“My goal since day one was to create a company whose employees would be recognized as being the best in the industry.”
In some ways I find it difficult to believe that we’ve hit the six month mark already. Yet, on the other hand it feels like a year’s worth activities have taken place in the first six months of 2012. As an industry we have had to deal with the constant media attacks. Personally, as CAAMP Chair, regulatory issues and media distortions have been at the forefront for me day in and day out. Just when you think there might be a reprieve, or at the very least seventy two hours of tranquility, BAM! Something happens. It’s been that kind of year.
A sure sign for me that the first six months of the year is now visible in my review mirror is the mid-year Merix Sales Conference. We just completed our seventh annual conference, and if truth be told I think I get as much out of the conference that our employees do. I was a tad concerned that fatigue might get in the way of providing the right level of energy for our employees. Since mid-May I’ve traveled to Australia, Poland and now San Francisco for the Merix Sales Conference. All wonderful experiences but getting there (wherever there might be) and back is a little draining. So, I inhaled a little extra high octane coffee and got on with it, and after the first day no artificial stimulants were required to manufacture energy levels. The Merix employees provided that for me with their level of engagement and appreciation during the sales conference. I always marvel at how prepared our employees are when they come to the conference. All pre-work is completed and there are no wallflowers. They want to learn, they want to improve their skill sets and they want to enjoy the experience. A big thank you to Genworth for participating, and for the educational content they provided.
My goal since day one was to create a company whose employees would be recognized as being the best in the industry. Setting aside my rose coloured glasses for a moment, bar none the Merix sales team and support staff is a cut above. I take great pride in their results but even greater pride in the way they conduct themselves professionally. They will never do anything to embarrass the company. They treat their customers, be it borrowers or brokers, with professional courtesy and respect. A way for an organization to ingrain that principal is simple; you treat your employees that way. If you treat your employees with respect, dignity and courtesy, the odds are good they will do the same for their customers. The purpose of our sales conference is to educate, refocus and get prepared for the second half of the year, and to remember a moment in time. For the team it was remembering the sessions during the day, the excursion to Alcatraz, taking in the Giants versus Dodgers ball game, visiting wineries in Sonoma, and officially ending the conference with a team dinner in the most exquisite surroundings. After dinner I walked out of the cave, dinner was actually served in a man-made cave at the winery, to enjoy a cigar. I stood there by myself and took great pleasure at the sound of laughter coming from the cave. These people truly like each other, and they all want each other to succeed. From where I sit that’s an organizational badge of honour.
On behalf of all of us at Merix, enjoy the summer.
Until next time
CheersRead More Add a Comment
If you’re in the mortgage industry and you’re not aware of the announcement made by the Ministry of Finance and OSFI last week, welcome back from the other planet you were visiting. If you’re spaceship was delayed in getting back to mother earth, here’s what you missed. Mortgages bad, government very wise. We’re all aware of the changes, amortization period reduced, LTV for refinances was cutback, and GDS and TDS was adjusted as well. And if you can afford a home over one million dollars, who cares about you. All very straightforward and in it of itself not devastating to the housing and mortgage sector. But we cannot look at these changes in isolation. It’s the cumulative effect of all the changes that have taken place in the last three years which gives us reason for pause and be concerned.
We have every right to be concerned because this industry is our livelihood. Unlike “elected” political officials and government “employees” this industry is more to us than a theoretical exercise. As an industry we have a responsibility to support efforts as it relates to the long term viability of the housing sector. Anyone, with a modicum of common sense, understands the concept of short term pain for long term gain. However, stakeholders have every right to call out decision makers if there’s concerns that the decisions made today may have unintended consequences. We also have every right to ask decision makers to articulate, in a clear and cogent fashion, the rationale behind the decisions they made.
When clarity is missing you’re left to your own interpretations and code breaking ability. From my viewpoint these changes mean that interest rates will remain at historical lows for an extended period of time. Given what the US Fed said recently, unemployment rate will be higher than 8% and slow growth until Q4 of 2014, interest rates are not going up anytime soon. The changes also suggest that government is guessing how Canada will fare within the global economic reality. It was three months ago that Fed’s said no further changes to mortgage rules was necessary. So what happened in the last ninety days? Nothing in Canada, but in Europe, the US and China, a whole lot happened. That’s our new reality, Europe, the US and China sneezes, Canada grabs a tissue and wipes its nose.
There’s a risk with every move the government makes. It’s clear that the government cannot slow down the housing market through monetary policy so they’ll attempt to do so through regulations. If the government is too “successful” in slowing down the market which leads to job loss and erosion of wealth, well, home owners will look for someone to blame. It’s one thing for voters to believe that we all fell off the real estate cliff together due to a natural real estate cycle. It’s altogether different when the home owner can say, “we were pushed off the cliff”.
