Matthew Pongrass of Certe Finance doesn't shy away from a challenge

Matthew Pongrass quit his job in banking the day after he turned 30 in order to launch his own mortgage broking business. MPA spoke with the former Young Gun about why he loves the profession and why his first ever transaction stands out as the most memorable.

How he got started

Leaving a well-paid job at 30 might seem like a bit of a gamble for most, but Pongrass had been planning this move for quite some time.

“I always said by 30 I want to work for myself – and so I quit the day after I turned 30.”

After working at a second-tier bank for about seven years, he was keen to start up his own business as a broker – something that could enable him to take charge of his destiny and write his own work/life rules.

Having already established a solid base of accountants and financial planners, he took the plunge and struck up a deal with a client in order to get the ball rolling under their umbrella brand Certe.

“There was a little bit of continuity upfront because I had initially, off the bat, a good referral partner.”

Overcoming the initial challenges

The first year saw Pongrass working 18 hour days in order to build traction and develop strong relationships with lenders.

“It was a grind but I managed to get there.”

Staying on top of the changing policies of 20 to 30 lenders proved his biggest challenge – something he overcame by heightening his focus.

“When I started, I tried to spread myself a little bit too thin.”

“I was trying to build relationships with every bank and there’s just so many.”

He overcame this by building good relationships with six or seven banks that cover the spectrum of most lending scenarios, and moving beyond these banks whenever he gets a client whose needs are much more out of the box.

“It’s a good starting point for me because I know when I speak to a client where they would sit straight away.”

“If it sits with one particular bank, I can narrow it down to banks that are like that.”

“If I need to go outside those banks I do, but it’s an easier way of knowing where to put someone after the first conversation.”

An out of the box approach

The first lending scenario Pongrass took on as a broker was a client who kept getting knocked back from the banks for a $7m construction loan.

“The first deal I ever did was a doozy. It was an older gentleman who had been trying to build a hotel for three years.”

“It was his lifelong dream and no bank would give him any money because he had no experience.”

“I had to rethink how it was done.”

“Rather than leverage against the construction, we could look to leverage against his share portfolio as a different strategy.”

“So, we sat down with the financial advisor and talked about the risks of leveraging the equities portfolio and came up with the number that worked.”

“It was essentially just taking exactly what he was trying to do but shifting the security that he wanted to borrow against to make it a lot easier and cheaper.”

“I actually spoke to him yesterday – it’s all completed now and running at 99% occupancy.”

Broking deals a strong hand

Before his previous job in business banking, Pongrass played poker for a living – something that he still enjoys today as a hobby.

“I remember going to the interview for my first job.”

“They looked at my resume and I had nothing on there – just a Uni degree and my work experience was playing poker.”

“By the end of the interview I had the interviewer asking me how to play.”

Nowadays, Pongrass enjoys the ability that broking gives him to be able to balance life and work in a way that most salaried positions don’t.

“I like to take four weeks off here or six weeks off here or work from somewhere remote.”

“If you can fit all that stuff in with work then life is a lot more enjoyable.”