Albert Collu admits he’s extremely organized and analytical by design. The president and CEO of Argentum Mortgage and Finance Corp. reviews his calendar every evening so that he’s prepared for the next day, and stays focused on the bigger picture—making sure his agents have the tools they need to not only succeed but excel in their line of work. Advantage spoke with Collu to discuss Argentum’s story, which began with him as the sole employee and has since grown to more than 600 employees and $2.5 billion in mortgages.
Advantage: Your company’s growth is remarkable. What differentiates Argentum from other firms?
Albert Collu: It’s great to see what happens when your business plan works! I noticed that mortgage agents weren’t investing in their own businesses for one reason or another. They didn’t have the tools or management systems in place to be successful, and as a result, almost 90 percent of mortgage renewals were done by banks, not the agents, because the agents were not doing a very good job maintaining their client relationships. Argentum was started as a way to help agents become better at their business and develop revenue diversity—something that hasn’t been done in our industry to this extent in the past.
What have you done in the last few years to really set yourself and your firm apart?
Many firms will tell you that they will train their agents and support them, but they really don’t. They just want seats in the chairs, so they earn revenue on their commission splits; they are recruiting, not nurturing. We interview all of our agents and make sure they have the desire and persistence to succeed. Then we give them the tools and train them to be better at what they do.
How are you competing with companies that have been around for decades?
We’re investing in our management systems and infrastructure, and helping our agents do their jobs better. Also, I’m very involved in the industry, so I can stay abreast in what is going on. I’m president of the Independent Mortgage Brokers Association of Ontario, and I regularly meet with regulators and attend events.
What personality traits make an agent in this industry successful?
You can recruit brokers or entrepreneurs. Argentum leans toward the latter. The best agents are very refined and come to the table with a well-thought-out business plan. They have a strong work ethic that has been proven.
How do agents find out about Argentum?
We don’t advertise or market very much. Traditionally, agents have found us through word of mouth. When an agent is happy, they tell their colleagues. They are our best ambassadors and recruiters.
Is social media an important part of your strategy?
We’re not very active with social media right now because I feel strongly in those face-to face-relationships. We do have a new IT professional, though, who is showing us the benefits of using social media, like Facebook and Twitter, so it might be something we look into incorporating soon.
Ninety-five percent of your business is residential. Are you looking to maintain market share in that category, or are you hoping to increase your commercial-market business as well?
The commercial side is one we’ve been trying to grow. Commercial deals are very different animals than residential, but we’re working on centralizing the process whereby our agents can feed the information into a central location, allowing us to guide them through the process. It’s just another way we’re helping our agents add value to their clients’ experience.
In dealing with agents, you project Argentum as a partner—creating personal websites, providing access to a self-built CRM (customer-relationship management) software solution, and helping plan for retirement. Why is this important?
The short answer is because when our agents are successful, we’re successful. But many of them don’t realize or don’t have the resources to maintain long-term relationships with their clients and value those relationships.
With the industry changing, how has your role shifted?
Regulators have allowed for free movement across the borders, and that has increased competition. Banks really dominate the mortgage market, and they do a very good job in building relationships with their clients. In the future, I would love for us to become monoline lenders for our clients. That would be a game changer.
How important has your family been to your business success?
My wife and son have been integral to my success, and without them, this work would have been impossible. The support I get at home is paramount.