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Guaranteed Rate may IPO, whether its CEO wants it or not

We break down the deal for Stearns, and assess the Chicago lender's prospects as a public company

Man money HW+

This article was updated Feb. 5 to include comments from Guaranteed Rate.

It took a few years, but Victor Ciardelli has finally captured the one that got away. The founder and CEO of Guaranteed Rate, which originated $73 billion in mortgages last year, has made joint ventures and acquisitions a cornerstone of his growing business.

In 2017, Guaranteed Rate struck a deal with the largest real estate brokerage conglomerate in the country, Realogy, to form a landmark joint venture. It has paid off in spades: the combined company, Guaranteed Rate Affinity, originated $5 billion in loans during the first half of last year. In July, Guaranteed Rate launched another prominent joint venture, partnering with independent brokerage @properties, which has 2,800 agents, operates in 15 states and is the undisputed king of Chicago’s resi scene.

But one JV in particular had eluded him. Several years ago, Ciardelli attempted to partner with Social Finance, commonly called SoFi and a heavy hitter in the student loan space with outsized ambitions in the mortgage industry, multiple sources told HousingWire. 

There was just one problem: SoFi already had a dance partner in California-based Stearns

“They shut the door in his face,” said one person with direct knowledge of the talks. “It went nowhere.” 

Guaranteed Rate, however, disputes this characterization and says the company had never previously contacted SoFi.

In acquiring Stearns last week, Ciardelli bought a $20 billion lender that gives him direct access to the wholesale channel, sports a number of highly profitable joint ventures, and brings a network of talented underwriters and compliance specialists into his growing apparatus, now nearly 10,000 workers strong. 

But the move also introduces a number of challenges for Ciardelli: enmeshing a conservative culture at Stearns that contrasts dramatically with the aggressive, sales-first culture Ciardelli has pushed at Guaranteed Rate; integrating Stearns’ fading retail operations into his own team’s; and, perhaps most importantly, navigating the expectations and wishes of private equity investors whom sources believe are targeting an independent public offering. 

HousingWire spoke to nearly a dozen current and former executives and workers at both firms on the condition of anonymity to assess the Stearns acquisition and preview what could be on the horizon for the lender, which is now firmly among the 10 biggest in the country, and is gunning for the top five. 

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