One of First National’s points of distinction is experience. Many members of our team have been with us 10, 15, 20 and 25 years – and in a few cases since we began operations in 1988. We salute those committed individuals who are celebrating a milestone anniversary by presenting their stories in their own words. Today, we profile Connie Altomari, Director, Residential Underwriting, Ontario and Atlantic Canada.
Take us back to the beginning of your career at First National.
I worked for Central Guarantee Trust, which was bought by TD Bank. I spent several years there. I left to have my beautiful daughter. She had some medical issues, and I needed to go back to work full-time to support her care. An appraiser that I knew well knew Moray quite well. He mentioned to me that First National was looking for someone that understood mortgages. I spoke with Moray over the phone, and he offered me the job during that conversation, without ever meeting me. I started at First National in 1995, and basically did a little bit of everything including renewals, collections and underwriting.
What was your first year like?
The first year was tough. I remember, one day, they asked me to do discharges. At that time, you had to type discharges on fullscap paper, and all the information had to fit perfectly in the designated boxes. We had these ancient typewriters that were humongous. I had to do eight discharges, and I was at the office until 10pm. Every time the typewriter went outside of those little boxes, I had to start over. So yes, there were some ups and downs in that first year. I came from a bank, where everything was structured. And at First National, we were figuring out how to do things differently. In the first six months especially, I definitely thought about leaving. But I stayed because I had so much respect for Moray and Stephen.
What was your “I’m in” moment?
First National was so different from the banking world. People really cared about each other like a real family. Everyone was equal, from the owners on down. That made a huge difference for me, and inspired me to stick it out. I remember Moray would come out of his office and say, “It’s my turn to make tea. Who wants tea?” That’s what it was like. I felt at home going into work.
Describe some milestones in your career.
As we grew, the company needed different leaders in different areas. Customer service was definitely my strength. At the time, I was underwriting for existing clients. Moray gave me the choice – supervise customer service or work for Scott in underwriting. He encouraged me to work for Scott, and I agreed with him. So that is the route that I took. I started working for Scott, underwriting for existing clients that had mortgages with First National. We learned as we went along, and now are a team of 24 people. For the past 22 years, I have always been involved with existing clients and now in the role as a Director, I continue to report into Scott. It was the best decision I made. I had the opportunity to evolve in the same role as the company grew.
What stamp have you put on the business?
My stamp is my service level. I feel like I know the company inside and out because I have been here for so long. So I am able to answer most questions that come to me from junior staff. It is also so vital to stay engaged and interested in our brokers. Answer the phone, provide the information and go above and beyond what is expected. As a company, First National has both sustained and evolved that standard. It is a part of our culture and way of thinking. It doesn’t matter if it is Scott or an underwriter -- we work to earn the appreciation of our brokers. That commitment and effort are what make us stand out to the broker community.
What are you most proud of in your career?
That I stuck it out (laughs). In general, I am really proud to tell people that I work at First National. We’ve come a really long way from where we were when I started. I think I’ve contributed to that success with my commitment. To the company. To brokers. To service levels. To our great leaders Moray, Stephen and Scott. But if you ask me what makes me the most proud? It’s that our people genuinely care and consistently go above and beyond.
Any favourite memories?
I have a personal story that sticks out for me. When I came back to First National, my youngest daughter was three years old. She had speech problems. I came back to work full-time because I wanted to take her to private speech therapy, which at the time was $100 for 45 minutes. Moray knew about my daughter’s medical issues, and advised me to talk to Stephen because he had had a similar experience with one of his kids. I didn’t feel comfortable approaching Stephen about something personal, but he saw me one day and asked to talk. He recommended a speech therapist. We met and hit it off right away. She offered to only charge me half of her fee for the first year because Stephen had referred me. Even though I’m not 100% sure, in my heart, I have always felt like Stephen had to something to do with that. When I did come back to work, every Monday, I would leave at 3pm to pick my daughter up from school and take her to her appointments. Sometimes I would come back to work after dropping her off at home. That went on for three years. I suggested to Moray that he pay me by the hour. His answer to me, “You take care of your family. We will worry about you.” It was a small company then, and Moray and Stephen were still willing to do such generous, caring things. Their support made me love First National the way that I do. I feel like I'm an important part of it.
What advice would you share with people growing their careers at First National?
For me, it feels like 25 years have really flown by. There are so many great people in this company. For anyone looking to have a long career at First National, my advice is simple. Persevere. Work hard. Don’t just do your job, and that’s it. Learn as much as you possibly can. Understand the different departments. Know what the company is about, what it stands for and why we do what we do.