Eileen Tu: Rocket Innovator

This internet pioneer helped change mortgages forever

Katie Jensen
Katie Jensen
Eileen Tu: Rocket Innovator

Quirky Idea

One quirky, new idea that Rock Financial is famously known for creating is mortgage-in-a-box.

“That was probably the first thing that we thought of was like, how do you create this really cool, engaging way for borrowers to be able to say, ‘it’s not that hard to get a mortgage’?” Tu said. “We’re gonna send you something that you can easily understand and we’ll walk you through it. And you can live anywhere. They can just mail it in and we’ll figure it out. So we just saw all those pieces come together, and it was really cool to see that over time to where we all are today.”

Co-founder Dan Gilbert was front and center when Tu started at Rock Financial, and his vision was to become a 50-state lender. At the time, Tu said, she believed this was possible, but was going to be hard to accomplish.

Eileen Tu

Of course, there was plenty of trial and error before Rock Financial grew beyond Michigan. One idea was to set up brick-and-mortar shops around the country. Tu began at the Rochester, Mich., branch, but that strategy didn’t work out.

“I wouldn’t say that’s a failed thing, but it was a wake-up call,” said Tu, who is now based in Detroit. “Imagine building brick and mortar in all 50 states and trying to figure that out and trying to really gain coverage at scale. It just didn’t seem to make sense. We did try to dabble on that. We had a few branches here, but that’s how I realized we gotta do something different.”

Then, something spectacular happened that transformed Rock Financial. In 1994, the Internet began gaining in popularity, outside of academic settings. From December 1995 to December 1999, the number of Internet users grew from 16 million users to 248 million, according to internetstats.com. In the ‘90s the first webpage was created, and Amazon and Google were launched. The dot-com boom was born.

Gilbert first saw the potential of the Internet to transform the mortgage industry in 1998, when Amazon was still selling books, Google was a year old, and Sony CD Walkmans were the new craze. That year, he told the company it would “change the mortgage world forever,” and the seeds of Rocket Mortgage were planted.

But Tu admits she didn’t get it at first.

 “I didn’t fully understand what Dan was talking about,” Tu said. “If I want to get a mortgage, don’t you have to go to a bank and sit in front of the loan officer and hand over some paper? Isn’t that how you build trust?”

Path To Growth

The Internet was going to be the path Rock Financial took to scale the company. Tu eventually learned this would be a much more feasible plan than setting up brick-and-mortar shops.

A year later, the branch-based lender took its first step online, launching RockLoans.com, and quickly positioned itself as one of the fastest growing retail mortgage lenders on the Internet.

Tu didn’t care what role she needed to fill, as long as she could continue working for the company.

“My goal was always like, I love this place. I love working in a place that continues to grow. That really changes kind of like the landscape of how mortgages are done. You wanna be a part of that, right? So to me, everything was a bit of an opportunity, right? I like the idea of things. People say this all the time, but a career is like a jungle gym.”

With experience as an underwriter, loan officer, personal banker, branch manager, and team leader, Tu has plenty of skills under her umbrella. Her specialty, however, is her background in credit. This eventually led her to become the credit policy director.

This is a crucial role, as it establishes guidelines and procedures to determine which clients are eligible for credit. And it was an important step in attaining her next few roles in the company.

Eileen Tu Quicken Loans
Eileen Tu, Quicken Loans 2000

While Tu was scaling up in her career, adapting to different roles, the company changed as well. Since Rock Financial was rooted in technology, it gained the attention of Inuit, creators of TurboTax and Quickbooks. In 1999, Inuit bought Rock Financial and renamed it Quicken Loans. In 2002, Quicken was placed on Fortune’s prestigious “100 Best Companies To Work For” list, and remained in the top one-third of the list for 18 consecutive years.

“I saw it as an exciting step for Rock Financial, and an evolution of the company, to grow beyond our footprint at that time,” Tu said. “It also gave us national brand recognition.”

Renewed Strength

While Quicken existed as a subsidiary of Inuit, it grew more than 360% to become the nation’s largest online lender. But, Gilbert couldn’t let his company go that easily. In 2003, he and a group of local investors bought back Quicken Loans.

