UWM’s Domination Goes Nuclear On Wholesale Market

After surpassing Rocket in originations, United Wholesale Mortgage has its pedal to the metal

Sarah Wolak
UWM Goes Nuclear

If United Wholesale Mortgage was an animal, it would be a killer whale. Known as kings of the ocean, killer whales strictly stay and hunt with their pod and are at the top of their own food chain. In short, they dominate the sea. The same aggressive, winner-take-all mentality can be said about the wholesale mortgage company, which has made it well known that they, too, plan to stay at the top.

Over the past year, UWM’s mission has been to surpass its main competitor, Rocket Mortgage, in business. Last May, the company launched its “Compete & Beat” program, which enabled UWM to match and then beat the prices of 20 of the top wholesale lenders on conventional, governmental, and jumbo loans.

In June 2022, it unleashed “Game On” pricing for its mortgage brokers, which dropped rates across the board by 50-100 basis points to oust the competition. But that wasn’t the only drastic measure UWM took. In a “Mean Girls”-style forewarning, UWM offered its brokers an ultimatum last year: boycott Rocket Mortgage and Fairway Independent or you can’t do business with us.

Despite grumblings from some in the broker community, UWM succeeded in its bravado and ultimately surpassed Rocket Mortgage in the third quarter of 2022. It ended 2022 with an eye-popping 54% share of the wholesale channel in the fourth quarter of 2022, up from 41% in the previous quarter, and an 11% share of the overall mortgage market. Alex Elezaj, UWM’s chief strategy officer, said that the company’s been planning for an originations takeover for years. “Game On was a huge success, it was a great customer acquisition play and has a high retention rate for us,” he said. “We also did this with the intention to convince retail loan officers to come over to the wholesale side.”

How Did They Do It?

Tension over the top origination spot has been brewing between Rocket and UWM for years. It’s a tit-for-tat feud between the Michigan rivals. With UWM rising to the top, the question ‘How did they do it?’ is at the forefront.

Melinda Wilner

Melinda Wilner, UWM’s chief operating officer, said they surpassed Rocket due to a “superior product” offering. Wilner cited “Game On” and UWM’s other competitive programs as the main pushes that gave UWM a boost to the top. “When we first unleashed ‘Game On’, we were able to attract LOs with lowered rates which even drew some away from retail entirely,” she said. “I think what Game On really did for us was convince brokers to give us a shot. Now, we’re the number one lender that’s wholesale only for the first time in history.”

Wilner also said that consumers are, inevitably, the driving force behind why UWM is successful. “They’re discovering that they can get a much better price when working with wholesale,” she explained. “We get loans out speedily, we have a great team, and we care about helping our brokers grow.”

> Melinda Wilner, UWM’s chief operating officer

Elezaj and Wilner both said that keeping things fresh is also another contributing factor. “[Recently] we released a new construction-to-permanent loan program,” Elezaj said. “We’re constantly revamping our technology to keep up with others in the industry and maintain our top spot. And those leaving retail to join wholesale will drive up our market share even more.” Wilner said that one of UWM’s tech highlights is a dual underwriting program. “You can run a single loan through two different automated underwriting systems,” she explained. “That way they’re saving time with only having to do one data entry that will give you multiple results as to which product offering is the best for your customer.”

Maintaining Top Dog

Now that UWM is king of the sea, Elezaj said it won’t back down. “Lifting the trophy is one thing, and maintaining it and holding it up is another,” he said. “And we don’t plan on giving it up.” Wilner said that UWM isn’t the type of company to pump the brakes. “We’re not giving anyone else time to catch up,” she said.

Alex Elezaj

To prove this, UWM added an addendum this January to “Game On” called “Control Your Price.” The new program provides originators with 125 basis points in price enhancements when they lock loans with UWM. According to the company, the program can be applied to conventional, government, or non-agency loans valued at up to $1 million. “We’re really excited about this strategy,” Wilner said. “We really want to give some control back to our LOs and really show them the benefits of working strictly in wholesale.”

