EXCLUSIVE: Nation’s top mortgage lenders reveal their secrets to success

What makes these companies tick? We asked, they answered

The top mortgage lenders of 2016 are sharing their secrets to success, explaining what pushed them into a position in the top 10.

The latest Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data from the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council shows which lenders are dominating the mortgage origination market. Click here to see the top 10.

But we took it a step further. After reviewing the list of these top mortgage lenders, HousingWire set out to learn if there were common denominators in their business practices that led to their success.

We asked, they answered, and here’s what they said. 

Our first question: What is it, exactly, that pushed these lenders to their top position? The No. 6 lender, loanDepot, credited its success to customer service and ease of use.

“Buying a home and refinancing a home is a stressful process,” loanDepot Chief Financial Officer Bryan Sullivan told HousingWire. “Making sure our customers are treated with respect, offered a fair price and trying to make the process as unobtrusive as possible is something we constantly strive for at loanDepot. Technology is a big part of that, but understanding our customer’s goals are our primary focus.”

But loanDepot wasn’t the only lender to credit its success to how it treats its borrowers. In fact, it seems to be a trend in the responses from the top lenders. Flagstar Bank, which took the ninth position of the top lenders, also credited its success to customer service.

“We have maintained a strong commitment to all channels — correspondent, broker and retail — through every conceivable business cycle and are always clear about who is the customer in each transaction and how to craft the best solution for that customer,” Flagstar Head of Mortgage Kristy Fercho told HousingWire. “I think customers appreciate that we care about their business and will always be there for them.”

The No. 1 mortgage lender, Quicken Loans, credited its success to two things – its people and its process. Quicken explained its team members enjoy what they do, and they do it well.

“Both our success and our accolades are a result of our innovative platform which allows consumers to finance or refinance a home on their schedule and at a pace that is right for them,” said Bob Walters, Quicken Loans president and chief operating officer.

United Wholesale Mortgage, which took the 10th spot in the top 10, explained it also focuses heavily on its customer service.

“Over the years, a big key to our success has been building a culture that takes great care of our people and really emphasizes the importance of taking great care of our clients,” said UWM President and CEO Mat Ishbia. “Client service has really shaped our company’s success over the years and continues to do so.”

“We have so many great people at UWM that care about our clients and do their best to make sure we close loans on time and make brokers look good to real estate agents and borrowers,” Ishbia said. “You can see that in the technology we bring the market, and the different processes and services we provide.”

Even among some of the nation’s largest financial institutions, such as the third largest lender, JPMorgan Chase, companies credited their success to customer care.

“Our commitment to our customers drives everything we do at Chase,” Chase Home Lending head of originations Sean Grzebin said. “Chase Home Lending customer satisfaction levels today are among the highest in years.”

And while technology isn’t the primary driver of growth for these companies, they explained it is high up on the list, as is the ability to be flexible, and adapt to changes in the market.

“Our decision to invest in our proprietary technology platform, mello, is enabling us as a business to be agile enough to pivot as the market moves and never be so entrenched that we can’t adapt,” Sullivan said. “Our combination of high-touch and high-tech service gives customers a highly customized approach to their financing needs.”

Quicken agreed, giving an example of how being flexible to market conditions enabled the company to keep its closing times down even as its originations grew.

“Our ability to scale and prioritize has been a major reason for our rapid growth,” Walters said. “One specific example was our ability to take on an influx of clients when interest rates dropped to record lows several years ago. Some other lenders had bottlenecks in their process, while Quicken Loans kept its closing times to less than 30 days.”

Flagstar also explained it is putting a heavy focus on technology in order to increase its market share and grow its company.

“We believe that the next 10 years will be unlike the last, and our ability to provide technology and craft financial solutions that create a better customer experience will matter,” Fercho said. “We’re excited about the future.”

Chase explained the market is growing more digital, and it is crucial for the future of the company that it continues to develop a its digital mortgage experience. 

“The mortgage industry is changing rapidly, and we’re continuing to look for innovative ways to deliver the kind of experience that customers expect from Chase,” Grzebin said. “For example, we’re investing in technology that will move the mortgage process to a completely digital experience. It’s a digital world, and we want customers to have the flexibility to interact with us on their terms.”

Flagstar encouraged new lenders to begin by finding their niche, then growing and fulfilling the needs in that niche with quality service, saying volume will follow. loanDepot said new lenders should focus on a balance between systems, process and marketing for consumers with a keen eye towards running a profitable business.

UWM encouraged lenders to invest in technology or partner with companies that invest in technology, saying, “It’s key for small lenders to stay open to change and innovation and be on the cutting edge of technology.”

The No. 1 originator’s advice to small lenders just starting their journey?

“Focus on your company’s culture,” Walters said. “Whether it’s a good culture or a bad culture, every company has one and it will affect your business.”

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