
Living expenses draw sharper focus
How brain surgery changed this broker’s life

 Full Transcript

Announcer: Welcome to the Elite Broker podcast. This is your host Annie Kane.

Annie: Hello everyone and welcome back to the Elite Broker podcast. This week I'm joined by Todd Duncan, founder of High Trust and also coach, author and mortgage sales consultant. He was speaking to me over in San Francisco for the U.S. Advisor Study Tour and was talking to me all about the one question you can ask to connect emotionally with clients, how you can talk to fewer people but do more business, and shares a story about how one broker closed 71 loans in one month after just hosting a seminar. So here we are speaking to Todd about how you can take your business to the next level and what he's learned in his years of industry.

            Today this week, we've got Todd Duncan from High Trust joining us. How you doing Todd?

Todd:  Hey. Good, great to be here Annie. Thank you.

Annie: Now you're a well known name in the industry. You've been in the industry a long time. You've been with Ozzy helping out John Simon, but can you give us a little bit of background sort of how you first got into the mortgage side of things and what you're doing now.

Todd:  Yeah sure. I graduated from university, didn't really have an idea of what my first job would be and was at a fourth of July celebration BBQ with some of my parents' friends. One of those individuals owned one of the largest real estate companies in the western United States and he was asking me what I was going to do after graduation. I didn't know, and he said have you ever thought about mortgages. And you know I had learned about mortgages, I had a degree in business with emphasis on finance but hadn't really thought about that as my career. I said you know I hadn't. He said you ought to think about it, it's a really, really powerful job. You get to help people buy homes and fulfil their dreams.

            They happened to own a mortgage company so the real estate company owned a mortgage company and it was like it was built in. So I went and had an interview and it sounded intriguing. I've always been a people person, kind of love crunching numbers and trying to figure out how to help people make smart choices and so, without any plan, without any childhood dream, I became a mortgage broker at the age of 23 after university.

            I got real clear real early on that I didn't know what I was doing. No, I made a lot of mistakes. I had a lot of miles on the car, you know going to real estate offices and trying to talk to people and not getting people to say yes. I think, probably for any broker, I learned early on the question, what's not working and what do I really need to be transparent and honest about in my own life that isn't working. What wasn't working was nobody was saying yes. I was busy and I had the work ethic, I had the labour, but nobody was saying yes.

            I had a turning point and the turning point was three months into my career I decided to not make anymore sales calls but to watch a guy that was really successful make sales calls. He came into an office that I was sitting in, he had an appointment with a person that I had never had an appointment with anybody, had an appointment with that person, left, went into her office, had about a 45 minute conversation, I had never done that, came out, shook that gal's hand and he said, "I look forward to a long and mutually profitable partnership."

            She said, "I do too."

            And he left that office and I realised that was the key right there. What did he do in 45 minutes with this particular individual that earned her business.

            So I called him up. You know people that succeed like to help others succeed, and he did that with me and he met with me and he taught me the power of appointment setting, taught me the power of adding value, taught me the power of not quoting rate and price but seeing if you could add more value before you ever talk about that, talked to me about relationships and don't call a hundred people and get ten deals when you can call on ten people and get ten deals. I mean just really powerful stuff and from that point on I became a leader in the industry and was involved in just shy of about 6,000 settlements in just about ten years.

Annie: That's a lot of settlements.

Todd:  Yeah. That's a lot. But I owe it to paying attention to somebody else who knew what was working.

Annie: Yeah. So really it's, maybe the advice would be find a mentor and make sure that you're sort of really understanding and shadowing people that are doing the best in the business, that are successful that you can emulate and make it your own.

Todd:  I think Jim Rohn, one of the great American business philosophers said that success leaves clues. I think mentoring is huge even today after running the High Trust brand for 25 years and helping literally hundreds of thousands of people in mortgage and finance pave a better future for their families and themselves, at the end of the day it's still an art of curiosity. Like if I'm a broker today and I'm sitting down with a home buyer I want to be really curious. I don't want to come at it from you know I know what to do, and I know what to say, and I know when to say it and how to say it, I want to be really curious, I want to learn about you and your emotions and what you're looking for and how can this acquisition of real estate change your life, and what's important to you about borrowing money and what's important to you about managing that debt.

