Lewis Johns has always dealt in home loans, broking mortgages for both established institutions and fresh-faced digital lenders. But the industry is changing – and brokers like Lewis need to evolve to survive.
The call is from Lewis Johns’ real estate agent. The news: the Brisbane property he purchased in June 2020 has jumped in value from $730,000 to $1.1 million – a staggering leap of nearly 50%. But, as a veteran mortgage broker, Lewis isn’t surprised.
He’s spent the past decade helping medical professionals obtain home loans. Now, he’s seeing the fruits of that expertise in his own portfolio, and he isn’t done yet.
“I’m holding for the long term,” he explains. “Brisbane markets are projected to experience good growth over the next five to ten years – thanks to the Olympic Games in 2032 – so I’m anticipating even larger capital gains over that period.”
Lewis has even leveraged the equity in his current property to purchase a second investment property, a tactic that he’ll look to repeat in 2024. It’s the second big move he’s made since emigrating to Australia from the UK. The first: joining the Australian Lending and Investment Centre (ALIC).
For Lewis, it’s not a superficial job change. The fundaments of his new role are vastly different – at ALIC, he helps clients build wealth through property. That can and often does involve broking home loans, but it also demands a longer-term view, one that looks past the settlement date and towards the client’s ideal future.
It’s a world apart from his first finance job in the UK. A native Scotsman, Lewis studied accounting and financial planning, before landing a role as a mortgage adviser at Nationwide Building Society, a goliath credit union with more than 16 million members worldwide. There, he was tasked with broking on demand – getting members the mortgages they wanted as quickly as possible.
In 2013, he moved to Brisbane, Australia. After a stint with Macquarie’s life insurance division, he moved to private banking at BOQ Specialist, a division of Bank of Queensland. His new world was thirty-degree summers, Queensland beaches, and specialised lending for doctors, dentists and vets.
“I was one of the top performers at BOQ Specialist, and then a smaller company came along called Credabl, which was started by a few of the ex-BOQ staff,” Lewis says. “They were doing lending for medical professionals again, but more in line with mortgage broking, rather than bank-based lending, which meant we actually had multiple banks and institutions that we could use [to get loans for our clients].”
Digital banks like Credabl rely on flexible financing, frictionless customer experience, and agile lenders – the perfect environment for Lewis to hone his broking skillset. But, three years in, he was presented with an even better opportunity: the chance to work alongside some of Australia’s top brokers at ALIC, a company with a unique market perspective.
When asked what made him say yes to the recruiter’s offer, Lewis pauses for a moment. “[ALIC have] been the number one mortgage broking firm in Australia multiple times. And then Mark [Davis], who I’m actually working with in Brisbane, he’s personally been the number one broker in Australia multiple times as well.
“So it was more than just [ALIC’s] credentials. They’re actually one of the very top, if not the number one, mortgage brokering company in the country.”
He draws a distinctly British comparison between ALIC and his other jobs: stepping up to the Premier League from the EFL. But he’s quick to clarify that his time at Credabl and BOQ Specialist was invaluable.
High-income earners – whether they’re doctors, CEOs, or investment bankers – tend to be time-poor. Their wealth comes at a temporal price, and that means they look for efficiency and acuity in their professional advisers. They want the facts, fast, not a meandering conversation where they repeat themselves again and again.
Both Credabl and BOQ Specialist lend almost exclusively to high-income earners, which meant Lewis was already well-versed in the right tempo. Since joining ALIC in September, he’s been putting those skills to use with Mark Davis, familiarising himself with new client structures and learning how to realise optimal outcomes.
The key to those outcomes, Lewis says, is an exceptional level of service. “High-income earners don’t want to be going into a bank or a branch and having a meeting with someone. They don’t have time.”
He points to digitisation as a major turning point. COVID-19 normalised remote collaboration, and, armed with tools like Teams and Zoom, ALIC’s brokers have been pursuing a digital-first meeting strategy that maximises both their and their clients’ time. Instead of being forced to meet before or after work, clients can now work around their schedules – a lunch break, a gap in meetings, the commute home. Flexibility and client-centrism are the new table stakes in the broking world.
“You could have a husband and wife working in different locations,” Lewis explains. “But then you can get both of them on their lunch break over Zoom, and they don’t have to try to create time when they’ve finished working. They can be at home spending time with their family instead.”
Lewis isn’t only interested in high-income earners, though. The people he wants to collaborate with are individuals with an investor mindset – the ones who, like him, can see five, ten years down the track, and understand that laying the foundations now is how future wealth is created.
“At ALIC, we help people who want to invest in property, but don’t necessarily know how to do it themselves,” Lewis says. “Should they be buying apartments to rent out? Or should they be upgrading the family home to get a bigger house to rent out the first place they bought? Or should they be buying in Brisbane, or in the Gold Coast? That’s where we step in to be able to show them how to borrow and how to build their wealth in the right way.”
A crucial part of the ALIC methodology is supporting their clients with the right professional team. Where other brokers end with settlement, ALIC’s lending managers introduce independent advisers into the equation – buyer’s advocates, accountants, and financial advisers. ALIC is limited to providing lending scenario advice, so those professionals help clients do things like choose the right property, minimise tax exposure, and execute long-term financial goals.
And that’s been the biggest adaption Lewis has had to make by joining ALIC – moving from a limited, loan-oriented perspective to a holistic, long-term view that focuses on client outcomes. There’s no more ‘here’s your interest rate, here’s your loan, off you go’. Instead, he looks at how mortgages can be structured to support both five- to ten-year goals and later-life aspirations. In other words, he’s transitioning from being an excellent tactician to a true strategist.
“Where ALIC differentiates itself [from other brokerages] is those professional support networks, as well as the focus on strategy, structure and planning,” Lewis explains.
In the next few years, the company’s strategic approach could well become the demarcation between successful brokerages and those that spiral into stagnation. As of this article’s writing, the average Aussie home buyer is holding back, wary of a chaotic market and climbing interest rates. ABS data is already showing an 8.2% drop in new housing loan commitments – bad news for firms who do broking-on-demand.
But, for Lewis’s new clients, the chaos is an opportunity to buy low and appreciate. In the words of ALIC CEO Damian Brander, “buy in the gloom, sell in the boom”. While Lewis is always careful to avoid giving property advice, he’s happy to talk about the lending structures that can help investors win, even in cooling markets.
“With mortgages, you’ve got the benefit of leveraging your deposit. So if you had $200,000 available, it’s actually worth $1 million, because lenders will generally lend you five times whatever cash you have. So you can use that to get into the market, which is something not a lot of people understand. They don’t understand the risks and they don’t understand how to structure loans properly, which is where we come in.”
Lewis only joined ALIC in September 2022, but he’s looking forward to supporting past and future clients through strategic lending advice. With his skillset being fostered by industry veterans like Mark Davis and Kevin Agent, he’s ready for whatever 2023 has in store.