“I don’t know what I’d be doing if I weren’t doing this, but I know I wouldn’t be very happy.”

Talking finance with Stephen Spellman, president of CENTUM Mortgage Specialists

Stephen Spellman, president of CENTUM Mortgage Specialists Inc., a Halifax, Nova Scotia mortgage brokerage, seemed destined for the job. “I was working as a branch manager for a Household Finance when a friend of mine offered me a position at a company he owned,” Spellman explains. “Three months later, I purchased his company, and a few years after that, I bought into the CENTUM Financial franchise.” Below, Spellman tells us how that came about—and what he’s been doing since.

Advantage: How did you end up buying a company so quickly?
Stephen Spellman: I learned a lot about the financial services industry when working at Household Finance and my friend’s company, Preferred Dealer Financing, and decided to open my own business in the industry.

Why did you choose CENTUM Financial?
I explored opportunities with different franchises, and CENTUM Financial stood apart. It was 200 locations and 2,500 mortgage specialists across Canada. It’s been a success because it really understands that selling a mortgage is about more than offering a better interest rate. In addition to great products, CENTUM Financial has a back end in terms of accounting, marketing, and Internet strategies—which are important for franchisees—and a branded logo.

What makes your business unique?
As a middleman between banks and consumers, we add value. I’m always surprised by how little consumers know when they’re used to dealing with banks. Banks just don’t educate people about why they get approved or don’t get approved for a loan. I sit down with my clients, show them their credit profile, talk to them about the qualifications banks look for, and if they can’t get approved, tell them how to fix that situation. Essentially, we prepare the client for a loan.

Do you think you’re more qualified than your competitors?
I’ve been writing mortgages for 24 years. I’m a longtime member of the Canadian Accredited Mortgage Professionals (CAMP) organization. And I took the time to get certified as an accredited mortgage professional, or AMP. I think the latter is extremely important, because in Nova Scotia—unlike in Ontario—you don’t have to be licenses to be a mortgage broker.

Was this your dream job?
It wasn’t in the beginning, but I was certainly intrigued when I was introduced to the industry. The educational system doesn’t teach people about income and credit and debt ratios—all the things the consumer who wants to borrow money needs to know. So you go to a bank and apply for a mortgage, and a loan officer says yes or no, nothing else. We educate our clients, so those who don’t qualify for a loan know how to fix whatever’s wrong. It’s about consumer awareness.

I understand you rely heavily on social media?
Absolutely. Over the last three years, I’ve embraced new technologies in addition what we traditionally do—calling them every three to six months, that sort of thing. Social media has simply changed the way businesses are interacting with consumers. It’s the way we’ll communicate with clients in the future.

What’s the best part of your job?
I really enjoy the ability to interact with clients and find solutions to their challenges, whether they’re looking to purchase a first home or a third home. I have a philosophy—that all business is about relationships. I have fabulous relationships with my clients.

What part of your job don’t you like?
The long hours. I work 10–12 hours a day, six days a week.

How do you ensure a healthy work-life balance?
I learned a long time ago not to answer my phone at 11:00 at night. When I started in the industry, I did. I quickly realized I was setting a precedent, however, because if customers can reach me at 11:00 at night, they’ll call me at 11:00 at night. I have no problem scheduling evening or weekend meetings, and even going to clients’ homes. But there have to be restraints. Banks don’t answer the phone at 11:00 at night, either.

What would you be doing if you weren’t running a mortgage brokerage?
That’s a tough one. I’m passionate about what I do. I don’t know what I’d be doing if I weren’t doing this, but I know I wouldn’t be very happy.