            I don't think enough brokers are curious. I don't think we ask enough of the deeper questions. What I learned from John, this mentor, was if you can change the dialogue from 80% talking to 80% learning you change trust, and when you change trust you change conversion. People love when they get a chance to tell you what's important to them. People don't love what you tell them is what's important to you.

Annie: They want a personalization of service, they don't want to be just another number that you're, that you've done this a thousand times. I'm just pulling up a quote from the talk that you gave at the U.S. Study Tour in San Francisco. You said, "Empathy not technology is the number one business strategy to accelerate and increase conversion."

            Now I think in this time and era, so many people especially in Australia are getting really concerned with the encroachment of technology and AI and how it can threaten their business, but really what it sounds like you're saying is it's not going to happen, we're still going to need the human touch and that empathetic connection in order to succeed in business but in also just in order to keep the industry going. Can you tell us a little bit more about sort of why you believe that?

Todd:  So first of all this may sound completely crazy, but what we believe at High Trust is automation will never replace the personal experience in borrowing money to finance real estate. End of story.

            So what empathy is it's the ability to put technology on the side and connect with a human being. The soul and the emotion and the heart are the first things that need to be engaged in a relationship and if I can engage you at personhood, if I can engage you as somebody who understands the enormity of borrowing money and buying a home and taking on debt, then I can literally think of myself as your guide instead of a seller of mortgages or a permanent owner of loans. I can change the entire trust paradigm.

            What most brokers need to understand is that in any conversation two things are always at play. One is tension, which kind of manifests itself as resistance, and the other is trust, which manifests itself as acceptance. So if I do too much talking, if i do too much promoting, if I say things that aren't important to the individual because I think they are but they don't agree, I'm increasing tension. With tension, I increase the probability that that person will not say yes, they might say I need to think about it, they may say I need to talk to some other lenders, all things that are realistic outcomes to a high tension, low trust environment.

            So what High Trust teaches, and what I've spent 25 years pursuing is the idea that if all you do is focus on trust, tension removes itself as an automatic part of the equation. All that means in English is that if I can accelerate trust, people say yes faster, people mean it when they say yes, people are excited to say yes, and in the beautiful world of building a referral ecosystem, the beauty behind trust is that somebody who trusts you will go out of their way to tell others who don't know you to trust you.

            So what ends up happening for the broker who gets empathy, who gets doing things from the other side of the chair or the sofa or the desk, what ends up happening is you're actually accelerating your referral networks by focusing not on technology and connecting at the heart. Now the mind justifies the heart decision. So once they connect with you emotionally, then it still has to make sense. The deal has to be competitive. You have to have good service comparatives, you have to have good rate and price comparatives, but you don't have to be the best and you don't have to be the cheapest, you don't have to be the lowest, you don't have to be the fastest, you just have to be committed. If you're committed then empathy rules and it secures the relationship forever.

Annie: So in terms of actually establishing that empathy have you got any sort of top tips on how you can actually start doing that? I mean obviously conversation and personalization that you were mentioning earlier, are there any other things that are like sort of hard and fast rules that people…

Todd:  I think brokers need to really think through how do you start ... Studies in America, Princeton, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, all the studies that we're looking at say that in the verbal and non-verbal world you have somewhere between 15 and 90 seconds to really create that kind of first impression where people feel, "Okay this is going to be okay," "Okay this is going to be safe," right? And so, if you think about how fast impressions need to be formed, then empathy needs to be at the front end.

            So one of the great questions that we talk with when we sit down with a borrower is we can pretty much do whatever you would like to do in terms of acquiring property, but what we have found is the best place to start is by asking you a simple question. What's important about this home purchase to you? That one question opens the door for them to begin to talk emotionally unless it's an investor, which is talking pure business and wanting to buy investment property, it's always going to be about the emotions of the family and the emotions of buying a home and it could be a first time home buyer, it could be a second or third time move up buyer. Whatever their emotions are, are the things that you begin to gravitate to.

