Brian Vieaux, president and COO at FinLocker, explains his career development, starting as an originator and now, directing a personal finance management app for the mortgage industry. As an accomplished leader, Brian expresses the importance of building a relationship with the client, getting lenders groomed for mortgage readiness and creating a holistic consumer financial experience.
Kristin Messerli: So my first question for you is on the Pivotal Moments Podcast, we talk about pivotal moments. So tell me about the pivotal moment when you joined FinLocker and what led you to that?
Brian Vieaux: Right, oh, I love it. So I joined the company in July of 2019, and prior to that, I had spent 28 years, give or take, in the primary mortgage origination space, mainly running large production channels most recently for Flagstar Bank. And I had kind of one of those pivotal moments, we’ll say, or aha moments, I’ve had several over my life. But I kind of got to the stage where I’m like, “Okay, my kids are more or less off the payroll,” although [it] doesn’t appear that they ever really fully go off the payroll. But they were at the time in their early twenties and I had never really done anything, what I would call truly entrepreneurial. I’ve kind of taken the more conservative, personal career route with big corporations, mostly big banks, learned a ton and kind of started to get this itch, to do something, take a little bit more risk and place a bet on myself.
But I wasn’t in a spot where I was, I’m not an inventor and this kind of, I don’t build things that way. I like to get involved and help build things that are kind of established. And so I placed a bet on this platform, FinLocker and myself, and it was really through watching the product evolve from its inception. I’ve known the founders. We have relationships that go back to the late 90s, so I’ve known these guys forever and knew the company when it started, kind of watched it, invested in it, once or twice early on. And so as the product roadmap kind of became clear to me, I got really excited about where the company was going or thinking about going. But more than that, I had the ability to kind of in my role at Flagstar to talk with all kinds of different lenders of all sizes and different models and channels.
And what kept hitting me was everyone seemed to be focused on getting up the funnel to the consumer earlier and provide real value to the consumer, but no one really had the tools to do that. And I kept going back to this FinLocker thing saying, “There’s something there, we just got to figure it out.” And so I doubled down or tripled down my investment when I decided to leave the mortgage origination space, arguably during the most profitable 24 month span ever, and go into this kind of FinTech startup world, which it’s been really rewarding. And I’ve learned a lot about myself through the process, which is pretty interesting to do when you get kind of later in life. So, that was my series of pivotal moments, I guess.
Kristin Messerli: I just want to dig in on that for a quick moment. What do you mean by learning more about yourself?
Brian Vieaux: So, early fifties, like I said earlier, I kind of had stayed in more of the corporate roles, which I’ve always been more of a roll up your sleeves and kind of dig in and do the work kind of guy, but you get away from that, the more you go up the corporate ladder, so to speak. And so for me, and I had been out of kind of direct sales if you will, for almost 20 years. And so I came to FinLocker, a startup, very lean, mean startup. And I was a team of one as it relates to sales and marketing and business development. And so couple things I had to quickly learn about myself was I know that I had built strong relationships throughout the industry and throughout my career.
And so I was going to challenge that assumption pretty quickly. And the good news is it appears that the relationships proved to be strong because nobody hung up on me. No one said they wouldn’t take the call or watch the demo and do all that stuff, so that was cool. But more importantly, I had to kind of teach myself how to sell software that I just was learning about in real time. So I’m happy to say, I think I’m pretty good at kind of taking customers through our journey and demoing the product. And those were things I never, 10 years ago, if you’d told me that’s what I was going to be doing when I’m 53, I’d said, “You’re crazy.” But it’s been fun because every conversation with a prospective client opens up a different angle for what our product can do for them and their consumers, and those kind of energize me in a big way.
Kristin Messerli: Definitely. I think technology, especially financial oriented technology, it’s changing and evolving so quickly that you have to constantly be changing yourself or growing in yourself. Well you know I’m a huge fan of FinLocker and it always happened from the moment I saw the product, I love inventing stuff. I come up with business ideas all the time and when it comes to this industry, this is what I always come back to trying to invent. And then I’m like, “No, FinLocker exists.” But I want you to share a little bit about how FinLocker has challenged the status quo in this space.
Brian Vieaux: Yeah. That question gets asked to me sometimes in a different way, like, “Who are your competitors,” is usually what I’ll get. And I can’t point to one company or platform and say, “That’s who we compete with.” I think there are different players in different parts of the process where we have overlap in what we do, but we don’t necessarily compete. Here’s what I would say to your question, because it was very specific. How is it disrupting the status quo? I think that the status quo for mortgage specifically, and mortgage originators, has been very transaction oriented, meaning, I engage with a consumer when they’re ready to start a loan application and I take them through that process, and nine times out of 10, or maybe eight out 10, we’re successful and they close and now I’m onto the next transaction.
What we are really emphasizing with our platform and our approach and the tools in the platform, is that this becomes less about the transaction and more about the relationship and the relationship with the consumer should start as early as possible in their financial life. And so for again, for most originators, they’re not thinking about 2023’s purchase consumers today, but we’re challenging them to go find those people today and get them into your ecosystem and provide them with tools that are going to help them early, maybe earlier than they even know, on their journey.
And then when the time comes when they’re ready to buy the home and get the mortgage, you’ve built a relationship that’s been built on trust and tools that have helped these people improve some aspects of their financial life. And then it doesn’t have to end at closing. You now have the ability with the tool to think about other financial services and products that you may be able to bring that are valuable to that consumer. And you can bring it through a platform and technology like FinLocker. So I think that’s probably the biggest thing we’re kind of shaken up is just how people think about the relationship with a customer. And when does it start?
Kristin Messerli: Yeah, definitely. I love that in this industry, we have one of the lowest retention rates of any other industry and yet people on average are fairly happy with their experiences. But it’s just a matter of yeah, retaining the relationship. And one of the things I talk about most on stage probably as an action item is the importance of building a home ownership plan for everyone. Because so many, especially with millennials or NextGen, we tend to be really skeptical around thinking it’s time for us to buy.
I did it with my own process of buying a home. I thought, “No, it’s going to be a really long time away.” And then it was like, “No, I should buy now.” So a lot of times that speeds up the process, but also just so many of us need time to prepare for that and have some sort of plan, because we also have no idea. So anyway, love what you guys are doing there.