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From the field to the office, Sean Wellman is still kicking goals

by Reporter26 minute read

This week on Elite Broker, Annie Kane and James Mitchell are joined by another former athlete, ex-AFL player Sean Wellman.

Tune in to find out the lessons he learned from his 212-game AFL career that he adopted into business, and why he’s gone from coaching footie to coaching borrowers on finance.

The Essendon footie defender and assistant coach also discusses the skills he has transferred from his athletic career to broking, touching on the trends he sees in the Melbourne market in 2018

We also find out:

  • His top tips for new brokers
  • How his business has progressed in the last year
  • His passion for podiatry 

And plenty more!


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Beaver the broker

Full Transcript:

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

Annie Kane:                        Hello, and welcome back to The Adviser's Elite Broker podcast. I'm Annie Kane, editor of The Adviser, and I'm here with James Mitchell, managing editor of mortgages. How you doing, James?

James Mitchell:                 Very well, thanks Annie. Good to be here.

Annie Kane:                        Yeah, good. Today we're speaking to a man whom many of you may know the name of, and that's former AFL player turned mortgage broker, Sean Wellman. Now, this Essendon footy defender and assistant coach turned his attention to finance a few years back, starting out with Positive Home Loans, and last year made the move to launch his own brokerage, Wellman Finance, in Melbourne, where he is now principal and residential lending manager.

                                                In this episode of Elite Broker, we're going to find out how Sean Wellman is kicking goals in mortgage broking, the lessons he's taken into business from his 212-game AFL career, and why he's gone from coaching footy to coaching borrowers on finance. How are you doing, Sean?

Sean:                                     Yeah great, Annie, James, how are you?

James Mitchell:                 Yeah, very well, thank you. Thanks for joining us.

Annie Kane:                        Thanks for coming on the podcast.

Sean:                                     Thanks for having us.

Annie Kane:                        We mentioned in the introduction many people may know you from your footy days, but what's less well known I think is that after you retired, you actually dipped your toes into podiatry.

James Mitchell:                 Very good.

Annie Kane:                        See what I did there?

James Mitchell:                 I see what you did there. Very good.

Annie Kane:                        How did you get into that? It's such a strange change.

Sean:                                     Actually, I studied straight out of school, so I did a podiatry degree. I basically worked during my football career so, when I say worked, it was very part-time work, but I worked for about 12 years in podiatry, and I sort of did it as I was playing AFL as well.

                                                Basically, I think I did podiatry to keep my parents happy, to be honest with you. I was pursuing an AFL career and my mom always said: "You need to get a good education, a good job just in case things don't work out." I did reasonably well at school and I thought podiatry was good because at the end of it you actually became a podiatrist, whereas a lot of degrees you actually didn't become anything.

                       I certainly enjoyed it but for a long-term career, it wasn't something that I wanted to pursue.

Annie Kane:                        It's one of those careers as well, I think that really divides people. Some people just cannot stand feet, and other people love them.

Sean:                                     That's very true.

Annie Kane:                        What was it that actually specifically made you think podiatry's what I want to study? I think it's such a niche area. Like, were your parents podiatrists?

James Mitchell:                 You just love feet. Just love feet.

Sean:                                     No, no, my parents are actually school teachers so, my older sister is a doctor but I wasn't smart enough to become a doctor. Basically I got involved in sports podiatry, so I was really interested in physiotherapy and podiatry, they're the two careers I wanted to pursue when I was going to school. But in reality, when you're going to school, do you really know what you want to do? Probably not. But no, I certainly enjoyed it. It was something that was a growing industry when I was getting into it. There were some good opportunities, and I certainly enjoyed my time in podiatry.

Annie Kane:                 After a few years doing podiatry after you retired, you turned your mind to mortgage broking, and you are not the only former athlete to have done that. We've also got former AFL player Steve Menzies in this industry, cyclist Travis Meyer, Olympian swimmer Michael Delany. It seems to be a bit of a draw for athletes coming into this industry. What was it about broking that drew you in?

Sean:                                     I've always had an interest in finance, so I've been involved in some businesses where I always looked after the finance in the hospitality industry, and I've always had an interest in it. After I retired, I also coached in AFL for eight years and I was getting out of coaching and I wanted to do something totally different, and wanted a new challenge. I had a friend who was running Positive Lending Solutions in Adelaide. It's a big business.

