Yoga and a mortgage? Guaranteed Rate has a new app for that

The new Rate App marries financial and personal wellness into one place, with the hope of staying at the top of consumers’ minds: Victor Ciardelli

A mortgage lender isn’t the first place most people would turn to for yoga, meditation or personal wellness. However, Guaranteed Rate hopes to change that with the launch of its new consumer-focused Rate App.

The free app, which officially launches Tuesday, allows users to price out mortgages, personal loans and other finance products that Guaranteed Rate offers, but there’s a twist: users can also access financial, physical and mental health resources to help them “live their best lives.”

The Rate App is a personal passion project more than two years in the making for Guaranteed Rate CEO Victor Ciardelli, he told HousingWire in a rare and exclusive interview ahead of the app’s launch. The app was born from the belief that financial, physical and mental wellness are interconnected.

Ciardelli said his own personal wellness journey inspired him to look for new ways to help others better manage stress and their overall well-being.

After years of working crazy hours and focusing on growing his business, Ciardelli saw the impact his hard-driving lifestyle was having on his health and close relationships. He knew he needed to make changes.

“I started focusing on all sorts of stuff: reading books, meditation, eating healthy, exercising consistently. I literally became a different person; it shifted everything.” Ciardelli told HousingWire.

Ultimately, this newfound peace and clarity led to an “ah-ha” moment for Ciardelli.

What if he could help other people find personal fulfillment and reduce stress while providing something of value that might lead them to work with Guaranteed Rate in the future? The result would be a win-win for the business and for customers, he said.

More than a mortgage app

Developed by the company’s in-house technology team, the Rate App took two-and-a-half years to bring to market and an investment of “millions of dollars,” Ciardelli said, though he declined to provide a specific figure.

The app offers users the standard fare you’d expect in a mortgage app from a major fintech lender. Users can compare current mortgage rates, and use a mortgage payment calculator, a home-value estimator and online loan applications.

Users can also find local loan officers when they are ready to buy a home or inquire about another financial product that Guaranteed Rate offers. The app features general financial and budgeting education, videos and articles.

While other mortgage lenders offer their own brand of budgeting and financial education apps, so far, Guaranteed Rate appears to be the first in the space to offer access to meditation, nutrition, fitness and yoga classes.

There’s also exclusive well-being content from leading meditation and wellness guru Deepak Chopra, whom Ciardelli said he met with personally to forge a partnership.

During that meeting, Ciardelli recalled Chopra was keen on seeing more businesses and executive leaders put the issue of personal well-being front and center.

And there’s plenty of research out there underscoring the need for it.

Americans are reporting feeling significant stress — especially when it comes to money and the economy. According to the 2022 Stress in America survey from the American Psychological Association, 83% of American adults said inflation was a major source of stress, followed closely by the economy (69%) and money (66%).

An April 2023 survey from Bankrate found that 82% of American adults said money negatively impacts their mental health due to economic concerns. A majority (56%) of survey respondents said having insufficient emergency savings was the top issue hurting their mental health.

Delivering value to stay relevant

So what is the new app’s business benefit for loan officers?

Users are “cookied” to the loan officer who shares the app with them, Ciardelli explained. The same is true if a Realtor partner shares the app on the LO’s behalf.

“So let’s say someone or even their kid was using [the app] who was a customer of ours, and the customer says, ‘Hey, kids, I want to show you this; download this app. And they’re using it for yoga and things like that.”

Many fitness and wellness apps require monthly subscriptions. But having free access to the Rate App for personal wellness plants a long-term seed with younger potential borrowers who will likely need to buy their first home or take out a personal loan one day, Ciardelli pointed out.

When a user transacts, the loan officer retains the lead and is paid when the loan closes, Ciardelli said. As of Oct. 8, 2,094 mortgage loan officers are licensed with Guaranteed Rate’s primary mortgage businesses, according to data from the Nationwide Multistate Licensing System (NMLS).

“From a lead-funnel standpoint, it provides stickiness and a kind of optionality to all these different people where the loan officer would not have normally been relevant,” Ciardelli said.

“We really shifted the business into a whole new dimension and being more relevant to consumers, providing value on a day-to-day basis than just a traditional mortgage company where customers are working with you once every three or five years,” he said.

“I love the direction that we’re moving in and what we’re doing. It feels good.”

Investing in tech, products to meet borrowers’ needs

It’s no secret the current mortgage market is brutal for lenders across the board. Guaranteed Rate’s production volume in the first half of this year totaled $17.6 billion, down about 47% from the same period in 2022, according to data from Inside Mortgage Finance.

However, the company is making investments in its technology and products to help address borrowers’ biggest pain points amid ongoing market volatility.

In late September, the lender launched a new mobile app, PowerVP, for loan officers to connect with customers and manage loans digitally, 24/7.

Ciardelli revealed the company is also building “a lot of different technology on the app that is advantageous for Realtor partners. This includes a Realtor partner network.

The lender is beefing up its product offerings to help more borrowers who are feeling the pain of higher rates and home prices.

The Chicago-headquartered lender announced in July it was joining other major lenders to offer a 1% down-payment assistance program called OneDown. The conventional loan program requires 3% down but allows borrowers to contribute 1%. Guaranteed Rate pays the other 2% or up to $2,000 (whichever is lower).

Ciardelli credits the product team, led by Kate Amor, senior vice president and head of enterprise products, with adding multiple, new non-QM products to the lender’s roster, including bank statement loans and buy-down programs. He called the new additions “really, really powerful” in the current market.

“The thing is … today you have to be creative and work with the consumers that are out there, helping them as much as [you] can,” Ciardelli said.

Pivoting and preparing for a comeback

As mortgage and real estate professionals brace for a long winter in the business, Ciardelli’s main message to his people right now is to “engage and provide value everywhere” they can.

“I’m telling them to go on the offense, build relationships, utilize the technology and the speed to promote buyer certainty,” Ciardelli said.

He’s also taking the company’s consumer-facing wellness mission in house, encouraging employees to focus on their health and well-being during the current “grind” right now, he said.

“Because the market is going to come back, right? There’s no doubt about it. It’s just a matter of time before it does. It might be a little longer than everybody would want it to be,” Ciardelli said.

“But it is going to come back, and people who are positive, healthy and forward-thinking, and are driven and focusing on providing value to their customers and Realtor partners are the ones that are going to win.”

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