In LMG’s first Success Breeds Success webinar of the year, Loan Market Edge’s Phil Rogers and Stamford Capital’s Dom Lo Surdo spoke with LMG Chairman Sam White about the importance of culture and peered into the crystal ball for 2024.
How important is culture and how do you build it?
Establishing a business culture that every member buys into is a challenge whether you’re a team of less than ten or a multinational.
In a recent webinar session with LMG Executive Chairman Sam White and Domemic Lo Surdo, Group Executive Chairman of Stamford Capital, Loan Market Edge’s Phil Rogers spoke about how he’s instilled a binding culture across a business with teams in Townsville and the Gold Coast.
While conceding the journey has been difficult, having a community of other business owners to test ideas with has been beneficial.
“One of the many benefits of spending the time we do with other Loan Market brokers and LMG brokers is that we do share a lot of ideas like this (culture) and best practice,” he said.
“For us, we've got an amazing team. The two most important people for me are my people, firstly, and second are my clients. So we spend a lot of time talking about culture and what that actually means; what does it mean to be part of that culture and how do we live that and describe it?”
Covid-19 forced the adoption of video calls and their application in maintaining team interaction and culture. But with teams already operating remotely, Mr Rogers said Covid wasn’t as disruptive for Loan Market Edge. For years they’d been bringing together the teams on Zoom and Google Hangouts for morning stand-ups and more.
“We'll do those things and make sure that everyone's involved. We try to not break it into little pods. I'm incredibly grateful for the people we have around us and, and the culture that we've all built - they've all been part of it and are contributing to it.”
While tech - when used smartly - can be an enabler of culture, Mr Rogers said the power of face-to-face interaction can’t be dismissed.
“We fly everyone in once a year for our Christmas party. That's a very expensive way to run a business but it's not an expense, it's an investment in our people.”
Mr Lo Surdo likewise has segregated teams, with the specialist commercial finance business operating across multiple capital cities. Last year it settled more than $2bn for clients.
“Culture and brand is really important,” said Mr Lo Surdo. “We hired a marketing person to ensure that our brand messaging was consistent and being delivered across different platforms.
“The tagline we use in the business is to provide ‘certainty’ to our customers. That’s been resonating really strongly in the last 12 months as we moved into a less certain world.
“We use the word certainty a lot in our marketing materials and when talking to customers. We don't sell a product, per se … we offer a service to customers. And as long as there are products in the market, we’ll be able to find the best product for them - that's our job.”
Last year, Stamford Capital made the decision to empower its brokers with their own voice within the brand within its marketing strategy.
“Historically, that was something that I owned,” he said. “But it was a strategic decision we felt was appropriate - given where we're at in our business growth - to recognise some senior people in our business and give them a personal brand attached to the business brand.”
Mr Lo Surdo said the business’ culture was also displayed in the willingness of team members to return to the office post the pandemic. Having bustling office spaces has also supported the recruitment and retention of young talent, he said, and has enriched training programs.
“It's the team that owns the culture. If the team understands the values, that's a really important starting point, because with those values comes what behaviours are acceptable and what aren't.”
What’s ahead for 2024 in mortgages and commercial finance?
After 12-18 months of uncertainty caused by cash rate hikes, Mr Rogers was anticipating greater confidence in the market over 2024.
“There's a lot of good energy going into the year - there's been a lot of momentum, very early on,” he said. “It's probably been one of the best starts we've had to the year that I can remember in a long time.”
Diversification will be a big play for mortgage brokers in 2024, Mr Rogers believes.
“It's no longer, ‘Do we go to the bank or do we go to the broker?’. It's now, ‘Which broker do we choose?’ So when we get a client in, it’s about having a more diversified approach.”
Leveraging partnerships within Loan Market and LMG will play a part in achieving diversification, said Mr Rogers. If a client has multiple requests and some are outside of Loan Market Edge’s specialisations, they’ll lean on their relationships within the group to do the best for their client and protect their reputation, at the same time.
“If we don't know the answer, we’ll put our hand up - I'm not going to take the risk with the client. I'd rather pick up the phone, ring someone else in our group and say, ‘Hey, you're my guy, can you look after these clients? We’ll look after the residential lending, could you look after what they need here?”
Mr Lo Surdo said the commercial sector had likewise had a fast start to the year. He was optimistic about the return of development activity after continued undersupply.
“I do think developers are going to say, ‘Hang on, we're at a point where prices are rising and rates look like they've topped out … and we know what equity we have in land - let’s go.
“Our pipeline is just shy of $5bn - it's never been that high before. We're encouraged by this year, particularly in the residential sector.”
Mr Lo Surdo believed industrial lending would remain buoyant but there would be challenges for retail assets with tenants specialising in discretionary assets.
To catch the full conversation, you can watch the session on-demand here.