Annie Kane:                        It's Tom Caesar's one, right?

Sean:                                     Which generally specialised in asset finance, yeah. A branch of that was Positive Home Loans, which I started in Victoria. The real draw for me was probably some of the experiences that I was personally getting through the bank where I find that your relationship manager within the bank, you'd have a really good relationship with them, and then that person would move on. It was really hard to establish long-term relationships in the bank. Also, because bankers are basically getting very, very busy, I found that their service levels and how to get back to me wasn't probably what it should be.

                                                Then I looked into mortgage broking. I just found that it was a really good offering. To be honest, I didn't know a lot about it, but I looked into it. I always had this perception that mortgage brokers must have charged a fee for service, and that's probably why, in all honesty, I probably didn't go to a mortgage broker when I was playing football and buying property earlier on, because I just thought that you'd be charged a fee. But then when you're offering it, that they can actually show you all the bank's products, don't charge you a fee, and can do a lot of the paperwork and the background work for you. I just thought it was a really good offering for clients. That's why I got involved in mortgage broking.

James Mitchell:                 I just want to stay on the point you made about the fee, because now that you are a mortgage broker, and it's interesting how you come into it by having that experience with the bank that you weren't too happy with, and now you look for a solution. Now that you know how mortgage broking works and that mortgage brokers generally don't charge a fee, do you think that is well known out in the market, or do think there needs to be more of a push to say: "There is a free service here guys, make sure you use it"? Because a lot of the friends and family that I speak to, they still don't understand that mortgage brokers, they don't pay for the service.

Sean:                                     Yeah, I certainly agree with that. I think people obviously who have used a mortgage broker are aware of it, but I think almost the majority of people out there who haven't used a mortgage broker would make that assumption, that they have to pay a fee. The first thing when you talk to a perspective client is you do actually say that there's no fee for service and they are reasonably stunned, so I certainly agree with that. I think when you're offering and talking to clients, it's one of the first things that you should actually bring up, to break down that perception if it does exist.

Annie Kane:                        You would say now you know that when you're actually doing your research into broking, you were surprised that there wasn't a fee for service. That might be enough to turn some people off, but what was it that made you keep going, and actually decide: "No, I want to do this," and get the right qualifications and start doing it?

Sean:                                     To be honest, the first thing was around a lifestyle, and the fact that it's an industry that I thought I could pick up reasonably quickly, although it always takes longer that what you do think, and it certainly has. That was the main reason that I think I'd be able to pick it up reasonably quickly. I'm also fortunate enough to, mainly probably through my football background, have a number of contacts that I could tap into as well and use those. Also, the other thing that did interest me, to be honest with you, was the fact you can build your business up in terms of your loan book and your trail book, so it's actually worth something if you want to get out of the industry and sell it.

                                                So they're probably the three things that really attracted me to the industry, as well as obviously the offering to clients, and my interest in property as well. I think that whole package made it an industry that was lucrative, and it certainly worked out that way. It's a lot of hard work. It's obviously a competitive industry, but my philosophy on that is if you work hard, particularly in Melbourne and Sydney, there's enough to go around for everyone.

Annie Kane:                        You mentioned there about an interest in property, and earlier you were saying you actually didn't use a mortgage broker when you were buying properties. Am I right in thinking then that you're a property investor, or is this just properties you've bought for residential use?

Sean:                                     Mainly for residential use. I did buy as well, but the big thing is that you can have a fantastic relationship with a banker, and then they can move on, and the relationship's really important that you have. That's something as a mortgage broker that's really important, because if you're in it for the long-term, they know that you're going to be, you know their history, you know their goals, you talk to them regularly, you're going to get back to them, and that you're not going to be moving on in one or two years' time. So that's something where you can offer something a little bit different to perhaps some of the banks out there, when your clients go direct to banks.

James Mitchell:                        You've obviously got contacts in the sporting industry and your friends in AFL. Would I be taking a leap to say that you're now sort of the mortgage broker to the AFL stars? Is that where you're heading?

Sean:                                     Nah, not really. I certainly look after quite a few of the AFL players through one of the player managers who I used to play football with. He's actually a player manager now. That's probably something that I tried to get into early, but a lot of those have already got established relationships and that. That's certainly a part of my business, but it's only a small percentage of the business.

