Originators Have An Affinity for Referral Partners

Loan originators share their techniques for establishing relationships with CPAs, financial planners and attorneys.

While many loan originators consider Realtors and builders to be the prime sources of referrals, others have turned elsewhere to seek profitable “partnerships.” They have established mutually beneficial associations with attorneys, CPAs, financial planners and others.

Following is a close-up look at what several successful originators are doing to market to and with these affinity partners.

Financial Planners
Some originators have experienced a gradual entrée into the affinity marketplace, resulting from their already established customer base. For example, Gina Jackson, Cornerstone Mortgage, Dallas, Texas, realized that a core part of her customer base was tied to a group of financial planners. “Working with planners started as a result of having a large percentage of high net-worth clients, many of whom used the same financial planning group,” she said. “I met the primary planners, did many of their own loans, and then they began referring customers to me. When they started a professional networking group, I became the mortgage person.”

Jackson subsequently joined the Dallas chapter of the Financial Planners Association as an affiliate member/sponsor and attends their regular events. “I was recently able to make a brief presentation at one of the luncheon meetings. In addition, I have access to the association’s membership and plan on sending an e-mail regarding my services.”

Steve Hines approached planners on an individual and corporate basis, introducing himself as a “no-frills” potential business partner. “I tell them that their customer is going to be happy (with his service) and that is what they want to hear,” said Hines, Southern Capital Resources, Birmingham, Ala. In their meetings, he (and company vice president Janie Hannah) evaluates his comfort level with them, as well as his perceived value as a referring partner. As he expanded his contacts, Hines hosted luncheons for North Alabama’s Financial Planners Association, enabling him to make presentations about his services, with an emphasis on the mortgage-related educational courses. “This was a way for them to develop a comfort level with me and my credibility as a mortgage consultant. I also suggested that I could refer clients to them, and they to me.”

Hines eventually took advantage of combined marketing efforts. For example, he has written articles for the association’s monthly newsletter and includes some of their writing in his publications. However, he has refrained from distributing mass mailings to financial planner clients. “I think that clients respond better to an individual contact, where the planner has referred us.”

Brian Comer, Advanced Mortgage Services, Norwell, Mass. got started by working with financial advisors at an American Express office. “They were easy to approach; they wanted to use my database as much as I did theirs,” he explained. “I met with a few planners and we discussed the potential of working together. We’ve done some joint marketing through each other’s database. For example, one planner has included a letter of introduction to me to their clients.”

Comer subsequently expanded his financial planner connection, by offering monthly seminars on reverse mortgages. “We developed a university style training room to provide seminars and hired an originator who specializes in reverse mortgages,” he said. “We help planners better understand what reverse mortgages are and how they can help their clients by showing that reverse mortgages can be an effective estate management tool. We’ve had a great response to the seminars, with a number of referrals recently.”

Marc Brinitzer, Big Valley Mortgage, Roseville, Calif., has taken the financial planner association in a slightly different direction, partially based on his own experience as a planner. He initially capitalized on his financial planning background by advising customers on their long-range housing/finance goals. He cultivated relationships with other financial planners as well. “I sent letters and met with them to explain our interest in developing a mutually beneficial referral arrangement. Most planners (and CPAs) believe they don’t get much business from originators; they’re more concerned with providing their clients with recommendations for other quality professional services.”

Brinitzer eventually took the next major step by adding a financial planner to his office. “This was someone who had previously counseled some of my borrowers and I thought there was a good fit so I put him on retainer.”

While he no longer focuses on such affinity relationships, John Hicks previously developed a successful working relationship with his CPA at American Express Financial Services. He created a marketing piece to present to them and offered to combine it with their own for a special mailing. The CPAs incorporated some of the information from the piece with the company mailing and introduced Hicks, who subsequently contacted clients from his CPA’s database, asking if they would like to receive e-mails, rate updates or newsletters. His name was already familiar to the clients, setting him apart from other LOs. “The conversion rates from these leads was probably 50-60 percent, as I was strongly recommended by someone they already have a relationship with,” said Hicks, M&I Bank, Maitland, Fla. “To maintain the reciprocal nature, I let them know what I was mailing each month and offered for them (CPA) to include something. It is not just about a network—it is about becoming growth partners.”

