First National Financial LP

In Conversation with Veronique Clermont

  • First National Financial LP

First National’s commercial team is now some 200 people strong and includes many skilled professionals like Veronique Clermont, our Senior Manager, Commercial Funding, whose efforts make us a market leader. Veronique talks about the role she plays in this interview.

Please describe your role and responsibilities.

My team is responsible for the review of legal documentation and ensuring all pre-funding conditions are satisfied so that every commercial mortgage transaction we originate can close on time. We identify and mitigate risks and given the nature of lending, what we do carries a lot of responsibility and is crucial to the success of our broader Commercial division. 

Do you interact with borrowers?

 My team has no direct contact with borrowers. Even so, everything we do impacts First National’s client relationships because we are the ones releasing mortgage funds. We send millions of dollars out the door every day and what we do affects our reputation in the marketplace. 

By reputation, what do you mean?

 First National has a reputation for great execution and execution is truly where our team comes into play. We work very closely with our originators to ensure we can find the most efficient and seamless solutions for borrowers while safeguarding assets.  

Can you describe a common challenge your team must solve?

 One of the most common issues is ownership structure, as in who owns the actual property asset that is being mortgaged. Many of our clients are very large, sophisticated organizations with considerable structural complexity. Identifying the exact ownership structure is imperative for a variety of reasons and regulations and until the structure is understood, a deal cannot close. Because of our expertise, the timeliness of our process and, in the case of an insured loan, our intimate knowledge of CMHC’s certificate of insurance requirements, we are very efficient at cutting to the chase. I would say First National is better at it than many other lenders.

Since your team does not work with clients, how do you achieve process efficiency?

Communication is key. We share check lists with our originators and are in constant contact to ensure the right documents are received in a timely manner. We have a great relationship with our origination teams because they understand and appreciate the nature of what we do. It’s a completely collaborative effort.

What are your goals?

My team’s top priority is mitigating risk. Because we deal with so many different types of property assets and types of mortgage products, we have sophisticated and well-developed risk management practices. In terms of my own personal goal, it’s to create an environment where each member of my group has all the tools, support and resources to feel confident in their role and ultimately to be effective for our clients and business partners. We talk about this idea of 360 Empowerment and it speaks to the part my team plays within a broader effort. 

What does empowerment mean to you?

 It’s about enabling all members of First National’s Commercial team, in every area, to be engaged, committed, subject-matter experts. By promoting empowerment through delegation supported by coaching, I can help each member of my member to find their individual strengths. I believe that by creating a sense of empowerment and ownership I can help people to find solutions rather than waiting for solutions to find them. 

What skills and experience do you need to be successful in your job?

 I started in at First National in 2011 and have held five positions starting with Bilingual Servicing Analyst, then Bilingual Senior Commercial Funding Specialist, Bilingual Analyst in Commercial Credit, Bilingual Manager, Commercial Funding and now Senior Manager. These past experiences give me good comprehension of the whole cycle of a mortgage. But more than that, first-hand experience allows me to appreciate collaborative effort among the different departments. I think my background also prepared me to give good direction to my team such that they understand where we fit in the company and the vital nature of our tasks. 

Did you set out to build a career in mortgage finance?

 No, I have an Art History degree so it wasn’t my original plan, but I had great mentors and was given the opportunity at First National to learn. I moved into Funding because I like the challenge of reviewing legal documents and I feel very fortunate to have worked in other areas including Credit to expand my knowledge. I also think the study of art in different civilizations taught me to keep an open mind and to seek out the answer to why art styles and movements emerged at specific times. Curiosity is an important trait for someone in my role. Art is still my passion. 

Having an internal rather than external client-facing role, can you still bring the benefits of empowerment to those at First National who do work directly with clients?

 Absolutely, we provide support, data and statistics to help our origination teams to be empowered advisors for their clients. For example, we keep our sales teams abreast of the average time it takes to close insured or conventional transactions so they can advise their clients of what to expect, and we share insights into trends and issues that could result in delayed closings if not proactively managed. We always want to be out in front of issues before they become problems. We have formal all-teams meetings every Tuesday but plenty of knowledge exchange happens every day.

What differences will clients find in working with First National?
Execution and our originators tell us we win work because of it. We pride ourselves on being the most streamlined, efficient and deadline-driven team in the industry. Our clients have tight deadlines. We will do anything to ensure we can execute on time. Because of empowerment, clients see us as advisors…not just lenders… advisors who are willing and able to share insights that will help them achieve their needs. Another important difference is that other lenders do not present nearly as many viable financing options to clients as First National. 

Final thoughts?
It’s become very apparent to me in my short career that it’s important to remain curious, keep digging, keep stretching, and step out of your comfort zone. Reinvesting in ourselves, in our colleagues and our clients is the best way to go.