Flavin became a mortgage adviser by chance, after complaining to a practice principle about his role in the store maintenance sector. It was suggested that try his hand as a mortgage adviser.
The partners of the firm he went on to work for eventually split and Flavin moved up to the position as partner. After his colleague retired, Flavin set up his first firm, Portfolio Financial Management which covered investments, pensions, mortgages and protection.
Flavin split that company in 2010 and established Portfolio Financial Management as a purely independent financial adviser (IFA) company, with a new company, Zing Mortgages being formed to deal with mortgages and protection.
Flavin said the “real success began” when he deregistered as a mortgage broker and became a business owner.
“When things get tough, you don’t run out and start writing more mortgages yourself. You actually have to go out and find more business for the mortgage brokers you’ve employed. So that was a real turning point,” he added.
Flavin said the firm started to focus on winning customer service awards as it wanted this to be its unique selling point.
After some time, he felt the traditional mortgage model was “due for a change” so Flavin sold Zing Mortgages and set up his next business, Mortgages Online.
He said the new advice firm was to be more centred on the integration of Open Banking as he saw that was the direction the market was headed.
Flavin said he could see “massive opportunities” in Open Banking integration combined with integrated access into other linked services to streamline the application process and thought he should be the “first to the party”.
“But I think the party still hasn’t started and it’s three years on,” he added.
Flavin said Open Banking would make the mortgage process easier but noted there was a “fear of change” and a worry that if that process was automated, it would take away the value of a mortgage adviser.
He said he envisioned Open Banking allowing lenders to focus on vanilla cases, while advisers took on more complex applications.
This was Flavin’s vision but when the pandemic hit, he “lost interest in the industry”.
“I just thought ‘I’ve had enough of mortgages’. I’d been in it for 20 years,” he added.
Flavin sold Mortgages Online at a slight loss “because I just wanted it gone”.
While he ran Zing Mortgages, he had a business coach that helped him develop a business plan to build an exit in 10 years. He achieved this in 11 years.
He then had the idea to become a business coach himself and worked for a global firm for a short time. It was here that he met Phil Ball who would become his business partner at Grow Partnership.
Ball told Flavin not to turn his back on his knowledge and understanding of the mortgage sector as this would help business owners in this market grow.
Flavin said many advisers set up their business because they were dissatisfied with their company and felt they could go it alone with their client bank. He said they often did not realise how hard it was to generate new business while running a company.
“They might take on an admin and then they’re stuck or don’t know what the next steps are,” he added.
Flavin said: “At no point during that process have they ever had any business coaching. They’ve had coaching to become a mortgage adviser but not a business owner.
“You ask them about their marketing strategy, cash flow forecast, their operations flow charting, how they’re ensuring repeatable business and they haven’t got a clue. When things get tough, they’ll write more mortgages because their assumption is that the business keeps 100 per cent of it.”
He added: “When you deregulate and become a business owner, you’ve got to go out there and find more work for your staff. Also, when things get hard, the clubs and networks offer advisers more product coaching, get them to sell protection, understand the niche markets but that’s not what they need. They know that already.”
Flavin said in these instances, it would be more beneficial for advisers to be educated on business strategies and get to a stage where “they’re not a mortgage broker that owns a business. They’re a business owner that just happens to do mortgages”.
He said many brokers became owners with a certain lifestyle in mind but little insight of systems or processes, nor could they say the cost of acquiring a client.
“They’ve spent years understanding compliance, understanding product choice, understanding the cross-selling of protection, but none of that falls under part of the business,” Flavin said.
Growth Partnership offers a 100 per cent money back guarantee which Flavin said it was able to do because “there are such simple, fundamental changes that you can make so a business is successful almost overnight”.
Flavin said it was formulaic and once people understood the formula, it was easy to replicate.
A valuable company
Flavin said mortgage brokers who became business owners should work towards creating a company that would be saleable in the future.
All owners assume they will be able to sell their company when ready but “no one is looking to buy a job,” he said, adding that a firm needed structure, procedure and assets that would be valuable to a potential buyer. Flavin said many brokers considered their client bank to be valuable, but without certainty that these were repeat business it was simply “a list of names”.
A firm’s technology and systems can also be attractive, he added.
He said regardless of whether this was the actual goal for a business owner, they should keep this in mind as it would keep them honest in what they are creating as well as take them out of that pivotal position.
Business owners must continue learning, whether by reading books or listening to podcasts, Flavin said.
“You’re either growing or dying, there’s no standing still,” he added.
Flavin said things were moving on and he noted that video content was becoming a preferred way for consumers to engage with firms. He said this could be one way to capture potential clients early on in their mortgage journey.
Owners of mortgage advice firms should consider setting up an IFA division, Flavin said, as these tended to have more value than the mortgage side because of the funds under management.
He added: “When I sold the businesses, I got more for one broker in the IFA arm than I did for a 14-broker mortgage firm.”
Taking care of number one
Flavin said his greatest achievement was selling Mortgages Online because while it was at a loss, the decision was best for his mental health.
“Success can be measured in different ways,” he added.
He said as a business owner, it was important to understand that “everything has a cost”, so deciding to be self-employed and retain all the business sometimes meant sacrificing family time or wellbeing.
Coaching could also help business owners with any work-related worries, Flavin said, as many did not want to concern their family or employees so needed a neutral outlet.
“We’ll sit and listen to what we say and then give some sort of constructive feedback whether it be criticism or whether it be something more positive but it’s that independent voice,” he added.
Grow Partnership also holds group coaching sessions which can allow business owners to share experiences and realise their worries are not uncommon.
Flavin said: “It is quite an insular existence, being a business owner, and we don’t share experiences enough. Sharing some of your wins for that week is great but it’s just as important to share the struggles you’ve had.”
Coaching works because it keeps business owners accountable, Flavin said, by making sure they keep to their goals and timelines in the same way a fitness trainer would.
“We all attend seminars where we learn something we want to implement or have great ideas that will really transform our business but, everyday life happens, we go back to the daily firefighting and nothing changes,” he added. “By making sure you hold the business owner accountable and keep them focused on achieving their goals and timelines in the same way a fitness trainer would, they start seeing real progress in the fitness of their business as well as their own wellbeing.”