Steve Olejnik reached 100 days as managing director of buy-to-let focused brokerage Mortgages for Business on 8 November. He spoke to Ryan Bembridge about realising his ambitions, the changes he’s already made and plans for the future.
Olejnik (pictured) joined Mortgages for Business as a broker in 2002 before rising to head of sales, sales director, chief operating officer and finally managing director in August 2018.
While it’s been a long journey to get here, he remembers his initial job interview with David Whittaker, who stepped aside from Mortgages for Business in August in order to focus on lending brand Keystone.
“David Whittaker said ‘where do you see yourself in the future?’ and I said ‘your job’,” Olejnik remembers. “It was one of the first things I said in the interview.
“Now it’s taking me a long time but we did have a financial crisis! I’m a great believer that if you say things enough it will happen.”
Now the day has finally come Olejnik is looking to put his stamp on the business.
MFB for Intermediaries
A major change that’s occurred since his promotion is the September launch of MFB for Intermediaries, a dedicated packaging service for buy-to-let, commercial, development and bridging cases.
While Mortgages for Business has been providing packaging for some time Olejnik was concerned that brokers were getting confused between the core brokerage and the master broker service.
He says it was his idea therefore to give this separate side of the business a separate identity.
“The market has become a lot more specialist and not all brokers have access to specialist buy-to-let lenders,” he says.
“The challenger banks and specialist lenders tend to have limited distribution but due to our size and reputation we are lucky enough to be on most lenders’ panels.”
Crusading on universal credit
Olejnik hasn’t been shy about airing his views on practices from some mortgage lenders.
He told Mortgage Introducer: “Indirectly lenders are discriminating against tenants on benefits.
“It feels like snobbery. There are people whose circumstances change but the landlord is still going to keep his mortgage payments up.”
He then pledged to write to the heads of all buy-to-let lenders who have this rule.
After the Residential Landlords Association also spoke out about this ‘discrimination’ NatWest – one of the lenders named and shamed – started reviewing its lending practices on landlords renting to benefit claimants with housing and homelessness charity Shelter.
Having an influence
Speaking out on social issues may be a sign of things to come, as Olejnik says “now I’ve got a slightly bigger voice if there is a cause worth fighting I will pursue that”.
He wants to have an even louder voice, as he is also looking to become a board member of the National Association of Commercial Finance Brokers (NACFB).
“I’ve put my name in the hat to be a director of the advisory board and elections take place at the NACFB’s AGM this month,” he says.
“After taking on my role as MD it seems natural to also do my time on the NACFB board.”
After his appointment Olejnik has set to work establishing core missions and values of Mortgages for Business.
He has launched a working group comprising members of staff from all departments to define the brokerage’s values and create a culture.
“We want to define the DNA of MFB, though that doesn’t work if it’s dictated top down,” Olejnik says. “I want to create culture where success is shared and ideas are applauded.”
The firm already has a share scheme for members of staff across the spectrum of seniority if somebody goes above and beyond what’s expected.
On a personal level Olejnik’s main vision is to turn the firm into a nationwide brokerage.
“We say we are nationwide but if we look at where we do our business it is predominantly around where we have offices in Wilmslow in the North West and our headquarters in West Malling outside Maidstone [in Kent],” he says.
“I’m exploring whether we could set up another office to give us more coverage in another part of the country or whether we could find new brokers to set up under our banner.
“There might be some one man bands out there that want to be part of our group and would work as employees of Mortgages for Business.”
It’s not set in stone how the brokerage can become more nationwide, but it seems likely Olejnik will find a way.
Another area focused on is robotics, as the firm has spent a year building software that transfers information from the broker’s system to the lenders, to do the full mortgage application.
The software is currently live with Kent Reliance and Paragon and is work in progress with Precise Mortgages.
Brexit on the horizon
Olejnik’s ability to make a mark may be somewhat tempered in the short-term by the destabilising impact of Brexit, as the UK looks to leave the EU in March 2019 and there’s no guarantee of what deal, if any, the government will achieve.
“We are not going to be making any major decisions,” he admits. “I am a little bit cautious about Q1.”
He’s still likely to add to the sales team however, while he says he is always looking for talented people to join the business if strong CVs hit his desk.
Olejnik has clearly been thrown in at the deep end in his first 100 days and there are plenty of challenges.
There’s not only Brexit to contend with; the buy-to-let market isn’t in as rude health as a few years ago.
Meanwhile David Whittaker must cast a long shadow, having led the firm for 28 years prior to Olejnik’s appointment.
However Olejnik has come a long way since telling Whittaker he wanted his job.
And leading the brokerage is clearly an opportunity he wants to grab with both hands after realising his declared ambition of 16 years ago.