Urban Closes Guardian Acquisition, Prepare for Robert Wagner Reboot

Urban Financial Group has finalized a deal this week to acquire Guardian First Funding Group for an undisclosed sum.

Backed by Knight Capital Group (NYSE: KCG ), the acquisition brings Guardian’s call center-driven retail model and rights to its Robert Wagner marketing campaign to the Urban Financial brand and operations. Urban announced the deal in October, and confirmed this week that the deal has been finalized.

While Urban is already the 4th largest reverse mortgage lender according to data from Reverse Market Insight, the deal provides a new way for Urban to scale its retail business.

“The reason we went after this transaction was twofold,” Bryan Hendershot, CEO of Urban Financial, told RMD. “One, was to grab a national campaign spot. Two, to acquire a big retail originator. With changes in law in the wholesale business, no one knows what the effects of these compensation changes are going to be.”

While executives from Urban and Knight declined to comment on what exactly to expect with the Robert Wagner campaign, they indicated there will be changes in store with big plans to “reboot” the branding.

“We’re in the laboratory now putting together a new and revised approach with Wagner,” said Jason Levy, former Guardian CEO who now serves as head of retail and brand development for Urban. “We’re hoping to roll something out by mid-September.”

In the transaction, all 50 loan officers will be brought from Guardian to operate under the Urban umbrella and help it grow retail production. Historically, the majority of Urban’s production has been through its wholesale channel, which operates under the Reverseit brand.

With backing from Knight and the executive team it brings, Levy said it provides a big opportunity to scale the call center model it has built over the years. “Having that luxury, it’s hard to put a value on that,” he said.

Former Guardian branches in Melville, N.Y. and Philadelphia are now Urban branches and are operational under the Urban name as of June 1, with a New York City branch pending the transition.

The new direct consumer retail approach will be driven by call centers that cover different footprints, which the company says is important to Urban’s growth and continued success. “We see it as an important step, and the safety of our business in general,” Hendershot said.

In November, Jim Smyth, Knight EVP, Senior Advisor and Senior Relationship Officer told investors that the company aimed to grow its reverse mortgage business aggressively. “While the business has already added value to the franchise, we believe that there is a significant upside as we aim to more than double our market share, reaching 20% by 2013,” he said at the time.

Written by Elizabeth Ecker and John Yedinak

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