This mortgage exec’s opposition to Quicken Loans is a head-scratcher
By Jeff Lazerson
About a decade ago during the housing meltdown, mortgage brokers became political roadkill. Wells Fargo, Citibank, Bank of America and Chase all turned against mortgage brokers by terminating their third-party relationships, also called wholesale lending. These big four banks have never looked back as they maintained their traditional retail and call-center mortgage lending.
“My biggest mistake, probably of my whole career, was not closing down our mortgage broker business sooner,” JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said, according to a March 2009 blog post by the Los Angeles Times.
Quicken Loans, which quickly ascended to become one of the nation’s top mortgage lenders, launched its wholesale lending channel in 2010. “After the massive exodus of lenders left a huge hole for broker liquidity, we saw an opportunity to fill that need,” Austin Niemiec, an executive vice president at Quicken Loans, told me via email.
Quicken’s 2018 funded mortgage volume was $83.4 billion, according to Guy Cecala, CEO and publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance. The broker share was 13% or $10.8 billion.
Cecala noted that Quicken’s broker volume has doubled since last year. Based on its Fannie, Freddie, FHA and VA business, 26% of Quicken’s business came from brokers in the first half (2019), Cecala told me.
In short, more than a quarter of the behemoth’s loans came through mortgage brokers. (Full disclosure: My brokerage Mortgage Grader, is a Quicken customer).
Recently I attended the national conference of a relatively new mortgage broker trade association called AIME, born in 2018. The Association of Independent Mortgage Experts’ mantra is “brokers are better.”
Its chairman Anthony Casa gave a rousing afternoon speech Saturday, Oct. 12 in Las Vegas to a group of some 2,000 mortgage brokers, most of whom gave him a standing ovation.
Much to my surprise, Casa spent part of his hour-long remarks bashing the hand that feeds many mortgage brokers: Quicken Loans.
“Quicken has so many angles to put us out of the game,” he said. “Quicken is the boogie man. Quicken is the Amazon of the mortgage industry.”
Quicken, perhaps the best lifeline for mortgage brokers going back to the Great Recession, was getting slammed by an industry insider. I had to know why.
While Casa refused to meet with me for two interviews during the conference, he agreed to answer some written questions.
When I asked why he was essentially urging brokers to boycott of Quicken, his written response, in part was, “I don’t assume a position of telling mortgage brokers which lenders to do business with, but as chairman of AIME, where our top priority is to protect and support the business growth efforts of our members, it is my obligation to inform mortgage brokers of lenders whose business practices are more inclined to hinder brokers’ long-term business growth aspirations than help them.”
Quicken offers mortgages in a traditional retail call-center setting, direct to buyers, and to mortgage brokers in the wholesale market.
AIME had exhibitors and vendors at its Vegas conference that also have similar retail and broker channels. So why pick on just Quicken?
“Mortgage companies don’t need to be wholesale-only to identify as broker-friendly members and advocates of AIME, but it’s critical that they function with transparency and have clear lines of division between their wholesale and retail operations,” Casa answered.
Speaking of transparency, AIME is promoting a lending platform called Arive. It’s described as a free and complete ecosystem software for its members. Quicken is not a lender with Arive. One wholesale lender told me, on a condition of anonymity, that joining Arive’s system requires a seven-figure price tag for each wholesale lender.
I sent requests to AIME to clarify its relationship with Arive and its pricing requirements, but Renee Stanzione, the group’s media coordinator, told me via email that Casa would be unable to respond for a number of weeks.
So what does Quicken think about Casa’s message to brokers?
“Professional behavior and a competitive marketplace are crucial to brokers and the consumers who rely on them,” Niemiec wrote to me. “Instead, they (AIME) vilify their competitors in an attempt to influence the market for their own gain. A broker’s most powerful strengths are choice and the benefit of lenders competing for their business.”
Dave Stevens, the recently retired Mortgage Bankers Association president and CEO (who was not at the event), explained the industry was tainted during the mortgage crisis and this behavior will offend some people.
When asked about Casa’s remarks Stevens said, “It’s immature. The industry needs mature leadership. Legal implications are restraint of trade, free market.
“Simply attacking a lender because you didn’t like its business practices, attacks on multi-channel lenders are unwarranted. You (mortgage brokers) want to provide your borrower with the best loan program.”
AIME conference attendee and Torrance mortgage broker Mike Nolan of Pacific Funding Solutions saw Casa’s remarks as a cautionary tale for the industry.
“What I’m hearing from Anthony is that they (Quicken) are your competition,” he said. “Why would you give your competition more money to put you out of business? That’s what they preach on.”
One has to wonder if Casa’s message to brokers will have an impact on Quicken’s wholesale business. Casa did not respond when asked to provide a head-count for AIME’s dues-paying members. To get some context, I asked the National Association of Mortgage Brokers or NAMB, a 43-year-old trade association that competes with AIME, for its member count. NAMB has just over 6,000 paying members, according to its president Rocke Andrews.
“As a professional organization, it’s our job to educate our members, not tell them who to do business with,” Andrews said. “If you provide value to your consumer, they will come back to you. Competition works best for everybody.”
A key distinction is mortgage brokers work for consumers, not for lenders. Under California law, mortgage brokers are held to a fiduciary standard as a trusted adviser. The long and short of it is when consumers hire mortgage brokers they are acting in the best interest of their client. Oftentimes a good broker can do better for consumers than consumers can find for themselves through institutional lenders.
Even today, most consumers shop with an abundance of caution as plenty were victims of predatory lending or knew a victim in the meltdown days. The worst thing for consumers is a narrowing of choices, something Casa seems to be suggesting in his anti-Quicken speech.
If mortgage brokers are lucky enough to be asked for a quote but can’t come up with the best deal, today’s smart consumer will find it elsewhere.
" If you prefer to select one loan provider rather than spend time shopping, Mortgage Grader looks like a good choice" - Washington Post