In 2006, Jim Touroukis founded Advent Mortgage Services in Unionville, Ontario. Despite being a relatively small brokerage with only seven employees, Advent has managed to consistently place in the top five (out of around 15,000 companies) in terms of business production in the country (the company currently writes $250 million annually). Touroukis originally hails from a finance background, where he worked as director of sales and marketing for Fidelity Investments Canada. He made the transition into mortgages after advising a cousin on how to save money on her own mortgage. Here, Touroukis tells Advantage about the ins and outs of the mortgage market.
Advantage: How did you get into this line of work?
Jim Touroukis: My dream was always to get into the financial world. I’m a bit of a math whiz, with a keen ability to find value and opportunities. While in the mutual-fund business, I saw that our clients—the financial planners and brokers—were doing a great job of managing their clients’ assets, but not their debts. I saw a gap for a company that would cater to financial planners, brokers, and their clientele.
The other catalyst for the business was my cousin, who had a mortgage with a bank. She was paying a really high rate. I ran some numbers and discovered that it made sense for her to break that mortgage; even with the penalty, she was better off acquiring a new, lower rate. Off the back of that, I started a company called Mortgage Busters, which helped people understand when it made sense to break their mortgages. But after breaking the mortgage, my clients would often ask, ‘Where do I go now to get a new mortgage?’ I saw the opportunity, put that together with my thoughts on the financial-planning world, and launched Advent.
Can you describe your average week?
I get in the office about eight in the morning and leave about six. I spend my whole day in the office, unlike our competitors who spend a lot of time on the road, visiting clients at their homes or offices, which I find to be very inefficient. We don’t see clients. Because they are referred to us by important people, the clients trust us already and don’t need to visit with us. The average mortgage guy spends an hour driving to a client’s house, an hour chatting with them, and then an hour coming back home. That’s half a day, and they might not even have a client yet. We’ll spend an average of 8–10 minutes with someone, to see if it’s a fit. And if it’s not, then we’ve only invested 8–10 minutes and we’re onto the next one. We’re able to filter business much more quickly because of this.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
When I was working at the mutual-fund company, what I didn’t do at that job was help individuals at a grassroots level; it was all done at a corporate level. Now, every person we touch gets tremendous value, whether it’s in terms of money or advice. It’s great to be able to walk out of the office every day and realize you’ve helped seven or eight people reach their dreams.
What’s Advent’s competitive edge?
Our efficient model. We’re so efficient that we can filter through three to four times more business than the average brokerage. Most people in our line of work get their clientele, typically, from real-estate agents. We don’t use realtors at all. Our customers come from the organizations that have contracted us to service them and their clientele. Our clients include financial-planning firms, and we deal with the largest relocation firm in North America.
What’s the greatest challenge facing your industry today?
With a slowdown in the market comes commoditization of product, so all that matters is price. The banks become aggressive. Brokers are getting squeezed out. You can only win on price if you’re efficient. I can honestly say that we’ve never lost a potential mortgage to another broker. Our clients value our price and the service we provide. On top of that, they’re less price sensitive than the average retail client, or they value the service more, so it’s less of an issue for me than it is the average mortgage broker.
How will Advent grow over the next five years?
Our plan is to quadruple the amount of business we do: a target of a billion dollars’ worth of business. And we’re going to get there by adding a few more corporate clients and following the same strategy that we have in the past.