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Industry Pioneer: Michael Ellenzweig

Michael EllenzweigIn some way, all mortgage brokers owe a debt of gratitude to Michael Ellenzweig. He has spent almost 40 years advancing Canada’s broker industry, organizing its members and educating its newcomers. And now, after a storied career, he’s retiring.

We’ve never interviewed Michael in the seven years we’ve run this site. But we should have. He’s an incredible advocate for our channel and one of the most respected and straightest shooters in the business. He was inducted into Canada’s Mortgage Hall of Fame for good reason, having done everything from co-founding CIMBL, the predecessor to the Canadian Association of Accredited Mortgage Professionals, heading up CAAMP and the Ontario Mortgage Brokers’ Association, authoring our industry’s textbooks and teaching broker licensing courses to over 6,000 prospective agents.

Only a handful have given as much to our business as Michael, and before he walked off into the sunset we got this chance to speak with him.

CMT: What year did you start in the mortgage industry, and what was your first job in it?

Michael: I started in 1975. I was a mortgage broker in Whitby, Ontario.

CMT: How would you characterize the mortgage market when you began, compared to today?

Michael: When I started in the industry it only took one income to service a mortgage…and people had 25-year term mortgages…Back then they only counted half of the wife’s income in case she had a baby. It was ridiculous…Only two major financial institutions were dealing with mortgage brokers at the time and the finder’s fees were 10 basis points per year of term. That means 30 bps on a 3-year term…and if your split was 50/50, you’d take home 15. Today, the average mortgage duration is 3.5 years. Product and lender choice is tenfold what it was when I started.

CMT: Back then, what were the barriers to entry in our business?

Michael: Realtors were deemed to be mortgage brokers and most provinces didn’t have mortgage broker legislation. There were more lawyers arranging mortgages than mortgage brokers. Everybody was a mortgage broker, so to speak. Today we have a structure built around legislation and regulations.

CMT: You’ve had a distinguished career training Canada’s young mortgage agents. So you know well that licensing courses don’t teach us everything we need to know to be successful brokers. What is the most important education component missing from today’s licensing and broker training courses?

Michael: Good question, Rob. It is a bit of a patchwork quilt out there. The one area that is coming into play more and more is know your client (KYC). Broker training should include more on assessing suitability. This will come to the floor in the next while.

CMT: What’s the most essential advice you can provide new agents starting their brokering careers?

Michael: It’s all about relationships…with clients, lender partners and other industry participants. Treat them well and you will reap the dividends.

CMT: In 5 years, given today’s plethora of free information online, direct-to-consumer Internet models, etc., will mortgage broker market share and broker employment be higher or lower than they are today, and why?

Michael: I have always been a broker advocate. Today, more than ever, the majority of consumers need a trusted advisor to help them navigate the mortgage maze…Buying a home is the biggest financial decision of one’s life…[People] buy a Dell computer online or go to the Apple store. One size does not fit all. Having said that, there is room for direct-to-consumer models. Today’s consumer doesn’t fit one mold. I don’t see exponential growth for the channel; more consolidation with slow, steady growth. The broker channel has a 40% first-time home buyer market share, which is phenomenal.

CMT: Is there anything the heads of Canada’s superbrokers could do better to build market share and prepare brokers for the next 5 years?

Michael: The market share of the top 10 brands is over 70%. To achieve that level they are doing a great job. My advice is more, more, more. More technology, more training, more innovation.

CMT: Do you see any overlap with the independent regional associations in our industry? Would consolidation of associations be beneficial, unnecessary — and why?

Michael: There is association fatigue out there and it has to be resolved quickly. Our world is consolidating; lenders, brokerages; why not associations? Makes sense to me.

CMT: What must CAAMP do to better to serve its membership?

Michael: Communicate, communicate, communicate.

CMT: What is your proudest achievement during your career?

Michael: To have survived in the industry for close to 40 years.  I still can’t believe it.

CMT: What is your biggest regret during your time in this industry?

Michael: I’ve had a great run. Very proud of where the brokerage industry is today. I’m very lucky. I had the best job in the business working for CAAMP and I got to drive the bus for a while. No regrets.

CMT: Thank you, Michael…for everything you’ve done to foster an invaluable channel for mortgage consumers and a rewarding career for mortgage professionals. We join countless others in our business in saying, you will be missed.

See also: CAAMP’s Tribute to Michael

Rob McLister, CMT (email)