Lasting impressions: Ray Quan on First National's 30th anniversary
On March 31st, 2018, First National began a year of celebrations to mark its 30th anniversary. To commemorate this important milestone, we asked key leaders to share their personal perspectives on the company’s long history of service, innovation and performance. In this interview, Ray Quan, Director, Residential Underwriting for British Columbia offers his thoughts on the key drivers of success.
Ray, First National made British Columbia its first choice market for expansion after its founding in 1988. Why do you think that was?
B.C. then and now is a vibrant and growing market and to be a truly national lender, First National simply had to operate here with boots on the ground. Our funding partners from all across the country also wanted to invest here and the local mortgage broker channel was and is very active. All the ingredients were and still are in place for growth.
How would you describe the state of the B.C. mortgage broker market today?
It's strong. B.C. is home to about 3,500 registered professional mortgage brokers and that number has grown substantially in the last 15 years in response to demand for mortgages from a growing population.
You mentioned growth. It can't have been easy over the past two years with government interventions aimed at curbing mortgage demand.
It's been challenging for sure, but mortgage brokers are a resilient group. They educate themselves, they educate their clients and as a result, they are increasingly seen as trusted experts. It pays to use a mortgage broker at all times, but when the playing field changes as a result of new government policies, the role of mortgage broker is indispensable.
Affordability is a major issue in B.C. How has that played out?
We're seeing greater levels of buying activity outside the Lower Mainland. House prices beyond Vancouver's borders have certainly increased but the starting point price is a little more accessible in some areas of B.C. Because brokers are active throughout the province, they are geographically well situated to help buyers who wish to explore regions beyond the Lower Mainland for their first home purchase.
You sound like you have a great affinity with mortgage brokers.
I do. In fact, before I joined First National, I was a mortgage broker.
Did you send First National business when you were a broker?
I did. I remember the very first mortgage application I worked on with First National because it was for first-time buyers in Vancouver who also happened to be friends of mine. The deal went smoothly, and they are still friends, so I think that says something.
Does your history help you in your current role?
Absolutely, it's given me quite a few advantages. I understand the importance of relationships and of having a lending partner that is respectful of the relationships that a broker has with their customers. And I can fully appreciate the hard work and long hours brokers put in every day to get the best deals done for their clients.
Why has First National found success in B.C.?
We make it our business to help mortgage brokers grow their books of business. We aim to be productive partners. Our sales team at First National is active in sharing our knowledge about things like B-20 rule changes as part of an ongoing contribution to the channel's knowledge base. When I was a broker, it was very important to be able to get someone on the phone at a lender to address questions I had, even trivial ones. Not all lenders are willing or able to jump on the line to talk and share knowledge. First National stresses the importance of being a reliable point of contact, of always being here to help, and I think it's made a significant difference to our growth and our prospects. Our delivery system is also a real advantage. It enables us to respond more quickly than other lenders.
When you say delivery system, what do you mean?
I'm talking about Merlin, our web and now smartphone-enabled deal tracking system for mortgage brokers. Next to our First National team in B.C., Merlin has been a very important enabler of great service.
How big is your B.C. team now?
We have 40 staff members serving the residential market and four on the commercial lending side. Our scale allows us to actively lend throughout B.C.
During your years with the company, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from helping to build a successful business?
Remember that this is a people business at heart. While we deal with money and financial products, we exist to serve people. It's an honour being able to help a first-time buyer make a purchase and it's a privilege to be given the opportunity to do so by a mortgage broker. When you keep that in mind, success follows.
What’s your proudest First National moment?
Hearing mortgage brokers and borrowers compliment our team. That gives me the most satisfaction. I also take pride in the fact that we have a very productive workforce and are considered one of the top lenders in the broker channel. Brokers have many lenders to choose from and the fact that they select First National and trust us with their customers says it all.
What motivates you?
Seeing the company continue to grow and getting positive feedback from brokers, borrowers and our lending partners.
What aspect of doing business has changed the most in your time here?
The level of competition. It's increased substantially in B.C. and that fact has made us a better business for brokers and borrowers by challenging us to find ways to constantly improve.
What’s the one thing that hasn’t changed since you started?
The desire to help people achieve their objectives. Whether it's helping mortgage brokers grow or borrowers realize their goal of homeownership, First National has never wavered in its central purpose.
How has working with mortgage brokers made First National a better business?
Their feedback helps us to be better communicators and better service providers. Because brokers work with many lenders and many borrowers, they are very educated consumers. Listening to their perspectives allows us to refine our offerings and our processes.
Why should a mortgage broker choose to send business to First National over other lenders?
Service and technology. We're going to go above and beyond to respond and support their business and we're always going to stress technology as a service enabler.
What would you like mortgage broker partners to know about First National’s future?
That First National is here to stay…that we're going to be a productive, reliable B.C. lender and partner in their business for decades to come.
Overall, what does the 30th anniversary mean to you?
It means that we have a great history as a business. Longevity in any industry is a sign of strength and consistency of purpose. I'm proud to be part of First National's history and I look forward to contributing to our future.