Mortgage broker Donna MacDonald’s journey from tragedy to triumph is a story of resilience and reinvention.
Following the heart-wrenching loss of her sister and the end of her marriage in 2010, MacDonald embarked on a transformative career shift. After a 25-year tenure in traditional banking, she ventured into the world of mortgage brokering. Her tenacity and innovative strategies, like embracing her new identity and leveraging unique financial solutions such as Manulife One, not only redefined her professional trajectory but also earned her the title of Broker of the Year in 2021.
Two days after separating from her husband in 2010, MacDonald’s older sister, Lynda Lyster, tragically lost her life in a car accident. On top of all of that, MacDonald’s career in financial services, to which she had dedicated so much time and energy, had begun to lose its lustre.
“When you lose somebody that you’re close to it has such a huge impact on you that you start to reflect on what your life means, and what’s important,” she said. “It really drives home how precious and delicate life is, so if you’re going to make some changes make them sooner than later, because later may never come.”
Seeking a new challenge
MacDonald had spent 25 years working for major banks in Canada and Europe, eventually launching and managing a branch of her own in Carleton Place, Ontario, just outside of Ottawa. The year that it opened it was the bank’s top performing new branch in the country.
“I really had reached the pinnacle of what I had wanted to do in banking, and banking had changed quite a bit—management wasn’t what it used to be—so I decided to get my licence to broker,” she said, adding that a friend had long pushed her to make the career change. “In October of 2012 I gave up my bank manager job; now I wish I had done it 20 years earlier.”
New name, new business; same motivation
At first, the transition proved difficult. For one thing, community members knew MacDonald under her married name, which she dropped in the wake of her divorce. That’s what inspired her to rent a billboard in town and wrap her car in marketing materials that included an image of her face.
“I never wanted my picture on my marketing, but I had to draw a line connecting who I was to the new name and the new career, and it worked,” she said. “People forgot the old name, and they remembered who I was because my picture was there, so it was a good strategy.”
In that first year, MacDonald says she hardly earned a living wage, but enjoyed the opportunity to work for herself and to help the kinds of clients that she would have had to turn away previously. “At the bank, it’s a very small pigeonhole that clients have to fit—the best credit, the best income, the best history—whereas as a broker agent you can help everybody,” she said.
MacDonald says she counts every “yes” as a victory, and since becoming a broker agent she’s celebrated a lot more wins. “What motivates me are those success stories,” she said. “I measure success by how quickly I get out of bed in the morning, and when I can’t wait to get to my desk in the morning, I feel so successful.”
Racking up the wins with Manulife One
MacDonald says she enjoyed having a wider array of solutions to assist a wider array of clients, but eventually learned that one of those solutions was unique from the others. She had put a few clients into a Manulife One mortgage over the years, but only those that requested it by name.
“Then something changed in 2020 when I had a client who came to me and wanted to go into it, and I processed it, and it started to make a little more sense with their file,” she said. “I was intrigued as to why they were so excited going into this Manulife One account.”
Around the same time, MacDonald’s daughter and son-in-law were looking for a solution of their own, while also trying to keep some money aside for an adoption.
“I put my daughter and her husband into Manulife One, and they raved about it, so I thought ‘okay, I need to understand this a bit more,” she said. “I’ve now put my stepdaughter into the Manulife One account, and I present it to just about every one of my clients that I feel could benefit from it.”
Unlike a traditional mortgage, Manulife One calculates interest daily, as opposed to semi- annually, and operates as a bank account as well as a mortgage product. When combined, MacDonald says those two unique factors can save borrowers tens of thousands in interest, especially in a high interest rate environment.
“Manulife One is in a category of its own because of those two components,” she said. “I would be doing a disservice to clients, I wouldn’t be the best broker I can be, if I didn’t have this in my toolkit.”
Just over 10 years after leaving banking behind, MacDonald is among the top 10% of Mortgage Alliance Professionals and was named broker of the year in 2021. After just over a year since finalizing their mortgage, her daughter and son-in-law are also very close to finally starting their family.
“I credit Manulife with putting them in that position,” she said. “That I was a part of helping it happen, that’s just another win.”