Scott Mazur, Professional Mortgage Partners, Downers Grove, Ill., got started with this niche after handling a few loans for CPAs, during which he assessed their client types. “If it (working with their clients) seems it might work out, I mention what kind of service I can offer, and try to arrange a lunch meeting at the CPA’s office (which he provides), where we can get together and discuss mutual areas of interest, rather than just ask for referrals,” said Mazur. “It’s a way to get acquainted with the CPA. Then we can go from there.”

He emphasizes his customer-centric service, such as same-day approval. “I offer to send the good faith estimate to them and their customer, showing that I was confident in what I could do for them,” he said. He also provides amortization schedules and other value-added material and sends periodic updates to show CPAs how he can help clients. “People love it when you tell them they can save $100,000 over 15 years and their CPAs also appreciate that,” he said. “It helps when you’re fresh in their minds, having received something from you.”

Mazur emphasized that it’s important to select the best referral sources at CPA and other firms. “You want to be meeting with the principals or others who are involved in the daily contact with their clients and more likely to give you referrals, rather than number crunchers who are in the backroom offices,” he said. “Overall I’ve found this to be a good niche, and more refreshing than working with real estate agents.”

Jack Lieberman stressed how basic the referral relationship concept can be with CPAs and other affinity partners. Lieberman, USA Mortgage, Austin, Texas, encourages the originators in his office to take a simple yet effective approach. “We follow the concept of developing a network, partly by surveying prospects to find out who their CPA, financial planner, attorney and other advisors are, so that we can subsequently contact them,” he said. “When we started, I was constantly on the phone introducing myself and stating ‘We have a mutual friend and I promised I’d call you. I wanted to see if we can help you now or in the future.’ Of course, I’d ask permission to call their CPA, attorney and others. This is how we expanded our database, which is the foundation of our business.”

Lieberman noted that when he speaks to CPA (and attorney) groups, he makes sure to provide a value-added message, devoid of self-promotion. “I talk about what will be of importance to them and their clients, such as home equity, credit issues and building their own practice through referral marketing,” he said. “I never talk about what I can do for them. I’ve had a great response (with referrals).”

Forget the attorney jokes, these business partners can be a valuable source of leads. For example, Comer learned that attorneys are especially receptive to referral working relationships, depending on their specialty. In addition to receiving referrals from elder care attorneys who attend his reverse mortgage seminars, he has benefited from contacts with divorce attorneys. Following initial meetings to discuss the potential of working together, he discovered another referral tactic. After receiving a customer referral from an attorney, Comer suggested to the borrower that he should consider taking the attorney to their closing. “Of course, customers are often nervous during the closing and having an attorney they know and trust can make them more comfortable,” said Comer. “And the attorneys appreciate the opportunity to be there.”

Mazur built a growing base with divorce attorneys as well. “There will always be situations where couples are parting ways and need a new home purchase or a need to refinance the previous property,” he stressed.

Roy Meshel, State Mortgage, Scottsdale, Ariz., has forged an informal network of attorney referrals through everyday contact rather than a targeted campaign. “I take a soft-sell approach,” he said. “I’ve established contacts with attorneys through a variety of ways, including social settings and my own personal experience. These include divorce, real estate and labor attorneys, the latter working with business owners and executives. Attorneys also introduce me to others at their law firm. The referrals we get are usually high-end loans.” Meshel noted that attorney referrals are especially valuable because the customers usually aren’t shoppers. “Clients trust their attorneys and typically take (their suggestion for) referrals without question.”

As these originators have illustrated, affinity referral relationships can be developed on an elementary scale or a more sophisticated approach. While the specific actions can vary, the end result is usually the same—a steady stream of customers who will continue to generate business.

By David Robinson