            So when you talk about mortgage financing, when you talk about mortgage management, you talk about how many choices they're going to have over 20 years of owning a home or 25 years of owning a home, you're going to have discussions like savings and retirement and kid's education and things like that. Those are all important things that if you don't have in the dialogue as a broker out of the gates, then you will be forced to talk only about the numbers, only about the things that really your competition talks about too.

            By asking those questions and going deep and having a good amount of time devoted to learning and earning trust, then the solution and what you end up talking about are so much better tied together. We recommend that brokers have three or four questions. One of my favourite questions that gets a borrower to really understand the power of a conversation with a broker is, what's most important to you, the lowest cost or the overall lowest cost to borrowing money over your lifetime? That one question can separate anybody who's looking at a rate in a magazine or on a TV ad or anything like that to realising what do I want? Do I want a low rate or do I want the lowest cost to borrowing money.

Annie: Yeah.

Todd:  And so if you just think about what a consultant gets paid to do is ask questions ...

Annie: That they wouldn't have thought of.

Todd:  Right. Yeah and if we can ask those kinds of questions, the borrower goes wow I never thought of that.

Annie: Yeah. I mean I was thinking that, I would never really consider, I'd think oh yeah you know they'd probably be thinking like oh I'm just looking for 3.5% or whatever but yeah, if you think well actually no over 20 years I want to not have to just pay down my interest only or I don't want to have to just you know pay down the minimum, I want to actually build some equity and I want to maybe do something different.

Todd:  But that in there lies the point, that if we don't know the questions to ask, we don't cause the kind of wow I never thought of that. Do you want to focus on the lowest rate or do you want to focus on the lowest payment? You know those are questions, I have a friend that always starts off by saying there's a hundred different combinations of rates and programmes and fees that go along with those programmes, but until I know what's important to you, till I know ten points of information that you deem important to you, I can't even begin to guide you on what would be the best solution for you.

            There's a guy in Texas who says when borrowers kind of push them for an interest rate he says as long as you give me 100% down payment I can give you 0% on your rate. Well that kind of gets the person thinking, that's funny. But somewhere in between there I can give you whatever rate you want and you can pay whatever you want and somewhere between is first of all, what's important to you about this? What are you really trying to accomplish? What do we need to do for you and your family to manage the monthly payment? What long term is more important to you, is it equity or is it moving up? Just questions like that.

Annie: Yeah.

Todd:  Powerful.

Annie: Yeah, really. I think in terms of your experience, you've worked obviously in America and in Australia as well, what are the differences that you've seen between the U.S. market and the Australian market in terms of broking.

Todd:  You know it's interesting because I think that it doesn't really have a geographical answer. I think that in any market you see the people that make things happen and you see the people that kind of wonder what happened, you see the people that wish something different would happen. So I'm always kind of a big believer that in any market you have the people that really want to get on and make something big happen and whether it's a broker that wants to build his own enterprise or whether it's somebody who has an entrepreneurial dream to build a company, anywhere in between. What I look for no matter what continent we're on, is who wants to make something happen because I can tell you all day long I can speak to somebody who doesn't want to make something happen and I can tell you whether it's me or anybody else nothing's going to happen.

            I think that I see an entrepreneurial spirit in Australia that is kind of unique and my whole introduction to Australia was through my relationship with some people that started mortgage broker firms 20 years ago, 25 years ago. So I love the entrepreneurial spirit. I think that in terms of debt management where America and Australia are the same. I mean you know a big part of American income is going to housing support and a big part of Australian income is going to housing support.

            At the end of the day I think that you know for the pure broker what I would say would really be advantageous is what I did to pursue into your first question, I began to ask myself this question and the question was, am I broker that's in business or am in business as a broker? The broker who's in business probably isn't going to hear the same things that allow the business to scale. It's the person who sees first that he or she's in business and has chose being a broker.