                                                Most of my clients tend to be professional people within 10 or 15 kilometres to the city. They're generally the people that, and that's just happened by chance, to be honest with you. I sort of got in the industry and tried to obviously provide as many loans as I possibly could, but generally the people that came to see me were professional couples in the inner city. And obviously now looking back, they're obviously really good clients to have because they've got good incomes, but they've got goals and purchasing more than one property as well. So if I had my time again, I would probably target those people, but it hasn't been by design. It's been a little bit of luck and a bit of chance, that it's worked out that way.

Annie Kane:                        In terms of actually how long you've been broking, so you started off with Positive Home Loans, you were saying. How long ago was that?

Sean:                                     I started the end of 2013. I got out of coaching in the end of 2013. I was doing asset finance and home loans, and then after a while my real passion was home loans and not asset finance. What I've tried to do with our business at Wellman Finance, is that I just specialise in home loans and investment loans. My business partner does commercial, Charlie Italia does commercial and asset finance. We've also got my assistant, Clare, who's got a banking background, who does a lot of the background processing application work as well.

                                                I've sort of found that again, going back to the banks where they're trying to sell you credit cards and other products, I wanted to offer something where when people come to me with a home loan, that's what they're getting. I'm not trying to sell them other products. Now, certainly I understand there's certainly benefits in doing other products, but I generally say that to my business partner and also my referral partners as well, so that when people come to me with a home or investment loan, that's exactly what they're getting, and they're getting a specialist in that area.

Annie Kane:                        You launched Wellman Finance last year. How's it all been going?

Sean:                                     Yeah, it's been great. I mean, it's pretty much the same business, but obviously I've just rebranded it. Tom and Mark Caesar were fantastic at Positive Home Loans. They've got great experience in the industry. Mark mentored me. They were fantastic for the first two or three years, and then after a while it was always my plan and they were aware of that, that I'll go out on my own after a few years. It's been really good. I've sort of got a little bit more control over my branding and what I'm doing now, and business is growing. There's always obviously some challenges out there that you're always trying to look six months, 12 months in advance to see where the industry's heading as well.

James Mitchell:                 I wanted to ask you a question. It's the same question I asked to Travis Meyer as well. It's about I guess the mindset of a sportsman, of an athlete, and the discipline it takes to train day in, day out to be part of a team and compete on the field and that sort of thing. The training, the discipline, the diligence that takes, how have those qualities followed through and seen you in your mortgage broking career? Are you still quite regiment and structured in terms of how you manage your day? Do you still throw some exercise in there as well? What's the average day look like to you?

Sean:                                     Yeah. It's obviously a totally different industry, but you certainly, I think whatever your background is when you get into mortgage broking, you certainly take some skills from your previous career. I guess in AFL and in professional sport, the first thing is if you're late to training, you get fined, so you get pretty good at being on time and pretty disciplined. Also, I guess you don't get fit sitting on the couch, you actually got to do things. So just actually getting in there and making some mistakes and not having that fear of failure I think's really, really important.

                                                And I'll certainly learn a lot, certainly take some skills and behaviours from AFL in terms of being on time, your time management's really important. If you're late to training as an AFL player you get fined, so you get pretty good at being on time and being punctual. I guess the discipline is the fact you don't get fit sitting on the couch as well, so you've actually just got to do things and actually not just procrastinate, but actually get out there and make some mistakes and that as well. So that's what I'll try to do in mortgage broking.

                                                And I guess also within coaching, I got to see how elite AFL players prepared and what some of the behaviours that they do, and you try and take a little bit of that on board. But in some ways, mortgage broking's a little bit more difficult than AFL football, because in AFL football you've got people pushing you every day, you've got a team around you as well that you don't want to let down, whereas you're probably working a little bit more in isolation as a mortgage broker, so you have to actually be a little bit more disciplined because you haven't got those people pushing you every day, or 40 other guys relying on you.

Annie Kane:                        Yeah, or fining you. Do you fine yourself if you're late?

Sean:                                     No, I certainly don't. No. 

Annie Kane:                        You're like: "Come on, Wellman, do better. It's a hundred dollars."

Sean:                                     Yeah, no, most of it is some self-pep talks.

