It’s been a tough year for Nationstar Mortgage.
The company’s financial performance has left investors wanting, the company has seen several of its senior executives leave, and the company’s signature move of 2015, the transformation of Solutionstar, one of Nationstar’s wholly owned subsidiaries, into Xome, which boasted that it was “the world’s first integrated, end-to-end digital platform for real estate, with the promise of connecting every major touch point in the transaction process, from finding a home to closing the deal,” has underwhelmed.
But does the company have big plans to turn its fortunes? It certainly looks that way.
Buried deep on Nationstar’s website in a most unlikely place is a look at what the company could be planning for 2016. And it’s big…as in reshaping the company’s entire public image big.
The look into Nationstar’s plans is actually found on a job posting on the company’s job board. The job? Content writer. And the posting provides a glimpse into Nationstar’s future.
Not exactly the traditional place to disclose company-shaping plans, right? But there it is, in black and white.
According the job posting, the successful candidate will join Nationstar’s marketing team and be a “key player in the company's transformation from a large but little-known mortgage servicer to a highly visible full lifecycle real estate brand.”
But that’s not all. Nationstar apparently intends to transform itself into the mortgage industry’s first “go to” brand and potentially completely rebrand the entire company and all of its brands.
From the job posting:
Few industries are as important to our economy as the home mortgage industry. For tens of millions of Americans, the home they own is their single most important financial asset. For many people home ownership is the American dream, and for most homeowners a mortgage is the enabler for that dream. Yet despite the economic and emotional significance of the industry, there are no “go to” brands. Contrast this with the insurance category, which has several prominent, innovative brands (GEICO, Progressive, USAA, etc.).
The home loan industry - which is largely characterized by excessive paperwork, a history of bad business practices, and poor customer service - beckons for innovation and improvements in user experience. Therein lies the opportunity - not just to create a better mortgage company, but to reimagine the home ownership lifecycle and create an integrated home services company and a world-class consumer brand.
The posting states that Nationstar’s vision is to create a “one stop shop” to help consumers “find a home, buy a home, sell a home, or just enjoy the home they own.”
To fulfill this goal, Nationstar’s posting states that it “recently engaged” a Los Angeles-based “brand strategy firm” called Phenomenon to assist in “defining a bold new brand strategy and validate it through direct consumer research.”
Phenomenon’s website is rather unhelpful when it comes to figuring out what the company actually does. The website is basically buzzword bingo and overrun with things that sound “cool,” but the company states in its “What We Do” section that “we help consumer brands innovate, generate big ideas, improve experiences, and become part of popular culture.”
Phenomenon, which bills itself as an “ideation” company, states on its website that it does not disclose its clients, stating that it works primarily by referral.
Phenomenon also promises to maintain anonymity for its clients, a promise that Nationstar appears to have not held up its end of the bargain on.
While Phenomenon does not disclose its clients, it states that it currently has 16 clients, one of which is a country. That’s right. A country.
While it is unknown what exactly Phenomenon is going to do for Nationstar, the job posting on Nationstar’s website provides more detail – and the real key to Nationstar’s plan.
“As a result of this strategy, it is likely that Nationstar will consolidate multiple existing brands and create a new flagship brand for the company,” the posting states.
[Update: As of Jan. 21, 2016, the job posting referenced above is still live on Nationstar's website, although the job title has been changed to Copywriter. Additionally, and more importantly, the section mentioning Phenomenon and any mention of Nationstar rebranding has been removed.]
So is the name Nationstar off the table? Is the name Xome going away? It appears that anything is possible.
The news isn’t all that surprising considering how much effort has gone into the creation of Xome, which in some respects, could be seen as the ideal next step for the mortgage industry.
There is significant potential in a a true “one-stop shop” for everything from finding a house to actually buying the house, complete with mortgage financing, all in one place.
But Xome has disappointed so far. In the third quarter, Xome reported pretax income of $17 million, which was down 39% from the second quarter. Xome’s revenue was also down 11% from the second quarter.
But it appears that Nationstar has big plans for Xome, or whatever it may end up being called.
So how did Nationstar get to this point? The company posted a loss in the first quarter, losing $48.3 million due mostly to lower revenue from the company’s mortgage servicing segment.
Nationstar stopped the bleeding in the second and third quarters, posting profits in both. In the second quarter, Nationstar reported net income of $75 million, and in the third quarter, the company posted earnings of $32 million.
Despite returning to profitability in the middle part of the year, Nationstar’s stock still took it on the chin in 2015.
One year ago, Nationstar’s stock closed at $28.34. Nationstar’s stock has been falling steadily ever since it hit its yearly high of $31.55 on Feb. 24, 2015. It will close trading on Dec. 30, 2015, around $13 per share. And that’s light years away from the company’s highest stock price, which was $57.45 on Sept. 20, 2013.
Throughout 2015, Nationstar has hemorrhaged senior personnel, with several senior executives stepping down during the last 12 months.
In May, Nationstar’s president and chief operating officer, Harold Lewis, told the company he planned to retire. Lewis oversaw Nationstar’s servicing business, which took a hit in the first quarter.
Shortly before Lewis’ departure, several analysts downgraded the company due to the company’s perceived servicing issues.
Just one week after Lewis’ departure was announced, David Hisey, who served as executive vice president, chief strategy and external affairs officer, informed the company that he was resigning.
If Nationstar does undergo a massive brand redefinition, it wouldn’t be the first time that a nonbank has gone through that process in the last few months.
Earlier this year, Walter Investment Management Corp. announced quietly that it planned to merge Green Tree Servicing with another of Walter Investment’s well-known subsidiaries, Ditech Mortgage Corp, to form a new company, ditech, a Walter company.
The move brought Walter’s mortgage origination and mortgage servicing operations under one brand.
And now it appears that Nationstar may be going the same route, or perhaps one that’s even more dramatic.
Concrete details beyond what’s in the job posting are unknown at this point, and requests for clarification or information from Nationstar or its media relations department on the company’s plans have gone unanswered.
The company isn’t expected to report its full year 2015 financial results until sometime in February, but if the company really plans to completely rebrand itself, expect that the subject might come up then.
Until then, it’s business as usual for Nationstar. But will 2016 end up being remembered as the year that Nationstar disappeared and rose from the ashes as something entirely new? We’ll soon find out.