Chris Albon - Humans of Finance

Humans of Finance

Chris Albon

It is hard to pinpoint exactly where my broker journey began, because as it is with any journey, there is something prior which sets you on that course.
I worked in retail at the wonderful department store, John Martins, in Adelaide for 15 years, starting when I was 16. In those days, retail meant actually assisting customer, not just processing a transaction. It also meant we were required to wear makeup, pantyhose, and sensible closed in shoes. There was a lot of pride amongst the staff for working for such a well known and respected company as John Martins. Hence, I grew up in that structured, disciplined and respected environment. When ‘Johnnies’ sadly closed after more than 100 years of trade, I was looking for a job that offered those same values.

Chemist Assistant and Bank Teller were top of my list. I started a basic computer course at TAFE as I knew zero about computers, and started writing to every bank in Adelaide. A Chemist Assistant role meant doing a night course in the city & with a husband and young daughter at home, that just didn’t suit. It wasn’t long before I was being interviewed by several banks and really had a choice of where I wanted to work. As I was a customer of Adelaide Bank, I decided to go there.

I was working part time as a teller at my local branch and from very early days, knew I wanted to be a lender. I think that was because I saw it as actually helping people rather than ‘serving’. The branch structure didn’t allow for progression into lending at that time, so my manager would have me trained up for other roles “just to keep me quiet”. ( That manager is a broker now too ironically) . Fast forward to early 2004, after 8 years with the bank, & I was doing the first official Residential Lending Course the bank had ever implemented. After completing the course, I started as a full time ‘Resi Lender’ at the Glenelg Branch. It was tough! I was new to lending and had no training in actually bringing in business, yet I was responsible for more than 50% of the branches targets. Unfortunately, a change of branch manager soon after I started, meant I was working under someone I didn’t particularly like and who really had no idea how to coach / mentor/ encourage / train / motivate me to improve my knowledge and skills. ( having been a supervisor of up to 60 staff at John Martins, I knew how a manager is supposed to work.. )

During my first year as a lender, my family experienced a huge and sudden tragedy when my husband’s brother was killed in a car accident and his mother passed away a week later. His mother, father and two sisters were living in Tasmania at the time and his two brothers were here in SA. When his brother was killed, I arranged for his family to come to Adelaide for the funeral. His mother was not well, so could not travel. She went to the local hospital for respite for a few days. This was not unusual as she had been sick on and off for some time. She had stayed at the hospital before & was happy to do so, although she was very upset at not being able to attend her step-sons funeral.

The funeral was held on a Friday & of course this meant my husband and I had the day off work. Whilst at the funeral, my husband’s sister got a call from her partner back in Tassie, saying that the hospital had contacted him & suggested the family get back to Tassie as Mary was not well. It was not quite so simple to book flights for 6 people at short notice as it is these days, but eventually flights were booked for the following morning with two separate airlines, three people flying on each.

We also had other interstate visitors at the time that we had to coordinate, and it was a very stressful time. Sadly, Mary passed away alone before any of her family could be with her or say their goodbyes.

My husband is Mary’s only biological child. She took the other 5 children on as her own when she met their father many years before. The youngest of the 5 children was only 8 months old. That gives you some idea of the type of woman she was.

Not to dwell on that and get side-tracked, my husband and his father went into meltdown so it was up to myself and one of his sisters to deal with ‘arrangements’. This meant everything from identifying the body, to arranging the funeral, to packing up her belongings, to moving his father in with one of his daughters, to paying all the bills, to contacting everyone etc. Mary’s death was so sudden and unexpected that nothing was in place or even discussed. My husband and I also had the financial burden of the funeral and the flights for the family to get to Adelaide and back.

There was no mobile reception where the family lived in Tasmania so on the Monday morning I had to drive into ‘town’ to call my manager & tell her what had happened. She wanted to know how long I would be away and why hadn’t I given more notice……..??? As I had never organised a funeral before I really had no idea how much time I would need, and I had no idea how much time my husband was gong to need me at home for. ( By contrast, his employer told him to take as much time as he needed.)

It ended up being a week off. I called work several times during that week to let them know what was happening, but I really felt pressure to get back.
Fast forward 12 months……… Despite my loan numbers increasing each month and great feedback from my clients, there was still enormous pressure from my manager to do more. “ What are you going to do to build the business?” was her common and often repeated question.

One day I told her I knew exactly what I was going to do! I got up, went to my office, grabbed my bag and walked out!!!!

I got in my car, called my husband, cried a lot, and then drove to another branch where the manager was one of the best people I had ever worked for. I cried a lot there too, but I said I wanted to keep working but just not at my branch and not for that manager. By then, the senior area manager had been informed of my ‘behaviour’ and demanded I get back to my branch.
Long story short, I had a full breakdown which resulted in 6 weeks off work. In that time I went to a phycologist ( which the bank paid for), liaised with HR and the union. The phycologist determined that the build up of stress was initially caused by how badly the situation was handled by my manager at the time of the family deaths. Also that I felt extreme guilt about Mary being alone and had never given myself proper time to grieve. I never had any contact from my manager or the area manager during that 6 weeks. After about 5 weeks the union rep arranged a meeting with myself, both managers, a HR rep and himself. I had a letter from the phycologist stating that I was never to work with that particular manager ever again. The union rep ensured that nothing disciplinary was put on my file and that the bank would ensure I had a full time job to go back to, ideally in the same role. ( At the meeting, the managers made a point of stating that “ you are only entitled to two days bereavement leave, and your brother in law doesn’t count!” when referring to the week I had had off the year prior).

