Ben Cohen knows the way to chart the course, and he doesn’t consider inefficiency to be part of his vocabulary
Ben Cohen vice president of mortgage lending, Guaranteed Rate
Ben Cohen will close any loan in eight business days. He says this matter-of-factly as if the thought of a loan taking longer had never crossed his mind.
Cohen, 46, is a top-producing senior vice president of mortgage lending at Guaranteed Rate, where he’s worked for 13 years. He’s been lauded as the third top originator in America in 2022 and was voted the best loan officer in 2017 by the Illinois Mortgage Bankers Association. And he’s originated over $1 billion in volume during both 2020 and 2021, a feat that he humbly calls “anomaly years” in the business. But even in 2022 — a tough year for originators — Cohen closed just shy of $480 million.
Cohen’s not one to take all the credit; He gives kudos to his “pod” of 20 people — all at Guaranteed Rate — that daily help him chart the course for each customer’s individual loan. “I try to brand myself as Team Ben Cohen,” Cohen says. “I have great people that I’ve been able to train and taught them what my beliefs are on what a customer should receive from a service standpoint.”
Sure, Cohen’s ambitious — he’s licensed in all 50 states — but he manages to be personable and brilliantly successful in his endeavors, his coworkers say.
“Ben is an amazing salesperson, he creates connection, trust, and a likable personality … in such a short time period,” says Mike Dye, producing branch manager and production manager at Guaranteed Rate, as well as Cohen’s business partner. He has a “steadfast commitment to agents and clients, he doesn’t ever give up or take no for an answer, he’s passionate about being the best to help people … he cares about education, competition, fully informed clients, and that the process is easy, fast and technologically forward.”
Cohen’s business development manager, Christine Lutz, has those same sentiments. “When [Ben’s] on the phone, it seems like he’s known the client his whole life,” she says. “He takes time to help guide people into the right decisions based on their financial goals and is always working to improve our client experience when someone is getting a loan: better, faster, easier.”
“[He has a] steadfast commitment to agents and clients, he doesn’t ever give up or take no for an answer, he’s passionate about being the best to help people … ”
Mike Dye, producing branch manager and production manager, Guaranteed Rate
His colleagues tout Cohen’s work ethic. Dye says that Cohen is the face of his brand and is relationship-focused above all. “Ben sells certainty,” Dye affirms. “He’s quick to offer a value proposition of what agents and clients need. He knows that they want the certainty that the loan will go through and the client will be happy. And he knows he can do that.”
Strong Work Values
Cohen’s strong work ethic stems from his educational background in computer programming, a field in which he excelled due to his maintenance of relationships. Cohen’s early career involved him traveling across Europe servicing clients’ IT needs. “I was a consultant for six-and-a-half years, and it made me the loan officer I am today. Cause it’s also a service business where the client’s schedule is the one that matters,” Cohen explains. “At that job, though, I got tired of working 100-hour weeks and begging for a bonus every year when I knew I did a good job. After one job would finish, another client would refer me.”
Cohen went from living in his native Toledo, Ohio, to living across the pond on weekdays, something that he found enjoyable before marriage and kids but was unsustainable. He knew the sales aspect of his job was a right fit and decided to leave his tech roots in pursuit of somewhere he could showcase his skills. After tinkering around for entry-level sales jobs, Cohen decided to take a leap and get his real estate license. Shortly after, dissatisfied with selling homes, Cohen took on a role at Chicago Bancorp and stayed there for about six years until he joined Guaranteed Rate. “My business was decent before Guaranteed Rate, but after I joined it shot up,” Cohen said. “I probably did about $35 million a year before joining the company, and as the years passed by it was $100 million, then $200 million, and so on.”
But who is Cohen beyond the business? To Dye, Cohen is the person he’s growing old with due to how much time they spend together branding themselves and making deals. For Lutz, Cohen in her eyes is at the top of his game and not just when it comes to his volume.
“[Ben] takes time to help guide people into the right decisions based on their financial goals and is always working to improve our client experience when someone is getting a loan: better, faster, easier.”
