Marketing Savvy Drives Growth at Lenders One

Lenders One, a nationwide cooperative comprised of independent mortgage bankers, might be the largest origination machine you’ve never heard of. The group, which now boasts membership north of 120 companies nationwide, collectively ranks as the ninth largest originator and says it originates $35 billion in mortgages annually. Founded in 2000, the group has seen interest in the cooperative concept soar as the origination side of the mortgage business has undergone historic contraction — total origination volume is largely expected to fall roughly 20 percent in 2008 from 2007’s levels, according to estimates by the Mortgage Bankers Association and real estate data firm iEmergent. But it’s not just the concept — strength in numbers — that has helped Lenders One grow; a healthy serving of marketing savvy hasn’t hurt, either. On Monday, Lenders One touted that its members had exceeded a 30-day, $3 billion loan origination goal; which 30 days aren’t mentioned, although the cooperative first mentioned its $3 billion goal on April 21. The company, as it has done throughout the mortgage crisis, continually positions its press statements around what CEO Scott Stern has said is “a need to put faith back into the lending process and to show the industry as well as consumers that its not all gloom and doom in the mortgage arena.” Which, to a certain extent, is true. While volume in originations is expected to fall this year and next by most industry experts, projections still peg mortgage origination as a multi-trillion dollar industry — and someone has to make those loans, even if they’re eventually sold off to Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE) and/or endorsed by the Federal Housing Administration. The truth is that a cooperative originating between $35 and $40 billion each year will average at least $2.9 billion every month out of the year, making a $3 billion goal somewhat redundant. It was a “goal” that was likely already achieved when Lenders One first announced it, but it also gives the cooperative a chance to push its underlying message. Stern said as much in announcing that members had exceeded the $3 billion goal, too. “The purpose of this challenge was to .. reveal the positive aspects that continue to exist in the mortgage industry,” Stern said. “Safe, lower cost products are available, as well as solid underwriting practices. The real goal is to create awareness that these services do exist and are completely viable.” Those products and services are increasingly heading into the FHA’s lap, too, if Lenders One’s data is any indication: FHA-endorsed loans contributed to 42.5 percent of the total loan volume, with the majority of the rest in conforming loan products. Only 5.3 percent of the $3 billion total comprised jumbo, Alt-A or second mortgage products. Someone’s got to originate this stuff, after all. Disclosure: The author was long FRE and held no positions in FNM when this story was published; indirect holdings may also exist via mutual fund investments. HW reporters and writers follow a strict disclosure policy, the first in the mortgage trade.

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