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How this SA broker overcame the challenges of being an independent broker

evan sourbis speech evan sourbis speech
Todd Stevens 25 minute read

In the latest episode of Elite Broker, Annie Kane is joined by seasoned broker and the winner of the Editor’s Choice award at the SA Better Business Awards 2018, Evan Sourbis.

The principal of Henley Home Loans reveals why his reasons for being a broker have changed over his 16-year career, his recent induction into the AFG Hall of Fame, and how his dedication to good customer service has been paramount in the success and growth of his company.  
 
Find out his advice to those thinking of starting their own brokerage and how he overcame some of the biggest challenges of being an independent broker

Evan also shares:

  • How he engages with his local community and the importance of doing so
  • The changes that he has seen in the industry over the past 16 years
  • How embracing technology is key to an efficient business

And plenty more!

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Articles of interest:

The top brokers, BDMs and offices of South Australia
2018 Winners South Australia
SA Finalists 2018

 

FULL TRANSCRIPT:

 

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

Annie Kane:  Hello and welcome back to The Advisor's Elite Broker podcast. I'm Annie Kane, Editor of The Advisor. This week we're joined by a South Australian broker and the winner of the Editor's Pick Category at the Better Business Awards in South Australia last month. I'm honoured to be able to select one finalist from each state for the Better Business Awards for the Editor's Pick category and this year I chose to commend the work of a seasoned broker whose passion for the industry and dedication to customer service really shone through in their submission.

            Having been in the industry for more than 15 years, this broker knows well that the central offering a broker can give is to help people and while the separate commissions and inquiries have recently focused on particular aspects of broking, what seems to have been forgotten along the way is the fundamentals of what a broker does, helping to take the stress, confusion and pressure out of mortgage decisions while being a friendly and trusted counsellor in the process.

            So in this week's episode, we hear how Evan Sourbis, principal and broker at Henley Home Loans in Fulham is doing exactly this while delivering great consumer outcomes for his clients and maintaining long-lasting relationships. 

            How you doing Evan?

Evan Sourbis:            Very well, thank you Annie.

Annie Kane:  Thank you so much for coming on and sharing your story with us on Elite Broker.

Evan Sourbis:            No, thank you.

Annie Kane:  One of the reasons I really wanted to talk to you Evan was obviously, we highlighted your story in South Australia when we went down there for the Better Business Awards and I chose you as the Editor's pick. I also know that you've not only won that this year, but last year you were also inducted in the AFG Hall of Fame, a wonderful achievement in itself. So I just wanted to, you know, you're being recognised here for a lot of different things, but I just wondered what do you think is sort of the reason that you're being showcased in this way?

Evan Sourbis:            I think it's got a lot to do with the time that I have been in the industry and sticking in there through the ups and downs that are seen over the last 15 years. It's taken a while to get recognised for what I've been doing and it's also taken time to work things out. That's something that's been ongoing for me. It's not until probably in the last three or four years that things kind of gelled together and now I've figured out what works and what doesn't. I've been focusing a lot on the positive and what is working and I think that's had a lot to do with the recent success.

Annie Kane:  Okay, I mean for me as well when I was reading your submission, I think what really stood out was not only your sort of dedication to customer service and ensuring that the customer's always first, I know that your sort of mantra at Henley Home Loans is 'We're here for you'. I think as well as that it's also the business side of things. So you've been really sort of focusing on how the business grows recently. I just wanted to know, you mentioned about sort of focusing a bit more in the last few years on it and the broking business itself has grown to include more brokers now and admin officers too. What was the step that made you think, "Do you know what, I need to really focus now on the business strategy." What made you go down that route?

Evan Sourbis:            Yes, what happened is organically the business grew. So by doing the right thing for a long period of time we've started getting noticed by referral partners, we started getting a lot more referrals and as that business started coming in I realised that I wasn't able to service them at a high level on my own, or even on my own with a PA. I needed additional staff. So that's when I started focusing on hiring loan processors and administrators and just last week we put another two on because it keeps growing at that kind of pace at the moment. So, I realised that without that administration help I wouldn't be able to give the customers that kind of service.

            When I say that kind of service I mean the kind of service where a customer comes in and they'll have a brief meeting with me to establish their requirements and then streamline it from there. So we have a process in place that kind of gets right through it. We've got a welcome pack, an information pack that explains to the customer what needs to be done and then they basically go off and the next appointment is pretty much the final appointment until we sign those loan docs.