Christine Lutz, business development manager, Guaranteed Rate
“Ben is the CEO of his brand. I’ve never met a harder-working individual, he has a unique ability to make a personal connection quickly with people,” she explains. “He is big on giving back to the community, especially local charities. … I think it’s important when you’re at the top of your game to give back to your community.”
Both Dye and Lutz describe Cohen as “passionate,” not just about his business, but about the people around him. “Ben is a cheerleader,” Lutz says. “He’s grateful and appreciates good ideas.”
Working On the Business
After nearly 20 years, Cohen is still trying to evolve his business. He knows what the life of a loan looks like and, better yet, he knows that every day is a chance to beat the competition. For him, it’s almost formulaic. “Service, execution, follow up, follow through, don’t over promise and under deliver, and set those expectations upfront,” he said. “You know that at the end of the day, everybody’s talking to 15 lenders, and speed and execution are what ends up winning. I’d rather get them in and out the door as fast as possible. The busier we get, the more efficient we are. The term inefficiency doesn’t register in my vocabulary.”
And time is money, too. Cohen doesn’t mind working those long hours that he detested at his IT job. “My team and I are available 24/7, even on the weekends. We’re always available, and don’t let that phone go to voicemail,” he says. “It’s a lot easier working long hours now because you get what you put into [the business]. You need to be financially motivated, too. I’ve been able to scale my team so that if I’m playing a round of golf with clients for an afternoon, there’s coverage and always someone available.”
Cohen admits that it wasn’t easy to scale back and let others have their hands on his loans. “When I first started out, I was doing every part of the assembly line: processing the mortgage and doing all the underwriting. Loan officers are control freaks, and we don’t like to give up responsibility,” he says “But I’ve learned that sometimes you need to let people fall in order to succeed.And I had no choice but to trust my team when the pandemic hit and I needed all the help I could get.”
“Service, execution, follow up, follow through, don’t over promise and under deliver, and set those expectations upfront. You know that at the end of the day, everybody’s talking to 15 lenders, and speed and execution are what ends up winning.”
Cohen’s philosophy is that he’s not only working in the business, he’s working on the business. “The hardest thing about lending is making the phone ring,” he says. “What I sell is a value proposition: I have the speed, execution, support, and staff, and there’s the option to co-sponsor events or do open houses together.”
Cohen and his team have focused on corporate accounts as a way to get their value proposition out in the open. “The best thing about the industry is that everyone is a potential referral source,” Cohen says. “I think there are five or six companies where I’m the preferred lender. And there’s one company where I’m known as the mortgage guy. I was able to ping their [human resources] department and let them know what my values were.”
As a successful businessman, Cohen knows what the recipe is for him — and a customer — to be successful. “As an originator, I wear a lot of different hats. I’m not a financial advisor or a CPA, but I’m willing to share education with borrowers,” he says. “So many people call me and they don’t know how much they want to put down or how to even explore other options. But one thing that I absolutely need from them is to actually talk about the process. If they say they want to communicate electronically, I suggest that they contact someone else.”
Cohen knows that a lot of the loan process can get lost in translation, and an unhealthy transaction with a customer could jeopardize his referral relationship, too. And as Cohen says, he’s not a transactional lender: Part of the method to his madness is cultivating those reliable relationships to fuel his business.
Cohen’s method is like a favorite homey dish: Simple, but difficult to replicate. And others at Guaranteed Rate have noticed his map for success and have coined it “the Billion Dollar Playbook.” Cohen’s a relationship guy, so he’s keen to teach others at the company about achieving success. During monthly, company-wide sales calls, Cohen says that he often speaks about his business process. “I tell everyone that I can’t tell them to get up and work hard every day,” he says. “When I say that I work on the business, I mean that I also work on teaching other LOs how to make the phone ring while constantly evolving my own business.”
Dye says that part of Cohen’s playbook is the wealth of knowledge he brings to the table. “The thing about Ben is that he gets what people want,” Dye says. “He knows what Amazon has done to us: We want things fast and we want them now.”
This article was originally published in the NMP Magazine September 2023 issue.