I eventually went back to work, as a Resi Lender in a part time capacity at another branch. I was there 6 months and was ‘Residential Lender of the Month’ for three of those 6!! My passion for the role had not been broken.
During that 6 months, a conveyancer I had been using and referring to, suggested I meet with two local ladies who were Mortgage Brokers. Needless to say, I left Adelaide Bank the day after completing my 10 years of service, and took the leap into broker world.

What an eye opener that was!!! The girls I worked for were great and went to great lengths to teach me everything they could. I was on commission only for the first time in my life, and with being new to the game, there was not much $$$$ coming in. My long service leave pay was rapidly decreasing, and I was worried about how we were going to manage. I was 10 months in and looking at job vacancies in the paper when my phone rang.

That phone call was to change not only my life, but that of the two girls I was working for. Over the phone I was offered a full time PAYG position with ‘The’ biggest mortgage broker in SA, and one of the biggest in Australia, if not the biggest. The money was more than I had ever earned in my life, plus I would have a car and phone supplied. Telling the girls that I was leaving was one of the hardest things I have had to do. In fact my husband did most of the talking because I was crying so much. These girls had invested so much in me and believed in me. They had plans to expand the business and give me my own office. The disappointment on both their faces was excruciating to see. I had let them down. Soon after, they closed their business and later sold it.

I spent the next four years working for Wendy Higgins, Mortgage Choice. Working for Wendy is not just a job, it is a lifestyle. It is busy and fast paced. It is a world of glamour, and recognition. It is long hours and lots of loans. It’s big rewards and big expectations. It was the biggest and best lending learning curve a new broker could have had. I was on the MPA Top 100 list in 2010 and totally enjoyed the limelight and lifestyle. Hubby and I got into property development & the more I got paid, the more we borrowed. Life was good!

Fast forward…….holding 6 investment properties, including 3 with another couple. Ready to sell a 3 townhouse development as ‘Split Contracts’. Then the dominos fall……

One of our business partners loses her job, property values are falling & a subdivision that we had just completed and sold didn’t reap the profits we needed to continue with the townhouse project. Sitting in a meeting with CBA when they announce Split Contracts are no longer acceptable. We couldn’t fund the construction nor finish the infrastructure. Then one Friday morning soon after, I walk into work and 5 minutes later I am unemployed! Made redundant / Don’t Come Monday !

At that point in time, I should have run away to Bali for a while, but all I could think of was that I had to keep working before I went broke and before I was forgotten as a broker!

My daughter was also pregnant with her first baby, and needed our support.
That was February 2012. My resume was quite impressive so I really could have gone to work just about anywhere, but…… I had no experience in actually getting business! I knew how to put a loan together, knew lender policy, was respected by lenders, but was so used to the business coming to me, that I had no idea how to ‘sell myself’ or network, or build referral relationships. It sounds bazaar now, but that’s how it was.

Over the next 3 years I tried being a commission only broker again, but again, just wasn’t ready – financially or emotionally. I then tried to leave broking by becoming a ‘loan processor’ and hated every minute of it. I then worked for a small broker business who had built their business primarily on referrals from real estate agents. My 14 months there helped me build my confidence and taught me the art of building referral relationships.
During my employment there, the time came to once again, move from PAYG to commission only.

I had a 3 year old grandson, had sold several properties, was getting older, and had to make a decision that would pave the way for the rest of my broker career. I had been a broker for 7 years by then, and had no loan book, no trail, and had never worked for commission only.

So I took the leap of faith. I resigned from my job and over a weekend created my business, Crossing Road Mortgages. I had some business cards made and ‘launched’ my business at my 50th Birthday party! Everyone got a business card with their chocolates 😊

I think I could write another 5 pages about the journey since then, but I won’t. I work from my home which has a beautiful outlook over the garden. I took my grandson to play group once a week for a whole year when he was 3. I was there when he went to kindy and now get to share in his school adventures. Last year we bought a house for our daughter & her partner & our grandson to live in. We go on overseas holidays at least once a year. I am surviving on a commission only income!! 😊

I have a network of agents who refer to me regularly. I get business from my local community as well as past clients and friends. I have had some huge months and some horribly small months. I have had staff and I have wasted money on ineffective advertising. I have learned a lot about running a business, and BAS and GST. I have even learned a lot about how commissions and trail work.

It gets lonely and at times I feel housebound, but I have the freedom to change that when I feel the need.

I will never be on the Top 100 list again, and I don’t care. There are times when I feel swamped and there are times when I just want to shut the door and walk away…….and I can. There are times when I have considered ‘getting a job’. There’s been times when my husband comes home & has to ask if I am still a broker today. Then there are those times when the children of your friends come to you and you help them buy their first home. These are kids you have known since before they were born. When your friends trust you with their most important financial decisions, and can then party with you on the weekend. When you get to call clients, and tell them their loan is approved. I’m sure you all know the times I am referring to, and there are so many more that encompass this job we do. The good and the not so good.

My next challenge is to future proof my business. In our rapidly changing world, I do find all the technology quite daunting. I am also thinking about my ‘exist strategy’. Ideally I would like to find a young, enthusiastic, IT savvy broker who wouldn’t mind learning from an ‘oldie’ like me. The plan being that in a few years’ time, they can look after the business and I can spend more time with my family and relaxing in my beloved Bali!

Who knows what the future holds? I haven’t mastered the Crystal Ball yet, so I have no idea, but I’m not going anywhere just yet 😊

Chris Albon - Humans of FinanceChris Albon - Humans of FinanceChris Albon - Humans of FinanceChris Albon - Humans of FinanceChris Albon - Humans of Finance