            People are busy these days and I understand that and that's the reason why I've been so focused on making that experience as painless as possible for the customer. By putting those processes in place and by having the resources, having the staff to make sure that things get done quickly and things get done smoothly without any hiccup, that there is what customers want because they are busy and they just want to basically get to it in the easiest way possible.

Annie Kane:  So what are the impacts of expanding the team? I mean, have you seen any sort of uptick in your numbers or in sort of time it takes to get someone to final settlement?

Evan Sourbis:            Absolutely. So the impact has been huge. So we've been able to increase the volumes of loans written. That's basically freed me up and allowed me to focus on how I can improve the business, how I can market the business and find where we're different and focus on that and focus on the niches and then build on that. I've also focused a lot more on the marketing side and my wife has been helping me with that while I've been focusing on a few other things as well.

            That has basically freed me up to do those things, where before I was basically on the tools the whole time, I was in the business rather than on the business and that there has had a tripling effect in the growth of the business. 

Annie Kane:  Oh wow, so it's tripled?

Evan Sourbis:            Yes. Absolutely. It's grown. It's basically grown from month to month exponentially and I'll basically put that down to having the resources to do more. I remember a few months ago I was watching a movie, it was called The Founder which was the story of-

Annie Kane:  McDonalds.

Evan Sourbis:            Ray Kroc which is the founder of McDonalds.

Annie Kane:  Yep.

Evan Sourbis:            And he came up with the concept back then that if you have the product and supply that the demand will come. If you're able to give away high quantities of something, and provide a good service, at the same time and have consistent quality then people will be attracted to that and people will come for that. I've found that the same can be true with mortgage broking.

Annie Kane:  I think, just touching on that, sort of you know, saying that providing this really great service means that people will come to you, I mean we've seen that you know. The flow of loans coming through the broker channels now around the 56, 57 percent mark so obviously it's working across Australia as a whole, but recently we've had so much scrutiny of the industry. In the beginning I sort of mentioned about the commentary around broking has kind of pushed past the value of brokers, I think a little bit. We seem to have focused much more on the structures in place and the processes in place, but we seem to have lost the message of what a broker really does.

Evan Sourbis:            Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Annie Kane:  We are seeing some retaliation and defence now coming out from some industry players, but I wondered what you think the industry need to be doing, or what brokers need to be doing to ensure that borrowers don't get the wrong idea of what broking is about?

Evan Sourbis:            There is a lot of talk about that at the moment particularly in light of the current commission. But, you're absolutely right. What brokers are perceived to do and what brokers actually do is something that probably should be put out there a little more. Brokers obviously do a lot more than find someone a cheap interest rate or find someone a home loan. Brokers firstly and foremost, what they basically do is understand the client's needs. So, a client, when they come to you, they may not understand that themselves and it's actually very common that they don't understand themselves what they need. That's where a broker really comes in to it.

            A broker will basically cut down to it and say, well this is where you are right now. You should really be here and let's have a look at how we can now put that into place. So, it's not just the interest rate, it's basically, in some cases restructuring the customer's home loans. I had a customer who came in with a whole lot of credit cards the other day and he didn't seem too phased about it, he didn't think that he was a big issue. But I explained to him how it could change things for him if he was to actually consolidate that, so he was just really concerned about glitches in reducing his interest rate. So that is obviously just a small part of it.

Annie Kane:  Yep.

Evan Sourbis:            Another customer, for example, may want to get into home ownership and has gone to a bank and has been knocked back by a bank and basically, without a broker, the customers are not backed by a bank they have nowhere else to go and the broker is that, he's the catalyst to that. He allows the customer to get into home ownership by looking at other lenders and he's able to get through it that way with the knowledge that they have and the tools that they have. For example, there's the 45 lenders and having an understanding of what bank's policies are a broker is able to get that done. So, for me, that's what a broker does and it's really not just about the interest rate, although when the customer does go to a broker, a lot more likely to get a lower interest rate then they would by going directly to their bank.

Annie Kane:  And I think that's really interesting what you said there about a great consumer outcome is such a broad thing, so you know, there talking about a customer who went into a bank and couldn't get a loan, you were able to secure one for them. That in itself is a good consumer outcome surely because they couldn't previously get a loan, now they can. You're able to sort of prove that they can service all of the things they need to. I think that in itself is part of the problem with this whole focus now on what a good consumer outcome is, 'cause how do you define it? It changes for so many different people.