            I've got dentist friends, I have a dentist friend that's a multi-millionaire and I have a dentist friend that is not. The dentist friend that's a multi-millionaire's got six other dentists on his team and he had a vision to grow, and the other one is still kind of struggling with just making ends meet. It's the same practise, they're both trained, they're both dentists, they both have the same licence, but the one who thinks like this is a business. Whether I'm a doctor or a sales practitioner or whatever, if I see it as a business and then I've chosen the way the business is going to make money, then I can think about scaling the business but if I don't see it as a business and I see my role as just doing loans, I'm never going to scale it.

            So I think that that's the thing that I encourage people to really think about. And then the overall thing is, it doesn't matter how busy anybody is. We are really big in productivity, we help people figure out, in fact two weeks ago we had our large sales mastery event and we had a guy that was on stage that we were profiling and in 24 months he has not changed his income at all following our practise. And if I just left it at that people would say well so what's so important about practise.

Annie: What did he do, yeah.

Todd:  Well he chose not change his income but he lowered his average work week from 72 hours to 38.

Annie: Wow. He's working 72 hours.

Todd:  72 hours a week just trying to get the business going the right way and managing the business and he had some people on his team but he wasn't delegating the right way. To leave the income the same but almost cut your work time in half, I don't know if anybody thinks the way I think but you double your hourly rate.

Annie: Yeah.

Todd:  And so, I have people really, I want people to understand that there's not really an award that any brokerage or any aggregator or any bank would give anybody for working the most hours. You know at the end of the day it's how much do you make an hour and how are you scaling your business so you can watch that rate go up. This business can suck the life out of you if you don't do it right, if you don't do it well and if you don't practise productive efficiency. That's why this empathy question was so important because you can actually with empathy and with relationship and with connection, you can actually talk to fewer people and do more business, and that's huge.

Annie: And you become much more sort of a trusted life, supportive life really. You're not just a one off transaction.

Todd:  Exactly.

Annie: Good luck to you.

Todd:  And people that you spend, this is interesting. We work with some call centres and one of the measurements that the call centre has is how many minutes they're on the phone. At seven minutes a red light shows up at that call centre station warning you that you're at the seven minute mark. What we know is that if you were to spend another seven, you would probably triple conversion. But it's not the mindset, the mindset is get to the next call, get to the next call, get to the next call.

            I had an early advisor that said you've got to love rejection in this business.

            And I said who loves rejection? I mean how can you tell people to love rejection because it hurts.

            And he said yeah but it's truth. I mean if it takes you ten calls to get a sale and the sale is worth 1000 dollars, every time you heard the word no it was worth 100 bucks.

            I said man that is flawed thinking

            and he said why.

            I said because nine people said no, nine people didn't see enough value to say yes.

            And he said but it's reality.

            And I said no it's not

            and he said what's a better idea?

            I said how about making one call and getting a yes.

            He said that's naïve

            and I said no it's productive.

            I could spend more time with the one person and get a yes in all the time that I tried to get the nine to say yes and I aggregate all that time, it's probably less than I would have had to add to the first person to get that person to say yes. Nobody gets measured by how many bodies you talk to, nobody gets measured by how many calls you make. I mean at the end of the day it's about who do you connect with and who says yes and who becomes a client for life.

Annie: And talking about measurement there in terms of actually, talking about personalization of service, trust, establishing yourself as a sort of really valuable partner, how do you though measure that trust and the ability? Is it just done through referrals or how do you actually sort of quantify that and know what you're doing.

Todd:  Yeah, so there are some ways that it naturally manifests itself. So it's fairly correlative that the higher the perception of the entire borrowing experience is the more likely there is a higher level of trust. So if I have somebody on a scale of one to ten that rates me at 5, there's a real strong chance they have mediocre, lukewarm trust with me. So if I can take that experience to the highest level possible, then there's a high likelihood that they trust me.

            Let's go all the way back to the start. If they say no to me and I talk to ten buyers, and ten buyers say no and then the next month I talk to ten buyers and one says yes. The next month is talk to ten buyers and two say yes. And the next month I talk to ten, I don't have to increase ten to twenty, twenty to thirty and leave the trust low, I need to just keep working on adding trust. So that's a way to measure.

