1. Justin Doobov, Intelligent Finance

Intelligent Finance
Bondi Junction, NSW

“Every deal is harder than prior years. Yesterday I spent six hours fighting with one of the banks”

If you had any doubt about just how competitive the elite tier of broking has become, follow the journey of Justin Doobov. In 2015 he broke through the $300m barrier but was beaten by just $3m; in 2016 Doobov raised his numbers again and was again thwarted. This year, with rivals dropping off, Doobov added an astounding $30m to his total and now holds the all-time Top 100 record with almost $360m under his belt.

Doobov is the first to admit that his brokerage, Intelligent Finance, is not revolutionary: “We’re not trying to be big one day and gone the next; it’s all about consistency.”

The brokerage enjoys several advantages, the first of which is Doobov himself, with his long track record with banks and clients. The company doesn’t advertise and doesn’t need to.

Second is its location: property values in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs are among the highest in the nation, giving Doobov “a bit of a free kick”, as he puts it.

Finally, the brokerage is structured to support Doobov, with staff getting promoted up the pyramid as they become more efficient and experienced at processing loans, and Doobov constantly tweaking and improving the system. The aim is simple: “Our philosophy is we over-service the client.”

Regulation has made this more easily said than done. “Every deal is harder than prior years,” Doobov says. “Yesterday I spent six hours fighting with one of the banks and four hours the day before to overturn their decision; they said they wouldn’t do the deal, and in my eyes it was a low-risk deal.” The deal went through, like many others, because Doobov had ‘mapped out’ how to deal with every one of the bank’s objections. “No is negotiable; that’s my key thing. Don’t tell me no; tell me how much you want to lend them. You might not want to lend them $2.5m, but will you lend them $1m? Yes, you will.”

Having to spend several hours arguing with a bank over every loan is far from ideal for a broker so focused on efficiency. This is why the brokerage’s structure is so important, Doobov explains. “A lot of the fighting and chasing of applications is done by my team. When it gets into a big fight, where [the bank is] not seeing it, I get involved in getting it across the line.”

Doobov is also helped by having less of an overt focus on property investors – who are the targets of much regulation – compared to his competitors. Increased regulation has meant that “you spend less time servicing a customer and more time doing the paperwork, when it should be the other way around”, Doobov says. This is a curse and a blessing: “[New] clients say, ‘They don’t offer me the service they did five years ago’, but with this regulation, most brokers are getting bogged down in paperwork. It takes a lot more man hours to service clients like we used to and hold their hand as much.”

The obvious solution would appear to be hiring more support staff, but Doobov is cautious. “I’d love to hire more people in Sydney who can process and manage new client relationships to allow us to process more applications. It’s just very hard to find the right staff.” There’s another reason to be concerned: the brokerage’s cost per loan is rising, but Doobov’s income per loan is essentially fixed, he says. “Some of the banks are talking commissions downward, but if anything the commissions should be increased, because of the amount of work we need to do now to get a loan approved.”

While other award-winning brokers have spun off their success into much larger business ventures, Doobov is  not convinced by his larger or more websavvy competitors. “They keep telling me that my model is more efficient, and whilst every model has its stresses the grass isn’t always greener. At this stage it will just be doing more of the same and trying to look after more clients more efficiently and keep going, as I love working with my clients.”

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