Elena Robinson was appointed National Sales Director for First National’s Single Family Residential business in October 2020 following a 30+-year career in the mortgage industry. In this important role, Elena directs a team of sales professionals who work closely with independent mortgage brokers across the country.
Elena, tell us about your career highlights.
My first job in the mortgage industry was with Victoria & Grey Trust in the 1980’s. A friend’s father was the VP and helped me get in the door. I learned from the ground floor up. While working on mortgage renewals and discharges, I happened to mention to my manager that I was interested in underwriting and sales. He gave me a number of books to read and said, ‘here learn this and I’ll test your knowledge every week.’ It was fantastic. As a result of that experience, when an opportunity came up in our underwriting department, I got the chance to progress. After a while, a broker mentioned that Central Guaranty Trust was hiring underwriters, so I applied and was hired. It turned out to be a good decision.
I met three people who turned out to be incredibly helpful in building my career. Scott McKenzie, Moray Tawse and Dennis Sonego. Scott and Moray were both with Central Guaranty back then. Moray and Dennis ran Central Guaranty Trust’s two mortgage offices. When Moray left to form First National with Stephen Smith, Scott joined them and then approached me to come along. Although it was a start up at the time, I knew First National would be a success, so I joined in a sales role. That was in 1990.
How big was First National when you started?
I was employee number 12. Today, there are 1,130 of us so the progress has been impressive to say the least.
You stayed with First National until 1993 and then became a mortgage broker.
That’s right, I decided to take my knowledge in underwriting and sales and build a career as a mortgage professional. I’m really glad I did because it gave me new and different insights that have been very helpful to me ever since and particularly as I returned to the lending side after 20 years. I feel well-grounded because of what I’ve learned about business overall, including sales and service culture – not just mortgages. When I tell brokers that I used to be one of them, they like it because they know I really understand the challenges they face each day and they know I will always champion the broker channel within First National.
As a broker, did you refer your clients to First National?
They were always our #1 choice. Their responsiveness and problem-solving made a significant difference to my success as a broker. I see the same attitude on display at First National today which is why the company has become a leading player in the mortgage broker channel with growing market share.
You returned to First National in 2018 and became EXCALIBUR’s Regional Sales Manager.
That’s right, when the Company brought focus to the Alt A space, I worked closely with Scott to introduce our offering in Ontario. The opportunity was really exciting and the timing couldn’t have been better. Because of changes made at that time to B-20 underwriting rules, many Canadians, particularly business-for-self borrowers, were suddenly shut out of the Prime mortgage market. With encouragement from the broker community, First National decided to do something about it and created the EXCALIBUR program to complement our Prime mortgage business. To this day, brokers tell us EXCALIBUR is industry leading in several areas and we’re committed to keeping it that way. I’m really proud of the growth of the program and the team behind the product.
Tell us about your new role?
I look after the sales teams for both our Prime and EXCALIBUR programs across Canada. Previously, these responsibilities were segregated but we felt it was important to bring them together to ensure our efforts are well-coordinated right across the country as we serve our broker partners.
What would you like to accomplish?
There are two answers to that question, but they are related. Externally, I want to collaborate with our broker-partners to strengthen our relationships and do that while strengthening the collaborations we have internally between our sales, underwriting and marketing folks as we grow. We have very well-coordinated and highly functioning teams within First National and a great culture and all of that is reflected in how we work with the outside world. In my role, I want to build on our strengths by making it even easier for everyone to do a great job…brokers and my colleagues here at First National. I’m here to enhance our presence, plain and simple.
You’ve started your new role in the middle of a pandemic. How it is it going?
We’re incredibly busy and that goes for all of our partners in the mortgage industry as well. The good news from a relationship perspective is that we have an amazing technology foundation in MERLIN and that’s been a substantial advantage for brokers and First National in addressing incredible demand for mortgages.
First National has long championed the broker channel through educational webinars. Will that effort continue?
Absolutely. As an example, we recently co-sponsored the Urbanation forum on the GTA condo market and I know the insights delivered were very much appreciated by those who attended. I think it’s also worth noting that in terms of communication, and knowledge sharing, Scott and Jason Ellis have done an excellent job throughout this period of putting unprecedented capital market developments in perspective. Their open-door policy is absolutely conducive to growth and it has added to First National’s reputation as an approachable company.
Final question: what do you want brokers to know?
That we will continue to support you in any way we can to ensure your ongoing success. Whether that involves communication, knowledge sharing or the development of new and valuable ways of doing business, we will do what we can to make a positive difference to you and by extension to borrowers.