            The other way to measure is what is the total percentage of people that you talk to that say yes and take it all the way to completion. So a best practise in America for an elite broker is from conversation to actual application or lodgement using Australian terms, the best practise number is about 65%. So almost two out of every three say yes to the application and going into processing. The best practise number on what percentage of those come out and settle is 94%. So I can measure, there's a chance that if you settle with me, you trust me. If you don't there's a chance that, and I can settle ugly, I can have customer service be low and trust would still be negatively impacted. Generally there's a correlative there.

            The other, which is interesting, is what percentage of actual referrals that maybe a business partner might have, do you actually get to talk to? That's a measure of trust. So if I'm talking with a builder for example, and they have a model home community and they have a hundred people that come through that community on a month and I get to talk to then, what would signify more trust 100 and I get to talk to ten or a hundred and I get to talk to 50, so it's extraction. In my partnerships, what percentage of the people do I actually get to have conversation with. It's those types of things and we also teach brokers to measure performance. We believe that from the time you have a first conversation with a buyer to the time that loan settles, you ought to have four inquiries on service. How are we doing now? How are we doing now? How are we doing now? Because at the end of the day, then they trust you more because you're curious about their perception of how you're doing.

Annie: To do that as well. Exactly, you're not just ...

Todd:  Back to empathy right?

Annie: Yeah.

Todd:  If I didn't have empathy I wouldn't ask how we're doing. You know if I didn't love you and want this to be a great experience for you, I wouldn't care. And if you tell me I'm doing something wrong, I'm glad I know it now because maybe I can fix it before we get to settlements so that you're a raving fan. Those are huge parts of the ...

Annie: I want to talk about the raising the fan that's on the study tour. You talked about, you gave an example of a broker friend who had gone into a business. Can you just share that story with us again? It was really fascinating, I think a powerful referral.

Todd:  So the one of the biggest things that I think every broker needs to understand it we completely miss the mark when we realise that somebody that we're sitting down with, that we're having a conversation with about mortgage financing, buying a home, might know one or ten or a hundred or two hundred or three hundred people. So if I don't have that idea in my mind when I'm having the conversation, it's not my motive but I do want to know. If you're a manager, that would be good to know. If you're a director, that would be good to know. If you're a vice president, a senior vice president, that'd be good to know. If you're the managing director of an affiliation or association, that would be good to know. The idea behind that is if I take great care of you, there's a natural human reciprocity that I would want my friends to experience the same thing.

            So early on my mentor that I talked about at the front end of this podcast told me, he said, "Never forget somebody's sitting across the table from you and an application could be the gateway to hundreds of people." My second year in the business, I did a loan for a guy whose best golf partner was the president of a small bank. The small bank didn't do mortgages. And so I introduced myself to the president of the small bank, that bank had 3500 monthly depositors. I was now the lender for that small bank and I kept doing that and doing that.

            So our coaching client in Kentucky, and this is 29 years after I did my first loan, so one of those points is strategy rules and what worked 10 years ago can work brilliantly 10 years later right? So he ends up realising that one of the guys he's doing a loan for is a senior director in a plant, a manufacturing plant in Kentucky and that person introduces him to the president of that plant. That plant is owned by Hitachi and they have 1700 employees. And so there was a connection made because a person knew a person and the person that he knew, knew hundreds of people.

            So they went in and decided to break the employment group up into three categories. Did you want to spend time learning about credit repair? Do you want to spend time learning about debt reduction and managing credit card debt? Or do you want to spend time learning how much of a home you could purchase? They ended up dividing this into 17 one hour seminars. They would go in and they would bring 200 employees in at a time and this guy would do a one hour seminar and in the first month of doing this they got 71 loans in one month, one broker, 71 loans. It was so successful that the president introduced the guys to the president of the other plant that was a sister plant still owned by Hitachi. The total population now of the two plants combined, that this one broker, one broker has access to these 2700 people.

