Legends are born on the field of battle or on the fields and courts of play. In the mortgage world “legendary status” is not achieved overnight— it’s earned after years of hard work, overcoming adversity and excelling where others have failed. Michigan-based United Wholesale Mortgage, a division of United Shore Financial Services, Inc. has succeeded, over 26 years, to move from the ranks of the also-rans into the pantheon of “Legends of Lending.” Some would point to another legend from Michigan to identify where United Wholesale Mortgage found its inspiration.
Michigan State University has a legendary history in college basketball. From its two National Championships in 1979 and 2000, to its iconic players including Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Mateen Cleaves, Michigan State has established itself as one of the greatest college basketball programs in the country. Since 1995, the Michigan State University men’s basketball program has been led by future Hall of Famer Tom Izzo. Coach Izzo is famous for teaching the fundamentals—defense and rebounding—believing that a team that does those things well can compete with any other team they might play. His motto is: "Players Play – Tough Players Win."
United Wholesale Mortgage is ably led by former Michigan State walk-on point guard and former graduate assistant Mat Ishbia. Ishbia, was not recruited by Michigan State, but impressed coaches during a series of pick-up games in East Lansing in which he accompanied highly recruited (and now standout tight-end with the San Diego Chargers) Antonio Gates. In one game Ishbia dominated three-time All-American Mateen Cleaves with his focus and defensive intensity, leading his team to victory. He saw an opportunity and he made the most of it. Ishbia earned a walk-on spot, proudly led the scout team in practice, earned a full scholarship and won a national championship. In 2003,Ishbia would bring this same work ethic and winning spirit to United Wholesale Mortgage.
United Wholesale Mortgage was already a leader in one aspect of the lending industry prior to Ishbia’s arrival. The firm had established itself as one of the top wholesale providers of FHA loans in its region of the country. Paired with its sister firm, Shore Mortgage, a retail loan shop to form United Shore Financial Services, the organization became a big fish in a small pond. Ishbia joined United Wholesale in 2003 as an Account Executive in the Chicago area, but within three years had impressed the company’s leadership with his focus and intensity and was brought into the Detroit-area headquarters to become its national sales manager.
When asked about what those early days were like, Ishbia stated:
“We were known as an FHA lender and FHA wasn’t really relevant then. We never did subprime loans because our top management was never comfortable with them. We lost a lot of business during that period because we didn’t offer subprime loans but it was the right thing for us to do.”
Then in 2007, as we all know, the mortgage industry changed dramatically and subprime lending disappeared. It was the opportunity that United Wholesale Mortgage was prepared for—particularly with Mat Ishbia, now the company’s president, running point.
As FHA lending was growing by leaps and bounds beginning in 2007, Ishbia made a crucial business decision that facilitated United Wholesale Mortgage’s rise into the highest ranks of the industry. He decided to bring all his Account Executives in-house, and all but eliminate traditional externally-based sales personnel. When asked about this move Ishbia explained:
“What I wanted to find out was who they (account executives) were talking to, when were they talking to them and were they trained well-enough to represent United Wholesale Mortgage. What I found was that the outside AEs we had, or any lender has for that matter, are not trained well enough. We brought all our AEs inside and began training them like they were sales managers at broker shops or leaders at broker shops—people who are highly trained. Most people in the industry didn’t understand this change, and still most companies don’t do it this way, but I think it is a big differentiator and makes us who we are at United.”
Coach Izzo is famous for hard practices including a rebounding drill known as “war” in which his players have been known to don football helmets and shoulder pads. His belief is that you win by having more possessions than your opponents. When your opponents give up the ball by shooting, he has explained during coaching clinics, you must keep them from getting another chance by getting and keeping the ball. He often adds that “You can’t score until you get the ball.”
The training process for inside sales representatives appears “Izzo-like.” Ishbia described it this way: “In order to become a sales rep with us, it’s a tedious process. You have to begin with years of experience, go through a long training class along with taking product tests, you’re taking guideline tests-- you’re taking UWM process tests.” Ishbia continued, “When you are able to become a UWM sales rep, you will be able to serve your brokers at a level that no other account executive in the country can.” That sure sounds like a wholesale lender’s version of “war”, designed to get the ball from their competitors and score.
Now with 105 inside sales representatives this bold move has clearly paid off for United Wholesale Mortgage. Having all the sales representatives together in one big room has enabled the organization to move beyond its singular focus on FHA and become a diversified wholesale lender providing a comprehensive product mix to a growing number of brokers in 43 states and the District of Columbia. Ishbia adds, “By being inside our sales reps are able to learn much quicker. Even the guy right out of class is able to pick it up quicker because he sits next to a guy who has been doing it for years.”
Ishbia is proud of the difference the move to inside sales representatives has made. As he put it:
“My AE’s roles are not different than traditional outside AEs—we just think they are enhanced. The difference is that my AEs will never walk in your office and give you doughnuts. They will never take you to lunch or dinner. That’s not what we do here. My AEs are available anytime you call. They are not in your competitor’s office when you’re calling them. They are always on the phone, ready to act, walk-through scenarios or walk-through our Easy Qualifier online. What they do is differentiate themselves by adding value.”
Coach Izzo has famously said, “We’ll play anybody, anyplace, anytime. It doesn’t matter, morning, noon or night, and it doesn’t matter who it is.” It sounds like United Wholesale Mortgage shares that philosophy.
In addition to the unique inside Account Executives differentiating United Wholesale Mortgage in the marketplace, Ishbia and Executive Vice President for Sales, Allen Beydoun would point to two other factors that set United Wholesale Mortgage apart and explain its rise to national prominence. Beydoun put it this way: “Our customer service is second to none. While it may be taken for granted that service is key in this industry, we take it to another level. On top of that, our commitment to the fastest possible turn times from application submittal to closing gives us a distinct advantage.”
Describing this customer service superiority in more detail, Beydoun explained that it all goes back to having the AEs and operations staff together in the office. “When you have a question, all the people you need are found in the same place,” he said. He further explained that all calls are answered by a live receptionist and routed to the correct person the first time, and that; underwriters are always available to talk with, and finally that; underwriters proactively call out every time a loan is approved or there is an update to conditions.
United Wholesale Mortgage, much like Michigan State’s basketball program has big goals. Chief among them is to become a constant presence in the Top 10 of wholesale mortgage banking. With the departure of the biggest banks from the wholesale market United Wholesale Mortgage is seizing this opportunity to continue its growth while maintaining the value proposition that has led to its success—the most knowledgeable AEs in the industry, unparalleled customer service and consistently the fastest underwriting turn-times of any wholesale lender. Coach Izzo once said:
"I'm so sick of people saying, 'He's a defensive coach, he's a rebounding coach.' I want to be a great defensive coach, a great rebounding coach, a great running-game coach, a great offensive-execution coach, a great special-teams-sidelines-out-of-bounds coach. I want utopia. I want my players to want utopia."
Somewhere, just outside of Detroit, Michigan, Mat Ishbia is probably saying something similar. The lightly-recruited point guard, who took advantage of his opportunities, made it through the “wars” and achieved success on the national stage, wants even more for his firm. If wholesale mortgage banking utopia can be achieved, if it can be made better through hard work and diligence, then United Wholesale Mortgage is a good bet to get to that ball first and put a strong, two-handed grip on it—just like coach Izzo would demand.
David J. Coster is senior editor of National Mortgage Professional Magazine. He may be reached by phone at (919) 559-2171 or e-mail [email protected]