Elezaj asserts that brokers are happy with what UWM is doing to help them get ahead. “We couldn’t be more excited about 2023, especially for brokers to win,” he said. “I’d say our main focus is to keep honing in on our technology. We have over 1200 IT people and the biggest complaint we hear when we get new consumers is how they want better tech. We want them to be as efficient as possible.”

> Alex Elezaj, UWM’s chief strategy officer

Even though UWM’s competitors have released counter-programs — such as Rocket’s “Bully Shield” program that offers to cover legal fees for mortgage brokers breaking ultimatum agreements with UWM — the company isn’t discouraged. “[Rocket’s program] doesn’t even deserve a comment,” Wilner said with a chuckle.

When Rocket announced the “Bully Shield” program, Mike Fawaz, executive vice president of Rocket Pro TPO, told National Mortgage Professional Magazine reporter Katie Jensen, “We believe UWM’s ultimatum was one of the worst things to happen to independent mortgage bankers in 50 years. The ultimatum uses lawyers and contracts to limit choice and optionality.”

Fawaz added: “When we made a decision to go out there and protect the broker community, the last thing we looked at was cost and numbers.”

UWM was not fazed.


Both Wilner and Elezaj said that at the end of the day, UWM’s goal is to continuously improve. They both said that UWM doesn’t have a specific strategy or target; rather, they’re focusing on holding onto brokers’ business and improving existing products. “One of our company pillars is to keep doing better every day,” Wilner said. “There’s a tendency for businesses over time to get comfortable and not be as vicious as we are. It was only a matter of time before we reached the top.”

Unconventional Methods

From an outside perspective, UWM comes off as confident and collected. Shampa Bhattacharya, Fitch Ratings’ director and primary rating analyst, closely analyzes UWM’s financial performance and business strategy. “It’s clear that they have one goal to be the top mortgage originator, and they also have market share goals, too,” she said. “They have executed this well. Mat [Ishbia] is a great leader and his team is young and seems to really engage and energize the brokers that they work with.”

UWM Q4 2022 chart

Bhattacharya also pointed to UWM’s “unconventional strategies” (Game On, broker ultimatum, etc.) that have oftentimes branded the company as exclusionary and haughty. “There was a large emotional reaction like lawsuits,” she said. “But, it’s worked for them based on the numbers. They’ve managed profitability when others have suffered, which is impressive.”

Fitch publishes annual rating outlook reports that determine whether a company’s trajectory is positive or negative. Bhattacharya said that the reports look at several factors, such as leadership styles, diversification in business portfolios, liquidity, and profitability. UWM scored a BB- in October. “Their score is on the high end of the scoring spectrum, but they fell short in a few areas which led us to determine that their outlook is neutrally stable,” she said. “Rocket’s score was BB+ due to their diverse offerings and C-suite. UWM’s risks are that they focus on market share over general profitability, and they have key-man risk.”

UWM battleship

Of note, since that ranking, Rocket’s C-suite has undergone an upheaval. CEO Jay Farner has announced he is stepping down as of June. No permanent replacement has been named. For the first time since Rocket Companies Inc. went public in August 2020, the Detroit-based fintech platform company reported a quarterly loss. For the full year, Rocket reported net income of $700 million, down 88% from $6.7 billion a year earlier.

Key-man risk, Bhattacharya explained, is when one person or a limited team of people possess most of the company’s skills, power, and knowledge. It’s not unique to UWM; Bhattacharya said many industries have entrepreneurs with heavy ties to their businesses. “Ishbia is their key man because he owns and controls most of UWM. A lot of the company depends on him. He sets the tone,” she said. “A lot of companies are entrepreneur-led and driven, but not to the extent of UWM. If he were to depart, the company might suffer.”

However, Elezaj and Wilner didn’t express any pessimism about the new market year. “The mortgage industry has always been crazy,” Wilner said. “We’re very nimble and a lot of us [at UWM] have been doing this for years so we know whether or not to anticipate a low or high volume season. I don’t see us facing any big challenges. We’ll just keep doing our thing.”

This article was originally published in the NMP Magazine April 2023 issue.
Sarah Wolak
Sarah Wolak,
Staff Writer
Published on
Apr 03, 2023
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