Northern star

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As joint winner of Operator of the Year in 2010’s MFAA Excellence Awards, Horizon Financial Services is certainly a business to emulate. Mark Turnbull, Horizon’s principal, appreciates the gravity of their accomplishment. 

Despite the many awards the company has been awarded over their 10 years in operation, Turnbull admits that this one was the most challenging. “I explain to people that achieving Operator of the Year is like climbing Mount Everest in a pair of board shorts,” he says. “It’s so difficult to achieve.”

Turnbull notes that the win was one of the highlights of his career to date. “We’ve promoted it like it’s going out of fashion,” he laughs. “We are able to say we are number one and I think to get the mileage out of that is to do it justice.” 

After three years as a finalist, Turnbull and his colleagues are familiar with the rigour of the entry process. Having to analyse every aspect of the business, he notes the benefits of the process and is grateful each year, regardless of the outcome. 

“Especially for us being up here in North Queensland, it’s really a good way for us to benchmark ourselves against some of the competition that’s happening down south so it just reinforces what you think is right or could be improved.”

Unusual beginnings

Though now familiar with the ins and outs of the mortgage and finance business, Turnbull’s entry into the industry was far from typical. After completing a Bachelor of Applied Science majoring in Human Anatomy at the University of Sydney, he moved to Cairns for a year’s break, intending to return to Sydney to complete a post-graduate medicine degree. During that year, he began work at a local mortgage broker where he soon discovered a hidden talent for mortgage consulting. 

Despite his background in medicine, Turnbull insists that the move wasn’t as unrelated as it seems. 

“The thing that I really enjoyed was helping people,” he says. “That was why I was attracted to doing medicine… and this is exactly the same thing. We’re able to really make a difference in people’s lives and just that look on their face, to see the gratitude that we’ve been able to help them and really make a difference and give them a start was what I really enjoyed.”

After working as a mortgage consultant for 18 months, Turnbull was discouraged by the blasé attitude towards service at the office he was working in. 

“I think that the business there very much had this whole sale of ‘in the front door, out the back door’ as quickly as possible and that was really not what I wanted to do. I wanted to provide the extra level of service.”

Alongside his wife, Donna Hoskin, who has recently re-entered the business to manage the financial planning arm of the business, he established Horizon Home Loans, designed to encompass a full financial service for their clients, from the mortgage to adequate insurance to financial advice. “I made that decision and it was the best decision we ever made,” he says.

Service initiatives 

Shortly after operations began, they changed the name to Horizon Financial, so that they weren’t perceived simply as a home loan broker and they could diversify into different service areas. Turnbull was adamant that they should provide a complete financial package to clients to meet all of their needs. 

To adequately service clients, Turnbull formulated the business structure so that different services were clearly defined. 

“We put specialist people in specialist areas, rather than employing a mortgage consultant and they take that hat off and write life insurance and try to do everything else,” he explains. “We have the numerous diversified areas but with the right specialist employees in those areas to give that advice for that specific area.” 

Turnbull admits that his approach to business operations is meticulous and involves long-term planning, rather than an expectation of instant gratification. 

“If that means that we have to do something for somebody without pay, then we do it. We’ve always had a long-term view of the business. It’s never been about the short term and making money,” he says. “If you do have a long-term view then that will come back to you ten fold, but it might not come back to you there and then. That’s just the way you’ve got to be in any service industry.” 

With approximately 50 per cent of the new business written each month resulting from the existing client base, Horizon’s approach to customer service is clearly effective. 

“We’ve always had a motto that if you do the right thing by the client, then you’ll always be busy,” he adds. “That’s what we’ve all lived on and that’s why we’ve built our business to the point where it is.”

Turnbull’s innate people skills are not limited to his customers. He believes that happy internal operations directly influence the business’ relationship with its client base. 

“When we find someone and they’re good, then we make every effort to make sure they’re happy and we keep them. Now if they’re happy then they give advice, the way they treat and deal with the clients will be happy and hence we’ve got a very, very loyal client base who keeps coming back to us”

On the horizon 

As for the future at Horizon, in 2006, the opportunity arose for Turnbull to create a franchise model for the business, but he declined the offer. 

“Our name was very important to us and we always wanted to have that control,” he explains. “We’ll always own every office that we actually have. We won’t franchise it and just grow for the sake of making some money”.

But that’s not to say growth is not on the radar. 

“What we’re looking at doing is purchasing other loan books in other cities and picking up the entire process that we’ve got here… and implementing that into another business, whether that be Townsville or Sunshine Coast. We’re looking at businesses in Sydney and the Northern Coast of NSW as well.”

Regardless of the future direction the business will take, Turnbull insists that he, nor his commitment to the clientele, will change. 

“I’m a highly driven person, I’m a very competitive person but, at the end of the day, a person who wants to be able to sleep at night knowing that I’ve done the right thing.” 

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