            I want to ask a little bit now going back into sort of the beginning really of your career. So as we mentioned at the beginning, you've been broking for about, is it 16 years you said?

Evan Sourbis:            Yeah, 16 years now. Hard to believe.

Annie Kane:  So, is it right that you first started out as an Aussie broker?

Evan Sourbis:            Correct. I first started off as an Aussie broker in 2002. I didn't come from a finance or banking background before that, I was actually a graphic designer.

Annie Kane:  Oh right.

Evan Sourbis:            Which is a thousand miles from this industry.

Annie Kane:  Yeah.

Evan Sourbis:            And I was always loved art and always leaned toward that kind of thing rather than towards finance. But, what happened back then was I'd spoken to a friend who was actually doing it at the time. He was an Aussie broker and just telling me about what he did and I was intrigued by the service offering and by the industry and the technology and the whole thing was quite new back then. I was intrigued by it and I felt like a change at that time and I thought, you know what, I'm gonna give this a go and I want to see what it's like and I got into for those reasons. Even the commissions structure intrigued me. I got into it for those reasons, but they're the reasons why I got into the industry, but they're not the reasons why I remained in the industry. Two very different answers to that.

Annie Kane:  So why did you remain then is the next question.

Evan Sourbis:            Yeah. The reason I remained in the industry is because it was definitely not because of the money. The money for the first two years was terrible, I would have been lucky to break even.

Annie Kane:  Wow.

Evan Sourbis:            The reason I remained in the industry is because I noticed what I was able to do to help people. I noticed that I was able to effect change and to help people in a big way and change people's lives in home ownership or getting them out of debt and that reward, that sense of achievement and reward is what kept me going. It's something that still keeps me going today. When I put staff members on I look for that quality in them. So that's the kind of culture that we have in the company and that's basically our signature and I understood the importance of that work with like-minded people.

Annie Kane:  Yeah, I think that's really, again it comes down to the fundamentals of what brokers do. It's more than just a sort of financial help. It's also really relating to someone one on one. It's a very personal relationship and as well with your colleagues as well. It's very much making sure that you have the right sort of family if it were, around you to make sure that the message that you want to get across is the message that you really want to bring yourself.

Evan Sourbis:            Yeah.

Annie Kane:  I just want to sort of talk about moving on from Aussie, you went independent, you started off an office with your wife as you mentioned earlier. Why did you make the leap to go independent and how long was it before you made that decision?

Evan Sourbis:            It was about 18 months before I made that leap. The decision was made based on looking at my career in the long term. Aussie was a great training ground and I still to today recommend Aussie to new brokers who want to learn the industry and learn to become a broker. But, back then I made that decision, that was a personal decision that I made back then because I had bigger goals back then and I had a vision of something greater than working in that position as an Aussie broker.

            So, I went on my own and that was hard. The biggest transition there would have been at Aussie I was used to receiving leads and then I had to work, I had to generate my own leads.

Annie Kane:  Yeah.

Evan Sourbis:            I basically jump into the deep end and had to work things out for myself. I had no mentor back then to explain to me how to start or what to do. I worked things out the hard way and a lot of it was basically organic growth, doing the right thing and getting my name out there slowly. I was working from home so I didn't really have a brand or a presence back then. The company was called EDS Finance and it wasn't until years later that we changed the brand to Henley Home Loans and that's a whole other story.

Annie Kane:  I was gonna ask that because obviously your name doesn't have Henley in it, so I wondered what the, and you're in Fulham as well, I wondered the reason for the Henley Home Loans was?

Evan Sourbis:            So Henley Home Loans is on Henley Beach road in Fulham and it's only, not even a five minute drive to Henley Beach. Henley Beach is, and we're in the Henley Ward as well. So Henley Beach is obviously a beach precinct, it's a very popular suburb with quite likeable communities and the whole reason behind that was I wanted to have a office. So I opened up that office in 2009. The whole purpose behind that was I wanted to have a presence. The business had grown by that time enough to sustain making the payments on an office.  So I was able to meet those overheads. The trail had built up enough to sustain that. What I found was by having an office and having that presence, where the office is actually situated is on a major intersection. Because of that it reaches a lot of people every day and that there has actually really worked out well because what I found is having that office, the walk-ins that you get basically pay the office for you.

Annie Kane:  Okay.

Evan Sourbis:            So that was coincidental and I think worked out well. Henley Home Loans is, I went for that name instead of EDS Finance, I went for that name because it's a name that people remember and it also explains what we do.

