An ally worth having - The Adviser (23 April 2015)

It may be a relative newcomer but Alliance Mortgage Solutions is already making waves in the third-party channel. The Adviser sits down with the firm's directors to talk about the secrets to their success.

Cissy Fang Donald Tang and Eric Cui have an aura about them reminiscent of the Three Musketeers - "all for one, one for all".

Since forming Alliance Mortgage Solutions in November 2012, the Sydney-based brokers have stuck to their game plan and reaped the rewards.

During the 2013/2014 financial year, the firm settled 680 loan applications worth over $400 million. And Alliance looks set to smash these figures this financial year - the company submitted 854 loans worth approximately $589 million in the first six months of 2014.

Alliance was ranked 14th in The Adviser's Top 25 Brokerages list for 2014 and was named Best New Office in New South Wales at the 2015 Better Business Awards.

Mr Cui has been the standout performer of the trio when it comes to individual accolades.

He was recently crowned Broker of the Year for NSW at the Better Business Awards, and was namedThe Adviser's Young Broker of the Year in 2014.

Mr Tang has also been recognised as a broker to watch, placing third in the 2014 Young Broker of the Year rankings.

So how did the 'musketeers' form their alliance?

All three moved from China to study at university in Australia between 2003 and 2006. Ms Fang and Mr Cui completed finance degrees, while Mr Tang studied events management and translation.

Ms Fang's decision to enter the industry was inspired by a bad experience applying for a mortgage through a broker in 2008.

"I decided then that I needed to learn more about the industry, so I joined a brokerage part time while working at Coles as a service manager.

"At first, I just wanted some knowledge and understanding of the mortgage industry for myself to invest in Australian property, but I found it very challenging and a lot of fun, so I resigned from my job at Coles and started a full-time job in the broking industry."

It was Ms Fang's career change that ultimately led to fellow Alliance director Donald Tang becoming a broker.

Mr Tang purchased his first property in 2010 and found himself a broker - Cissy Fang.

"She taught me a lot about the mortgage industry, and I found that: a) mortgage broking was quite interesting, b) Cissy was very professional, and c) she gave me the best deal," he says.

"So I asked Cissy, 'Do you or your company need another person?' She gave me the chance and sent my resume to a previous employer. I got an interview, got training and became a broker."

Ms Fang was also influential in Mr Cui's development as a broker.

"I started in the mortgage business when I was still a student and Cissy trained me and taught me everything there is to know about the industry," he says.

All three of them eventually ended up working together at the same brokerage. They enjoyed working together and found that they all had common goals and operated in a similar fashion.

But after two years of working with each other at the same firm, they had found many weaknesses in its business model. So in 16 November 2012, they formed their own company - Alliance Mortgage Solutions.

"We wanted a great platform for everyone," Mr Cui says. "The clients must win, the business partners and stakeholders need to win - and we need to win."

The Vow effect

Unlike most partnerships between brokerages and aggregators, Alliance's partnership with Vow Financial happened overnight - literally.

"Myself, Eric and Cissy sat down in January 2013 - just one month before we set up our first office - to work out which aggregator to partner with," Mr Tang explains.

"The meeting started at 10am and went until 9pm. Although we were tired by the end of it, we didn't want to wait until the next day to find an aggregator."

The new team made phone calls to four aggregators, but only one answered. Vow's national sales manager, Leighton King, took their late-night call and arranged a meeting for the next morning.

Mr King made a lasting impression at their meeting. "He had all the documents and information needed there and ready to go - he was very well organised," Mr Tang says.

"Leighton made the choice easy for us - we didn't need to compare with anyone else. He was the only one to answer our call late at night, and acted on it straightaway, which is exactly how we operate at Alliance. We give our clients the answers they need straightaway," he says.

The growth spurt

Alliance opened its first office in the south Sydney suburb of Hurstville in February 2013. A month later they established a support office for clients in Ningbo, China.

Ms Fang says the decision to open a support office was justified by budget costs as well as the fact that most of Alliance's clients are Chinese.

In December 2013, the group moved its headquarters to Sydney's CBD and now has 12 brokers and 16 support staff. Alliance also recently welcomed seven new brokers to its training program, and is in the process of recruiting additional admin staff.

Mr Tang said the level of the group's growth and success is far beyond what was initially anticipated.

"We really didn't think we would make it this far," he says.

"We achieved our three-year plan in one-and-a-half years, so we've outgrown our original business model."

Mr Cui says Alliance is in a restructuring phase right now and the company plans to focus more on its marketing and branding over the next 12 months.

"We've been seeking professional advice from our solicitors and accountants since the start of 2015 about designing an even better business model," he says.

"We want to focus more on our branding, not only in Australia but also in China. We've already become well-known in the industry here, but we need to spread the word to the Chinese market about how good we really are."

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Staff members reveal the best thing about working for Alliance Mortgage Solutions.

Raymond Li, lending manager: "It provides a good platform to achieve my personal goal to be a professional mortgage broker. The Alliance team give me more energy and confidence to improve as a broker and advance my career."

James Huang, lending consultant: "It's always the cohesiveness among the organisation which attracts me very much. We are not only colleagues, but more like brothers and sisters. Team spirit is always the first thing to come up in our minds as we are working together to achieve the same goal. It is my honour to work with these elites in this industry - I have learned a lot from them. I want to grow old with this company because I love it. Alliance for the win!"

Jessica Chen, trainee: "Company culture was the most attractive aspect that I considered when I decided to join Alliance Mortgage Solutions - a young and passionate company. The team spirit lights me up to become one of them. To be part of its team, I see hope and future in our people. It is a great honour to have become a trainee."

Daniel Wu, trainee: "I want to become a good mortgage broker, so I choose to work for the best mortgage broking company. The simple logic is that if I learn from and work with the best mortgage brokers, and get support from the best management, it is highly possible that I can become one of the best as well."

THE FOREIGN BUYER CRACKDOWN

In Febuary this year, Australia's prime minister proposed a range of new fees and penalties that would make life harder for foreign real estate investors - and potentially brokers.

According to the federal government, third parties such as brokers who help foreign investors breach rules could be fined $85,000, imprisoned for two years, or both.

Foreigners or temporary residents who acquire new properties without approval could be fined $10,200, in the case of individuals, and $51,000 in the case of companies.

Non-residents who acquire established property without approval or temporary residents who acquire more than one established property without approval could be fined 25 per cent of the purchase price or market value of the property - whichever is greater.

But Mr Tang says Alliance is not worried at all about the possible impact these changes could have on the business.

"Actually, we are happy about the government's new requirements, because if you look into what the government says, they haven't actually changed too much to the existing law or obligations - they've just made it much stricter than before," he says.

"The law that overseas buyers cannot invest in second-hand property in Australia has existed for a long time now, but just in the past few years a lot of unprofessional people have played around with that rule, and it's resulted in unfair competition for us."

Mr Tang says he doesn't see it as a 'crackdown' - it's just part of regulating the market.