Until next time
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I suspect by now you’ve heard the news that CIBC has decided to wind down it’s broker brand, FirstLine Mortgages. The industry has been rife with rumors about FirstLine’s future for some time now. CIBC finally had to confirm that FirstLine was in play, for sale. There was chatter that a sale was imminent and that the FirstLine brand may survive but in the end it ended up being “the end” for FirstLine.
CIBC made a business decision to wind down FirstLine, and not being privy to the facts it would be inappropriate on my part to say if they were right or wrong to do this. I will say this, it’s a shame. Firstline played a major role in the development and growth of the mortgage broker channel. Many moons ago I worked for CIBC/FirstLine, as the Area Franchise Manager, Western Canada, for Mortgage Centre Canada. I thought about about some of the people I worked with back then, and the others who at one time worked for FirstLine. Many of our industry leaders today were at one time employed by Firstline. To me this is a mark of an organization that prided themselves on hiring the best people, for many of these people went on to lead other organizations. FirstLine always had a reputation for being the best. They set the standard for all others to follow. As a competitor, on more than one occasion, I would curse their name. I did so out of begrudging respect. I always wanted to beat them but not this way.
In time FirstLine will fade from our memory. But before that happens I think we should reflect on the importance of FirstLine, and the contribution this brand made to our industry. No one should take delight in this announcement. As a former customer and a present day competitor, I want to thank FirstLine for their historical relevance and for the contribution they made towards legitimizing our industry.
Until next time,
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It’s time to say goodby to Poland, and head back to reality. I write this blog in advance of the final game which took place last night. By the time this blog is posted our traveling party will be on a plane heading to Germany to catch our connection to Toronto. The whole purpose of this trip was to capture memories with family and and friends. The soccer games we attended was a mere instrument to that end and the games provided some unforgettable memories. Some good, and some sporting memories which would be best served staying in Poland.
What I’ll remember is the laughter, the excitement, experiencing a different culture and acquiring a taste for Polish beer. When a pint of beer costs less than bottled water you left with no choice but to do the math and come to the conclusion, “what else could we do”? What stands if for me is that my dad is real champ. At the age of 75 he hung in with us like a real trooper. At the games, the outdoor cafe’s and of course the pub’s. Never once did he complain, and every time we asked him if he was okay his answer was, ‘let’s go”. My brother, who loves capturing images of, well, everything. Here’s a picture of us getting into the cab, here’s a picture of us in the cab, and here’s a picture of us getting out of the cab. He had a blast and provided many a funny moment. Our Irish traveling companion, who has an uncanny knack for languages, was our official translator in Poland. Sure we took some extra long cab rides because Polish isn’t his first language but eventually he always got us back to the hotel. For his sake I hope his team did well on Monday night, it would be a nice way for him to end the trip.
It was a blast but reality awaits. From weak economic news to OSFI rules and everything in between. It’s good to be home.
Until next time,
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A tad late posting the blog but the reason for my tardiness is understandable, I’m on vacation and I was busy celebrating. Celebrating a tie may not be fashionable in North America but at a tournament of this magnitude, facing stiff competition, we gladly took our point. It was a wonderful experience being in the Municipal Stadium last night. It’s a shame that the stadium wasn’t full. This was due in large part the lack of support from the Italians. Supporters of the Azzurri were badly outnumbered, and their cheers were drowned out by those wearing the checkerboard jersey. It’s been reported here that the Italian Soccer Federation returned some seven thousand tickets which were allotted to them for the tournament. I suspect that Italy, like many of their nutty nieghbours, had some kind of social program which subsidized Euro Tickets and travel costs. Angela Merkel now says that’s verboten. I say that in jest but given the entitlements that most Europeans deem to be their god given right, a social program such as this wouldn’t surprise me in the least.
The game itself supplied plenty of drama. We were fortunate to come out of the first half down only a goal. The conversation among us was rather muted during halftime. Then out of nowhere the Croatians exhibited their skill sets in the second half which had taken them this far. I was so relieved because I could stop holding my breath and I could start enjoying the game. There was no doubt the Croatian’s were going to score in the second half. The only question left to be answered was if they could score two goals and celebrate a victory. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
The third and final game for the Croatians in the qualifying group is a huge task, the Spaniards. There are so many variables to be able to advance to the next round, ties and loses by all the teams in the group, that it makes the brain hurt. One possibility is if the Irish could defeat or tie the Italians, but given their performance to date at this tournament it’s clear we’re going to have to do this ourselves. Frankly, that’s the way it should be.