Annie Kane:  I just wonder, I mean, you were changing a name. A lot of brokers they kind of have a brand that they really like or affiliated with. Was it difficult sort of getting that message across that you had changed name and how did you sort of alleviate any concerns or anything that your customers, your clients would have had about sort of knowing that it was still the same company?

Evan Sourbis:            At that time EDS Finance was a very small business so it didn't have a huge impact. It's not like changing the name of a big company that's recognised, that would obviously have a big impact, but for me back then it wasn't that common. So, by changing it I realised that if I was to change it, that that was the time to change it. It had to be done at that time before branding the office obviously because then it was going to become big and so we had to basically do it and at that time was an opportune moment.

            The name obviously explains what we do and there is some confusion with names where some brokers will call their business just finance or just solutions or whatever. The issue with that is we understand what it is, but to the layperson they may not be aware that what you do. They might think that you're a stock broker or financial planner.

Annie Kane:  Or even a lender.

Evan Sourbis:            You want to make it clear that you're specialising in home loans, that's what we do. We don't specialise in anything else. What we do is home loans and we do that well.

Annie Kane:  I want to ask there, you talked about being on an intersection and therefore having a great amount of eyeballs seeing the store each day. How else do you go around generating leads? I mean, obviously at the beginning it would have been great to have that sort of presence on the high street so that people can see you and come in, but how are you generating leads sort of outside of that?

Evan Sourbis:            Okay, outside of that I've had a lot of focus on working with referral partners. The biggest referral partner that we have is River State Agency that specialises in large developments, government developments where they sell off parcels of land and that, we came about working with one development because I did that well, that was around about six years ago, we caught the attention of other developments and other referrals as well. That's grown from there and I stayed focused on that because that's basically our bread and butter and although I'm situated here near Henley Beach, every Saturday I still drive to the development which is up at Playford Alive which is about 45 minute drive, which is a big deal in Adelaide, but I do that every Saturday to get out there to sit in that sales office and see those first time buyers. That's something that we're focusing a lot on at the moment, particularly in light of the softening of the investment market we noticed that the first home buyer market has picked up in a big way so we've been very focused on that. I basically spend my weekends there and then on Monday bring in the few applications from there and during the week we'll be more focused with the local community and engaging the local community.

Annie Kane:  And how do you do that? Do you do any sponsorships of events or do you sponsor any?

Evan Sourbis:            Yeah, we sponsor, as a matter of fact last night the kids had a outdoor cinema at their school and we sponsored that.

Annie Kane:  Oh cool.

Evan Sourbis:            And engaged with the parents and local community there. That's something that we do quite often, sponsoring local clubs and schools. The other thing we do is we engage the local community via our social media as well. We'll run competitions for Christmas and Easter and engage and whenever we have a special offer we'll put out posts to explain what we do.

Annie Kane:  Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Evan Sourbis:            So, that's the way that we engage with the local community. What we find is by having been here for a long period of time, people actually appreciate that and they can see that you've been there for years, you've been there through the GFC even and they know that you're not a fly by night or that you're not gonna go bailing, but the fact that they see that you've also been acknowledged with awards, that also instils trust into them to come to you and give you that opportunity to assist them.

Annie Kane:  It's interesting though, you mentioned about sort of surviving the GFC and we've had some people recently say to us they feel like even though the market now is much, much better than it was then, that the kind of feeling is that it's like a GFC part two in terms of actually the changes that are going on in the finance sector, not just in broking, but across the whole thing. Would you agree with that? Do you think it's sort of really changing fundamentally or do you think it's still the same, it's just the headlines that are different?

Evan Sourbis:            I do feel that there is a second storm, however, I don't see this one settling. The GFC was big and it had a big impact, but I remember the GFC well because I just signed the lease to my office for four years and then straight after, that was just before the GFC.

Annie Kane:  Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Evan Sourbis:            I remember being in Cypress and watching on the news about GFC, which I had never heard of, it was a term that I wasn't familiar with and I wasn't aware back then just how bad it actually was. I was afraid coming back of what it would mean to the business that I was just about to open up. Sure enough when I did come back and open my doors, that was March 2009, it was bad. The banks had basically shut their doors. Some of them basically went into hiding all together and they weren't lending. So we had to focus on what were, who actually was lending back then and luckily there were some mortgage managers that got some government funding because they were still lending, and that got us by those difficult few years.

