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 Doug Farmer, Director, Residential Underwriting, Prairie Region.
Take us back to the beginning of your career at First National.
I began mortgage lending at Central Guaranty Trust before moving to Sun Life Trust. My boss at Sun Life Trust knew Moray and Scott. When Sun Life decided to close its trust division and mortgage lending arm, he reached out to Moray and Scott and asked if they were looking for anyone for their new Alberta branch. It turns out they were. So, on February 1, 2000, I opened First National’s Alberta branch with three remaining staff members from Sun Life. We’ve since grown to a staff of 45 and approximately 60,000 mortgage accounts in the Prairie region.
What was your first year like?
For me, First National was a great new beginning. My client base was the same, but First National was much more progressive in terms of products, technology, and lending expertise. Based on my previous experience in the industry, I was quite conservative with our targets for the first year. We blew them out of the water, underwriting more than $100 million that first year. It was very exciting and a new adventure. The technology was outstanding. Merlin was industry leading at that time, even though it was DOS-based. Our service levels were light years ahead of our competitors.
What was your “I’m in” moment?
I was in pretty much from minute one. My last few years at Sun Life were strained. Residential mortgages were not a fit for the insurance business, and the company had made some risky acquisitions. It was refreshing to talk to Scott. First National was well positioned in the mortgage market, and Stephen and Moray were already legends in the industry. The expansion plan into the West was well constructed and extremely positive.
Describe some milestones in your career.
Joining First National was the most important one. The growth of this region in the first 14 years was extremely satisfying. And the positive feedback that we continue to get from mortgage insurers, investors and brokers is very gratifying. Our reputation has always been stellar in terms of how we run the region and conduct risk assessment. With the exception of the financial crisis, we’ve always made or exceeded our targets (let’s not talk about oil). Personally, I am very proud having pursued and completed my executive MBA through Queens. And in 2013, I received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Canadian Mortgage Awards, which was a huge honour for me.
What stamp have you put on the business?
I’ve been a fixture at First National for a long time. When people think of First National in the Prairies, I am a part of that. A lot of the brokers we deal with have been with us since I opened our doors. Those relationships have endured, and they are incredibly strong and deep.
What are you most proud of in your career?
My reputation and integrity mean everything to me. They are my most important priorities. Everyone I deal with – insurers, colleagues, investors – knows that about me. I’m very proud to be known for my integrity, work ethic, positive relationships and developing the best staff in the business. I also feel that I have contributed to First National’s success. When I started, First National didn’t have a real presence in the Prairies. In my 20 years, we came to be recognized as one of the top companies in the broker channel and the number one insured lender with CMHC across the country.
Any favourite memories?
Every year in February, the Alberta Mortgage Brokers Association holds a curling bonspiel event. In 2000, the event took place a few weeks after I started. Scott decided to attend. I already had a solid reputation in the industry. The mortgage brokers at the event commended Scott for hiring me, and our team, and that he did a wonderful thing for my family and for me. Scott was really touched by the experience. He still talks about it. It was one of those moments that you realize you are making a real contribution to people. Scott McKenzie has certainly done that.
What advice would you share with people growing their careers at First National?
To be successful in this business, it is important to work hard, to develop your decision-making skills, to utilize good organization skills and to be current in understanding the evolving financial issues that relate to mortgage insurers, regulators and investors. Adaptability and positive relationships are also critical. Be a team player. Work hard. At some point in your career you need to really give back. This business has been so beneficial to me and my family. One of my focuses now is exactly that, giving back. Doing what I can to help make this business grow and flourish for those new people in the industry. We, in the mortgage channel, have a responsibility for helping Canadians with home ownership right across Canada. Joining First National was one of the most influential decisions I have made in my life. I have been at First National for 20 years and it is hard to imagine working for anyone else.