Annie Kane:                        In terms of actually having that sort of lack of a team and a lack of support there in terms of what you're doing day in, day out, I mean how important is it then having a mentor to begin with? How was your relationship with Mark when you were starting out, how did that work, and was that important in actually getting you off the ground and running?

Sean:                                     Yeah, it's really, really important. I mean, it's a lonely place when you're getting into a new industry. So to have a couple of people that you can pick up the phone and call, yeah, it's just been imperative. I've been really lucky to have two or three people that I still call upon and always looking at ways to improve and do things better that those, look, to be honest with you, I don't think I would've got through the first 12 or 18 months without their support.

                                                And the fact that they're actually willing to help you, is really, really important as well. I mean, it's a competitive industry, but it's amazing if you pick up the phone and ask for help, I don't think there's too many people that would begrudge you of that, because they understand starting out can be tough. I'm more than willing to help young brokers who are starting out in the industry to try and help them, and help them avoid some mistakes. I mean, at the end of the day, being a little bit naïve at the start's probably a good thing because it gives you some energy to really get in there and have a crack. Some of your best lessons are by making mistakes, but having that support around you is really, really important as well.

James Mitchell:                 I know some of the young brokers that we've met at the New Broker Academy last year who were either in their first couple of months or in their first two years, they mentioned as well that it can be a pretty lonely place when they've just started, and particularly if it's a completely new industry for them. But they said going to events and networking with other brokers who are also pretty new has been a big help. Did you get out there and have coffees and get to industry events and that sort of stuff in your first couple of years?

Sean:                                     Yeah, I did. Absolutely. Just hearing people, and particularly people that had been through the journey, I found it really interesting. That's why I like listening to a few podcasts, is that you actually can listen to people that have started out in the industry that have been successful, and you can understand their journey and that as well. And sometimes you can take a bit of comfort in that as well.

                                                I mean, not many people jump into the industry and start writing 50 or $60 million in the first 12 months. That's something that very, very rarely happens. So to actually hear those people and how they started out and to where they are now, it gives you a little bit more motivation to hang in there, keep working hard, because that first 12 or 18 months that everyone talks about is something you have to go through, and you find your greatest learnings are probably in that first 12 or 18 months. So listening to other brokers that have been successful was probably a big thing for me, for any industry where there was some people in the industry talking, I was more than willing to get along and listen to their story.

Annie Kane:                        Yeah. And I think what you're saying there about picking up the phone and ringing brokers and people having their time, I think we've been really impressed by that in this industry, is that a lot of people are really happy to just chat and help newcomers and come onto the podcast and share their stories and share their tips. It's a really welcoming industry once you actually kind of knock on some doors. I think that's the thing, is just actually getting the first step and the courage to do that, because a lot of people suffer in silence. So thank you so much for coming on and sharing your tips. But I just wanted, you were mentioning it a little bit further back, about the mistakes you did along the way that helped you learn. Have you got any examples of things that you did when you first started that have sort of helped you grow as a broker, or anything that you wish you'd known before you started broking?

Sean:                                     Sometimes it's good to not know some of the stuff when you're starting out, because you are a little bit naïve and that, but you're also hungry to do well. So you can certainly listen to too many people, but having one or two mentors is really important. I guess the mistakes that I made is probably not spending enough time on the application process and forgetting documents and keep going back to the client multiple times. So it's just that efficiencies around where you ended up wasting a lot of your time and in all honesty, wasting your client's time as well because you were going back and forth. So just being able to spend that time, structure it right, take the time at the start to get everything right, and then you can move on to the next deal, is really important.

                                                And also the relationships with your bank is really important, so finding, I think BDMs generally take you out for coffee, and the ones that take you out for lunch, but to actually go out of your way and help them and shout them a coffee, take them out for lunch, pick their brains, talk to them, build up a relationship with them, because then your service levels increase as well when you're going to the banks or you're expecting a call back from a BDM, establishing those relationships are really important with the banks, not just your clients as well. It just seems to make... and streamline everything. Now I'm in a position, being in the industry for over four years, where I've got some really good relationships with BDM, and that certainly helps my business as well.

James Mitchell:                 Sean, you said a bit earlier in the show that one of the things which attracted you to mortgage broking was that you can build up a trail book, you can build up a database of clients and have a sort of saleable asset at the end if and when you decide to exit. I wanted to just, considering that, what your end goal is for your mortgage broking career, if you have one.

