How do you turn the experience of buying a first home into a lesson in leverage and the power of investment? According to Jonathan Arnold, you teach your buyers to fish.
“I want to help people invest in real estate and build security. I am passionate about empowering people with information,” Arnold said. “Our industry has not always been as transparent with consumers as I’d like.”
Arnold is the Grand Rapids branch manager for Inlanta Mortgage, specialists in FHA and VA home loans, as well as Conventional, Home Renovation, and a full lineup of innovative mortgage products. He was recently fêted by the Michigan Mortgage Lender Association as a Rising Star during a ceremony held May 2nd.
How Arnold is Disrupting the Mortgage Industry
Considered by many in the industry to be a maverick in his approach to team-building, Arnold modestly shrugs off the accolades but becomes animated when discussing the root of his twin passions: changing the way that mortgages are processed by ‘pairing the talent to the task,’ and devoting resources to educate his clients.
His results have put his team in the top of Inlanta Branches for the third year in a row. That’s because his team produces almost three times the volume of the industry average. At the same time, the team devotes more time to the client experience and education.
“The difference is we really do treat our people like students and want them to learn. By educating our clients, they end up buying investment properties. They end up buying second homes. They end up doing well. It’s helping someone understand the philosophy of investing in real estate,” Arnold said.
Some might call these results magic. To Arnold, who was tracking mutual funds by the age of 8, it’s just math: incremental adjustments that net exponential results. The challenge was to find the right environment to put his innovative impulses to the test. In the early days, that proved a challenge.
Early Adventures On The Way to Leadership
As a child, Arnold was easily bored, and folks marveled at just how much action he could pack into a day. For a time, it seemed he might follow his father’s footsteps in the finance industry, given his facility with numbers. But his path to the mortgage industry was anything but a straight shot; teen rebellion scuttled an early start.
“I’ve learned a lot in life, often the hard way. But my experiences are where I’ve forged my passion for helping my clients build a solid foundation. I know how important it is. You need solid ground under you to weather the storms,” Arnold says.
Arnold is no stranger to hard labor. One of his early full-time jobs after a stint in the service industry was running utility cable for an electrical company on a Kent County Airport project. He and summer college interns from across the state carried giant bundles of heavy cables down through foul subterranean tunnels under the runway. The 75-hour work week and the back-breaking nature of the work prompted Arnold to realize he enjoyed interacting with people more than cables and tunnels.
In a characteristically strategic move, he determined he’d rather work in automotive sales, where he sensed his potential as a high-volume producer. He networked his way into a large local dealership and began breaking sales records. After a time, he realized that while he enjoyed helping consumers navigate options, he could have a much bigger impact in the mortgage market. There, the deals were complicated and good stewardship and advice could make a lasting difference in someone’s life. Arnold loved a challenge, and loved crunching the numbers. It was his version of Sudoku. Before long, he joined a consumer mortgage company and began to build his model for success.
Learning to Think Outside the Bank
“What I realized early on in my finance career is that inside of a corporate structure, there are always people who embrace the status quo instead of looking deeply at what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. People fear or resist change. They don’t ‘think outside the bank. Before I discovered Inlanta, with its inspirational leadership, I needed autonomy in the firm I was with, and the ability to build my own team on my own model,” he said.
In those days, Arnold’s burgeoning model resulted in a small, highly skilled team doing business differently than the rest of the company. Referral networking was key, but not just through the traditional channel of realtors. Arnold instead focused on building a core of divorce attorneys, chartered accountants, estate planners and other professionals in key advisory roles. The result was a department that grew organically at a time when the industry was imploding.
“Our clients trusted us because we guided them in the right direction,” he said. “They wanted us to look after their clients, family members, investors, because they knew we’d do right by them.”
Focusing on advisory-type professions is an example of an incremental change that netted exponential benefit in Arnold’s business model.
Even more importantly, the emerging model lead him to realize the importance of matching the talent to the task. You don’t build those kinds of relationships stuck behind a desk.
“I don’t want a sprinter running cross-country. I don’t want a deep thinker pushing paperwork. I want people who are the best at each task focusing on the task they’re best at. The solution is support. Our system is better – that’s why we’re winning business.”
In the Mortgage Industry, Consumer Knowledge is Power
Today this approach is the foundation of the Grand Rapids Inlanta branch. Arnold’s Team originate significantly more mortgages each month than traditional mortgage offices. But they also have a much larger support staff working with them to ensure that every excruciating detail is managed and that client communication and education is paramount.
There’s an important reason Arnold advocates treating clients like students. Looking back on the industry’s unfortunate sub-prime era, he says many homeowners made choices that were misinformed, with disastrous results.
“If they’d have had the information, they probably would have made different decisions. Instead, I saw people in mortgages that were essentially spring-loaded traps, mortgages that impaired their ability to weather fluctuations in the economy. I love to help people get out of those traps. I love helping people make good decisions.”
Despite the flaws in the industry’s current patch-work of mortgage regulation and compliance — which Arnold feels should be streamlined to reduce consumer cost — the one important achievement that arose with increased regulation was better lending practices. His only wish was that these practices were delivered through a uniform, common sense model of governance.
“The simplicity of controlling predatory lending should be the basis of the regulatory climate. You shouldn’t give money to people who can’t repay the money…or on an instrument that is destined to explode,” he said. “It’s that simple.”
Who Motivates The Motivator?
Arnold ‘sharpens his saw’ with inspiration from the likes of Tim Ferris and Dale Carnegie, coupled with a habit of devouring business books such as Good to Great and The Power of Habit.
At closer range, he credits the Inlanta family and company president, Nick DelTorto, as being inspirational and instrumental to his continued strategic thinking. He also feels blessed to have the great counsel of the people around him, from his parents to his new wife Michelle, who works in immunology and volunteers for animal advocacy.
“She’s the love of my life,” Arnold said.
Together, they enjoy water sports, boating, and making the rounds to their children’s numerous sporting events. His daughter Bella, 13, loves to sing, swim, play volleyball and basketball. Jackson, age 10, likes to play basketball, lacrosse and football.
In addition to mentorship and family support, Arnold thrives on the energy of client success.
One of his favorite stories is the one about a client who referred her son to him. Arnold helped the son and his wife come up with a game plan to lower their monthly expenses and better manage student loan debts. This led to the couple being able to purchase a home. When they felt financially secure enough to start a family, they named their firstborn son in Jon’s honor.
One of the most rewarding elements of his leadership at Inlanta is helping his team aspire to excellence.
“I enjoy being a conduit to help my staff achieve their dreams,” he said. “When we help clients make great decisions, we’re working in a way that is genuine and we’re creating a better experience. As long as we can do these things, and are passionate about what we do, the sky’s the limit.”