The cool thing about this adventure is the interesting people we have met along the way. Last night there was a group of us chatting, having a cigar and the odd beverage, on the hotel balcony. There was a gent of Croatian heritage from Australia in the group. He and his family, wife, three kids and his sister and brother in-law, are in Poland for Euro 2012 qualifying round. Then they’re off for another eight weeks to travel around Europe. Clearly these people know how to live. Also among the group on the patio was a television crew who were broadcasting the games back to Germany. Here’s the thing, they hate soccer. This is just another gig for them, and all they wanted to do is talk about Canada, and the visits they’ve made to the great white north. I had to laugh when the guy from Berlin said he loved Winnipeg, and he meant it. Then there was the two guys from Switzerland, who spoke French but are of Italian heritage. They were in Poland to support their team, which I believe was the Italians. Given the different languages they spoke I wasn’t really sure who they were supporting. They didn’t say much in Italian, but when they did I got homesick. It reminded me of the sounds of Woodbridge, Ontario. A cultured and unique group of individuals or if you prefer, the UN of beer guzzlers.
Until next time
Needless to say that 75% of our traveling group was in a euphoric state after the game. Our Irish traveling companion was disappointed but like all the Irish supporters in the stadium they accepted defeat with grace. I was stunned at the number of Irishmen who congratulated me as we walked the streets after the game. Bar none the Irish supporters are the best fans anywhere.
The atmosphere in the stadium was electric. This was like a home game for the Irish because 80% of those in attendance wore the Irish jersey, and they were in good voice. They sang, and sang, and then they sang some more. Hours before the game, and definitely during the game, the Croatian supporters were serenaded with “you’ll never beat the Irish”. They continued to sing even though we were dissecting them with surgical precession. When the final whistle blew I sang a song to myself – I was surrounded by thousand of Irish fans and I wasn’t about to test their good nature,”we just beat the Irish”.
On to the Italians, who smugly believe it’s their god given right to advance to the next round. According to the Italian press a victory over the Croatians is but a mere formality. That’s just the way we – Croatian supporters – like it.
Until next time
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My dad grabbed my shoulders and turned me in his direction. He hugged me, kissed me on the cheek and said, “this is the best gift anyone could have ever given me”.
Over the years I have learned, sometimes painfully, it is not material possessions that make you happy. Sure, nice clothes, cars and houses are nice but they end up being disposable. Experiences create memories, and that’s something no one can take away from you. I am about to embark on a journey which will create a lifelong memory for me. On Friday, my dad, my brother and a family friend of ours are heading to Poland for Euro 2012. For those not familiar with soccer or this tournament, it’s a tournament that brings together the top 16 soccer nations in Europe who will compete for European soccer supremacy. The quality of soccer at this tournament is by far the best. It far exceeds the World Cup because unlike the World Cup, no dogs qualify. The teams which qualify for Euro 2012 are some of the strongest teams in the world. Thousands of supporters will make a pilgrimage to either Poland or the Ukraine, the two host countries, for this tournament. That’s what makes this tournament so exciting, it is nation against nation with very passionate fans. Sometimes the passion can cross over the line but if it’s anything like Euro 2008 in Austria, you would have to be a complete moron to try anything stupid. I had never seen security like I did in 2008. Given the police presence and visible militia during the tournament in Austria, I think it was the safest place to be in all of Europe.
My reason for going to Euro 2012 is because of the experience I had during Euro 2008. Our entire family went to Austria in 2008, but it was the boys who attended 3 games during the qualifying round. It was a special moment and time to spend with my dad and my brother.
As point of background, I’m of Croatian decent. I was born and raised in Canada, but like many Canadians, my parents immigrated to Canada. They escaped from communist Yugoslavia, for the sole purpose of a better life. My parents instilled great pride in me about my ancestry, and they forced me to go to Croatian language school every Saturday, for seven consecutive years. Trust me, back then I was none too pleased to get on a bus every Saturday to go to yet another school. Today? I’m thankful they did it. I can converse in a second language, more than just swearing, and make my away around Croatia when we go and visit family there. But here’s the thing, my father never put Croatia over Canada. He is so proud to be Canadian that sometimes it put me to shame. After a brutal and bloody war, Croatia became an independent country in 1992. I don’t believe my father honestly thought he would ever see the day that Croatia would gain its freedom but he never stopped hoping. I can’t even imagine what it must felt like when that day finally arrived for him. How could I understand being born and raised in Canada, where what we take for granted is wishful thinking for those who came from an oppressed country. On Croatian Independence Day, my Dad will raise the Croatian flag at his home just north of Toronto. But here’s the thing, right next to the Croatian Flag is the Canadian Flag. He would never display one without the other. He is a proud Canadian and Canada is his home.