Sean:                                     I certainly love the industry. I love the flexibility that it gives you as well. You have to work hard, but you can certainly work your hours and work your schedule a little bit. We're at a stage now where we were looking at employing some younger brokers, in fact building our team as well. So that's something that is a challenge for us as well, where my role in terms will become a little bit more in terms of managing and managing people, so that's exciting.

                                                Also with a trail, I think I was a little bit naïve. Once you build up your trail, it's certainly not passive income. I guess people look at it as passive income, but you've got a lot of clients now that you have to look after, and you have to service. So if you think you're going to keep building your trail up and you can just employ yourself, manage those clients, that's when you have to start to build a team, because as your trail and your client and your loan book increases, there is a obligation to be able to service those clients as well. So that's a challenge that we're continually learning about and making sure that we're well resourced so we can not only bring in new business, but also keep looking after our existing clients.

James Mitchell:                 Yeah, definitely. Because obviously you've got that runoff factor and client retention to look at as well.

Sean:                                     Yeah, and that's huge. I mean, once we get a client, we don't want to lose a client, so we're going to make sure that the service levels they were getting when they came into our business and became a client. That's certainly a challenge, but that's something that we are determined to make that challenge.

Annie Kane:                        Oh, sorry. In terms of actually, you were saying about bringing new brokers in, is the end game to have them take over the business and carry it on once you've retired, or have you not thought that far in advance yet?

James Mitchell:                 Are we jumping the gun?

Sean:                                     Yeah, that's a good question. I think getting good people is really important. I'm really fortunate with Clare and Charlie, I've got some fantastic people with some great experience. So look, I'm certainly interested in perhaps that they have a stake in the business or have some skin in the game. I think that's really important. If you're going to be able to keep people on long-term, and good people as well, that might be something that, I guess there's different ways you can structure, whether you give them equity in the business, whether after a certain amount of time you might have an exit strategy. As I said, at this stage, I've still got quite a few years ahead of me working. I love the industry, and I want to stay involved, but I guess that's something you can certainly look at different ways to structure it so when you bring people into the industry or into your business, that you can keep good people.

Annie Kane:                        I just want to ask quickly about the Melbourne market at the moment. We keep hearing in the news that the property market might be cooling, especially in Sydney and Melbourne where prices have been rocketing up recently. But what are you seeing in the Melbourne market in terms of appetite and house prices, and what kind of clients are you seeing?

Sean:                                     Yeah, look, I wish I had the crystal ball. I think the general consensus here talking to probably people that are better experts in property than myself, is that in Melbourne you certainly won't see that 10 or 15 per cent jumps in the next two or three years. There'll still be some growth, but it'll be a little bit more moderate. But certainly some of my clients who have had a lot of success recently are probably out in terms of investment properties, looking out in the western suburbs a little bit more. If you look at land values and things like that in the west, they're probably 30 or 40 per cent of the price in the other side of the city.

                                                So there's certainly some areas that are hot and you wouldn't expect to get that 10 or 15 per cent growth. But there's certainly pockets in Melbourne where if you're an astute property investor and do your homework, you will certainly find some good opportunities in certain little pockets, and as I said, particularly out west at the moment tends to be where there seems to be a little bit more growth available in the next two to three years.

Annie Kane:                        So investors, are they your sort of bread and butter, or is it more mom and dads?

Sean:                                     It's probably a balance between owner-oc and investors. To be honest with you, it's probably about 50/50. It tends to go in cycles as well. I do have a lot of first home buyers as well that are buying their first property and utilising the no stamp duty under $600,000. So probably a mixed bag a little bit at the moment.

Annie Kane:                        Great. Well, I think that's pretty much all the time we have today, Sean, so thank you so much for taking the time out to talk to us and sharing your story and your tips along the way. We look forward to hearing how Wellman Finance goes in future. Thank you so much for coming on, and hopefully speak to you soon.

James Mitchell:                 Cheers, Sean.

Sean:                                     You're welcome. Thanks, Annie and James.

Annie Kane:                        Thank you so much to Sean for coming on. Hopefully you've all learned a little bit there. If you know AFL as well, it might be quite exciting for some of you. But for more features and news stories on mortgage broking, then please do check out theadviser.com.au. Look out for our sister podcast, Mortgage Business Uncut, as well, which comes out on Mondays. Thank you.


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