But when he realised there were lenders prepared to offer loans to these clients, he spied a business opportunity.
He built up his criteria knowledge of this small sector and actively started to target PhD borrowers who needed solutions through his brand Stipend Mortgage Advice.
Now he is part of a growing cohort of brokers who are capitalising after carving out a micro niche in the market.
Thompson told Mortgage Solutions: “I stopped speaking to everyone and started speaking to those few people studying for a PhD… Now I get found for it.”
Thompson has specialised in PhD borrowers for around a year, relying on his in-depth knowledge on this particular sector.
About half of Thompson’s business is now made up of people looking for a mortgage while doing their PhD.
He said: “Once you know what you’re doing, it’s a fairly vanilla case over and over.
“All lenders have such different criteria. It’s just getting to know lenders’ criteria and then making use of it.”
Benefits of working in a niche include a steady supply of leads and very little competition for them, according to Thompson.
He said: “If you’ve placed a case where the client tells you they’ve been to three other brokers who couldn’t get a loan – ask yourself would you want to do that 10 times a month.
“If so, go out and find those people and solve that problem.”
Lender relationships essential
Creating good relationships with lenders is vital for brokers operating within a market niche, according to Mark Robinson, founder at Teacher Mortgages.
He wanted to help people in education get a mortgage after seeing family members struggle. His firm has been specialising in key worker borrowers, particularly teachers, for around two years.
The company has two advisers but is set to expand to five by the summer because of increased volumes.
He said: “We have built relationships with lenders that understand how teachers’ income works.
“We are able to explain a client’s situation to lenders, so they will make an exception for them outside of normal criteria.”
Robinson said that working in a niche area isn’t for all brokers.
But he added: “If it’s something you’re passionate about, it’s worth it.”
Target clients you like
David Sharpstone decided to set up his own business in 2016 after 15 years of being employed as a mortgage broker.
He thought about who had previously been his favourite clients and who he had seen the most success with.
From this, CIS Mortgage Advice was born which explicitly targets construction sub-contractor borrowers.
Sharpstone said honing in on one micro niche allowed him to “laser focus” his marketing message and stand out as an expert in this field.
He has since grown the business to six advisers and built up a reputation nationwide of being able to place cases that other brokers often struggle with.
He said: “We found that construction workers are the easiest clients to deal with, they just want to know what the bottom line is.
“They just want to know what it’s going to cost and that made our lives easier. Where we can spend less time with one client, because they are less needy, we can service more of them.”
Thompson agreed that targeting clients you like makes the job overall more enjoyable.
He said: “PhD students are a type of client that I get on with in the first place. It’s worked well for me.”
Sharpstone recommended that advisers thinking about going self-employed to find one micro niche and stick with it. Write blogs on the issue and sync social media messages to eventually become a thought leader in that area.
He now has brokers ringing to ask for advice on how to get a case through. But Sharpstone doesn’t mind helping out fellow advisers.
He said: “There’s enough business to go round.”