“This transaction allows us to be independent and entrepreneurial, while keeping in place the many benefits of being associated with the Quicken brand, as well as access to millions of Quicken, TurboTax and QuickBooks customers,” said then-Quicken Loans CEO Bill Emerson.

“When Dan bought the company back, it didn’t faze me at all,” Tu said. “Dan was very close to the business, whether we were a part of Intuit or not, so that change didn’t impact our day-to-day work. We still had our vision and we continued to build toward it.”

Quicken Loans launched its own website in 2004 that gave consumers more tools and greater functionality to explore their home loan options, calculate payments, and apply for mortgages online. Then after the 2008 financial crisis, which shook up the industry and forced many mortgage giants and competitors to fall to the wayside, Quicken emerged with renewed strength.

Dan Gilbert email

In 2020, Quicken Loans Mortgage Services rebranded as Rocket Pro TPO, which was created to serve the needs of mortgage brokers, community banks, and credit unions. Equipped with some of the best technology in the industry, Rocket Pro TPO provided its broker partners an abundance of value that would make their loan process easier, faster, and more marketable to their communities.

In recent years, progress has accelerated, and Tu now contributes to Rocket’s success as head of product development. Essentially, Tu adds features onto existing loan products such as conventional or FHA, interest rate buydowns, and Inflation Buster. It’s her and her team’s job to sweeten the deal for brokers and borrowers, luring them to work with Rocket.

In the current economic and housing environment, these products matter greatly. In-state rival United Wholesale Mortgage’s offerings, such as its 1% down loans, are partially why it gained a significant share of the market and knocked competitors such as Homepoint out of the wholesale business.

Rocket has a laundry list of offerings as well, including Buy+, Rocket Visa Signature Card, Rate Drop Advantage, Inflation Buster, Rateshield, and more.

Tu insists that she does not want all the credit for making these products, and says she could not build out or manage these mortgage products without the help of her team.

She was especially proud when her team came up with YOURgage, which provides borrowers the flexibility to choose their own loan term from 8 to 30 years. This was first launched in 2011 and is still available for Rocket borrowers today.

One product that Tu said was a “true game-changer” for Rocket Mortgage was the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP), which was introduced after the Great Recession. This program allowed homeowners to refinance to the current low mortgage rates, even if they were underwater because of the falling home values at the time.

“HARP was able to keep people in their homes during a difficult time and, because of our innovative process, we helped more homeowners than many other lenders,” Tu said.

The product that Tu is most proud of creating, with help from Gilbert, is Inflation Buster, which was a smashing success, according to Rocket’s 2022 fourth-quarter earnings call.

“Inflation Buster, our promotional purchase product running through the fall and winter, resonated strongly with our clients and demand for the product exceeded expectations,” Rocket CFO Brian Brown said.

“It went gangbusters when we went live with that product,” Tu said. “These are credits you can apply to more easily afford a home.”

In today’s environment, with many homebuyers struggling to get an affordable mortgage, Tu is especially focused on providing special purpose credit programs [SPCPs] in communities that are especially underserved. These products are made for borrowers who can afford homes but don’t have good or great credit, likely because they don’t understand exactly how to manage credit, Tu explained.

“In order to stay successful, we need to innovate and create what’s needed for our clients at that moment,” Tu said. “A lot of people think about technology when you say ‘innovation,’ but it also includes new mortgage programs, and better ways to do things. I’m proud that, every day, my team is focused on helping more people achieve the dreams of home ownership and financial freedom. Sometimes that is just Rocket Mortgage’s loan products and sometimes that includes collaboration with our sister companies like with BUY+.”

“I’ll take on a challenge wherever I’m at,” Tu added. “But when it comes to enjoying your work and really making a difference, I think you can do that more in a company like Rocket Mortgage.”

Katie Jensen
Katie Jensen,
Staff Writer
This article was originally published in the Mortgage Women Magazine July 2023 issue.
Published on
Jul 09, 2023
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