            This is different and I say that because what's happening now is driven by fear rather than a decision or an action taken because of something that's gone wrong. Nothing's gone wrong. It's basically they're taking precautionary measures to avoid something from going wrong.

Annie Kane:  Yep.

Evan Sourbis:            Because of that I don't think that this will settle. I think that these changes that we're seeing is gonna be the new normal and it's important to understand that and be adaptive. So brokers need to be more adaptive than ever and with change also comes opportunity, so yes obviously there's gonna be a lot of things that are worsened. For example in 2012, about 70 percent of my book was probably investors and we focused a lot on investors and a lot of it back then was your partners as well. Now, I look at my book and 70 percent are owner occupied.

Annie Kane:  Yeah.

Evan Sourbis:            That's how much has changed in that period of time. So, look at change as an opportunity and focus on what's good, don't focus on what's not good. If a broker was to do that, then I'm sure they'll find a way. Don't focus obviously on what's not working. If you're fixated on being an investment broker and helping investors with that, then you should definitely look at change and diversifying into different market.

Annie Kane:  As the old song goes, accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.

Evan Sourbis:            Absolutely.

Annie Kane:  Talking about that though, so if you were sort of had any advice for a broker that's maybe looking at sort of expanding the business or even just setting up for the first time, looking back at how your business has developed, is there anything that you would have either done sooner or avoided doing at all with the benefit of hindsight?

Evan Sourbis:            Yeah. Things that worked for me was that when things were slow and there were times when things were very slow, I put my focus on marketing and enterprising. And focused on that and then when things picked up I worked really hard on just writing loans and servicing my customers. Then when things got slow again I shift my focus again to marketing and enterprising and that went on and on and on and still to today, that's basically what's got me through I believe. That kind of system. Today I'm basically busy all the time, so my wife has taken the reigns of the marketing. So that's how we've evolved now, but there were things that didn't work for me. I would say there were some silly decisions early on that like yellow pages advertising and marketing in the newspaper, so that really didn't work for me. There were some other things that did work for me such as emailing or just basically calling customers and getting out there into communities and engaging with them in that way. Then also working on referral partners. It's always good to have at least three or four referral partners where a lot of your work comes from and if one drops off then you should also focus on growing that.

Annie Kane:  Okay, so just finally Evan, I know that we've taken up some of your time, so just want to finish up soon. But, I just want to ask, for you, what has been the two most important things that you've done in our business across the whole of your career? I know that's a big question to ask. Looking back over 16 years, what are the two most important things you've done?

Evan Sourbis:            Over the last few years the two most important things I've done is growing the business by putting on staff because I realised that the business has gotten bigger than myself and that's allowed me to free up my time to focus on growing the business and focus on delivering a better customer service and even better customer outcomes. So putting on staff and understanding the culture of the business, understanding the identity of the business and putting on the right people. So, that's been fundamental. The other thing that I've always done is engaged and embraced technology. Technology is something that's always changing and particularly in this business it's a real IP type of business, so I've always stayed on top of that. I've always looked to see what tools work well and always stayed on top of that. So, that's technology together with the right people has been the best decisions that I've made.

            Obviously actually having an office rather than working from home. Because having an office has allowed me to be more effective to my customers, it's allowed me to see more customers, so although I would go and see a customer if I need to, I basically sit at my desk during the day and I'm able to see three or four customers in a day, whereas if I was out on the road, I wouldn't be able to see that many in a day. So it's allowed me to see more and while I'm seeing the customers I've got my administrators processing those loans and I've got a department to help, basically I've got a little department now that processes and I've got another department from settlement that basically once it's gone to application that sees the application from submission to settlement. That allows me to serve my customers in the best way possible and see as many of them as possible.

Annie Kane:  Well I think what you're doing Evan down in Fulham is really great and I'm really glad and thankful that you've come onto the podcast to share your story. So thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy day to talk to us. Best of luck in the future as well, I'm sure you'll go on to even greater and better things.

Evan Sourbis:            Thank you very much Annie.

Annie Kane:  Thank you so much to Evan for coming on and thank you for listening. Hopefully you've learnt a little bit there. If you think you're a leading broker, please make sure you put your submission in soon for the Australian Broking Awards. Submissions close on April 27 and then there'll be the lunch and reveal of the winners of the awards on June 29 in Sydney. Make sure you get our submissions in now and buy your tickets too.

            For all other news and insights please visit theadvisor.com.au and tune in next week for another great episode of Elite Broker podcast.

 

How this SA broker overcame the challenges of being an independent broker
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