Annie: I mean that's phenomenal. You can't…

Todd:  It's just unbelievable and you could make a fortune for the rest of your life just serving 2700 people. Yeah and I think what ends up happening is we have a patented system that's called the circle of cashflow. The circle of cashflow, if you want to visualise it as you write somebody in the middle of a piece of paper and then your goal is to find out eight people that they are connected to, that if you do a great job with them, they can connect you to that group. And then by introduction into that group, you have a brand new group of people that need mortgage financing. As an industry across the globe, we just missed us. We just miss it and it's just ripe for the taking.

Annie: And I think this time that we're in right now, this sort of age is because so many people are bogged down with all the paperwork but hopefully with this sort of technology coming on that can take some of that away, we can spend more time doing this sort of strategy and actually understanding what we need to be doing and if we can't do that then hiring someone who can and help us do that for us, like it's ...

Todd:  That's a big point too. I think that one of the things that I would say to everybody listening is you've got to be careful when you build a team. You've got to be careful in delegation. And yes, you're right in that we've got to look at how much time does paperwork actually take and how much time does paperwork actually produce in terms of revenue. At the end of the day it's like you going to a doctor for the first time. The doctor doesn't come out and sit down with you and fill out the paperwork. Generally the secretary or receptionist won't do it, they'll hand you what to do, right? And I'm not saying we go that far, but I'm saying that we've got to be very careful and mindful.

            We teach brokers to look at the two central activities you're involved in. One is an income producing activity and one is a non-income producing activity. Your goal over your life as a broker is to move from wherever you are to 75% of the day has to spent in income producing activities. Income producing activities are conversations with potential borrowers, following up with business partners, and making sure that you're delivering operational excellence. Those are the three things.

            Paperwork, email, you know scanning, uploading, all of that ultimately is delegable and it can be delegable to technology, like in America we use Flowify which is a upload technology so a borrower could put their tax returns, could put their bank statements and just load them right into the system, that's an example of delegation.

            Or before that, when I was a broker, I would have somebody on my team that would call every borrower and make sure that she helped them organise all the paperwork they needed to have a successful consultation with me when we finally met. Delegation I just have to tell you it's, there's only so much that a single individual can do and if your dream is big, you need a team. And the bigger the dream the bigger the team and it's that simple. So that measurement is, it's a huge measurement, what percentage of the day are you making money?

Annie: Well thank you so much for sharing your insights. I mean obviously you're based out here in the U.S. but hopefully Australian brokers will be able to benefit from your wisdom soon. If not, then I'm sure we can find out more on the website.

Todd:  Yeah two things. Just go to hightrust.com and check it out. And just as an acknowledgment of my appreciation for this, I want to make sure everybody just goes to Todd Duncan TV, it's our YouTube channel, it's free, there's nothing there it's just me every week spending 15 minutes with you helping you kind of deploy what we've talked about here on this podcast. So Todd Duncan TV YouTube channel and will look forward to maybe seeing you guys when we come back to Australia.

Annie: Yeah check it out.

Todd:  Thanks.

Annie: Well thanks so much.

            Well hope you enjoyed that and thanks so much for tuning in. For all the news and features on the mortgage industry, please visit www.theadvisor.com.au. Subscribe to the Elite Broker and Mortgage Business podcast and we'll catch you soon hopefully for better business in February and March.



todd duncan x


You need to be a member to post comments. Register for free today


CEO Sleepout Pepper Money

Mortgage industry raises more than $160k in CEO Sleepout

On 23 June 2022, several CEOs and directors in the mortgage and finance industry spent a night without shelter to...

alex whitlock

New membership program revealed for The Adviser

Members will be able to access exclusive sales and marketing strategy, business intelligence and exclusive market...

Hot property TA

Hot Property: The biggest property headlines from the week 27 June to...

Welcome to The Adviser’s weekly round-up of the headline stories and news that are important not only for the...

Read the latest issue of The Adviser magazine!
The Adviser is the number one magazine for Australia's finance and mortgage brokers. The publications delivers news, analysis, business intelligence, sales and marketing strategies, research and key target reports to an audience of professional mortgage and finance brokers
Read more