I go back four years ago and I remember it like it was yesterday. We were in Klagenfurt, Austria to watch a David and Goliath soccer game; Croatia, a nation of four and half million people, against the mighty Germans, a nation of eighty two million people. Croatia produces some magnificent soccer players but let’s get real, this is Germany. We went into the stadium hoping for a tie, and with 10 minutes left in the game Croatia was leading by a 2-1 score. The last 10 minutes of the game was the longest 10 minutes of my life. The mighty Germans threw everything at us; they kept attacking us in waves. Yet somehow the lads wearing the checkerboard jerseys kept them at bay. We were horse from singing and chanting, hurling verbal abuse at the German spectators on the other side of the pitch. I remember looking at the clock and it read 90 minutes. The game should be over but in soccer you always play a few extra minutes to make up for lost time due to bad acting (for illustration please see the Italian National Soccer Team). So I kept my eyes of the referee and I was willing him to blow the final whistle. It finally happened, it was sheer pandemonium. The three of us were jumping up and down like idiots. We were high fiving and hugging total strangers, and then my dad grabbed my shoulders and turned me in his direction. He hugged me, kissed me on the cheek and said, “This is the best gift anyone could have ever given me”. It was at that moment that I said to myself that if my father was in good health and able to travel we would do this again; if I had to take a second job scrubbing toilets to be able to pay for the trip, so be it. The experience and memory will stay with me for a life time.
Joining us this year is someone that I’ve been friends with for thirty years and he knows my dad and brother really well. Kevin Conroy is his name, and as you may have surmised that’s Irish. The first game we will be attending is Croatia versus the Republic of Ireland. I told Kevin not to give sitting in the Croatian section of the stadium a second thought. He’ll be more than welcome wearing his green jersey. Hey, I did all the organizing and got all the tickets.
Until next time,
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The fact is that I would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to read a at least one post. This process has been somewhat cathartic and its provided a creative outlet for me. I hate writers block, there’s been many occasions where I struggled to come up with something.
It must be something about the mortgage industry which makes time seem to go by so quickly. Maybe it’s because we work in 30 and 31 day increments and the cycle begins anew with every month end. Before you realize it you’re facing that last month end of the year and if things went well the previous 11 months you wish you could invent a 13th month. If the previous 11 months were challenging you can’t wait to reset the clock and start again. In our industry it’s all about short periods of time, and if you’re not paying attention you could end up overlooking key moments.
It dawned on me last week that I was approaching the one year mark of my blog. I can’t believe it’ been a year but the calendar doesn’t lie. A lot has happened to me personally and business wise over the past 12 months. The good far outweighs the challenges, and one event I can clearly put in the good column was agreeing to write the blog. Our Communications Specialist, Leeanne O’Brien, convinced me to do this. I really didn’t get why but I finally said okay, let’s give it a roll. As I wrote in my first blog post my expectation was that mom, (because she loves me) and my staff (because they’re on the pay-roll and I can make them read it) would be the only ones to read my blog. There were no grand intentions around the blog. That’s demonstrated by the fact that there was no plan in place to see if the blog could take off and garner a wider audience. There were no advertising dollars committed to it. The blog was not created for economic purposes. It was simply a vehicle to share thoughts with what I hoped would be handful of people in the mortgage industry.
Much to my amazement more than a handful of people have either decided to subscribe to the blog or visit at their leisure. All statistics as it relates the blog is curtsey of Google analytics. I’m pleasantly surprised that that blog has had over 50,000 visits and over 160,000 page views in the first year. These results once again illustrate the importance of communication and social media. Based on the data we have 49% of blog visits from Facebook and 15% from Twitter.
I was a little surprised that 16% of readers viewed the blog from their mobile device. Just over 81% of readers are from Ontario and British Columbia, and 11% of views are from the US. I would be remiss for not sending a special shout-out to the 6 people who read my blog from Nigeria. “Hello Armenia, I would like to thank the 7 of you have taken the time to read the blog.”
The fact is that I would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to read at least one post. This process has been somewhat cathartic and it has provided a creative outlet for me. I hate writers block, there’s been many occasions where I struggled to come up with something. I have no idea how people who write for a living do it. I don’t do this for a living because I have other responsibilities, and then there’s that little nuisance thing called lack of talent and skill. But if only one person out there subscribes to my blog and puts up with my limitations, I’ll keep writing. Ah, who am I kidding? If comes down to one person alone who reads my blog I’ll stop writing and just pick up the phone and call them. I suspect the conversation will go something like this, “Hi mom, what’s for lunch on Sunday”?
Thank you to all.
Until next time,
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