An exclusive conversation with Anthony Casa, President of Garden State Home Loans, founder of the BRAWL movement and chairman of the Association of Independent Mortgage Experts (AIME), to discuss highlights from the past year and to clear up some rumors that have been mentioned in the media.
You launched BRAWL a year ago. What are you most proud of, and what has been most surprising as you’ve led these efforts?
BRAWL initiated real and meaningful change for mortgage brokers, and what I’m most proud of is the education and awareness that BRAWL has been able to bring to the mortgage broker community. We have been successful in educating mortgage brokers on wholesale lender practices. Brokers were really surprised, as was I, learning about the level of sophistication that whole-tail lenders have built into their operations to really feed their retail channels.
BRAWL has given brokers a real voice in the industry. And that voice has led to impactful change, as numerous lenders have been willing to change their operations and business practices to become more broker-friendly. AFR and Caliber Home Loans stand out, specifically, as companies that got serious and really re-worked the way they do business. Phil Shoemaker was a big part of that change at Caliber, and although he left to join Home Point, the hope is that the things he helped implement while at Caliber stay intact.
Surely there had to be some initial backlash to a movement like this that suddenly came onto the scene. Can you speak a bit about how BRAWL was initially received by companies that got called out negatively?
Like with anything negative that might come out about the company you work for, the natural reaction a lot of times is to get defensive. There was some denial by several companies, publically, and there was a good amount of private conversations that I had with leaders of these companies where they expressed their dissatisfaction. Some have argued that what we’ve said about them is a lie, when it’s actually very easy to prove that their words and their actions don’t match up. The purpose of creating BRAWL wasn’t to tear any particular companies down, it was to serve as an honest real-time evaluation of how all the wholesale lenders do business. Instead of saying, ‘Don’t do business with these guys,’ the messaging was, ‘Your clients (mortgage brokers) are asking for you to make this change.’
We specifically saw Quicken Loans, along with other large lenders, come out publically against BRAWL. What’s your reaction to that?
Truthfully, Quicken Loans was part of my inspiration to create the BRAWL movement in the first place. Quicken was never the only company that took business away from brokers, but up until a couple years ago, I closed hundreds of loans per year with Quicken. I grew tired of losing my clients and wanted to call out the less-than-desirable business practices that a lot of lenders had been doing. But BRAWL was not created, and hasn’t functioned, as an anti-Quicken Loans thing. There is an entire list of “whole-tail lenders”—tagged that way because of how they rated in various categories that gauge the broker-friendliness of their business practices.
Most lenders on that whole-tailer list reached out to me and asked for guidance on what they could do to improve and make their partnerships with mortgage brokers stronger. We had productive conversations and I’m proud of the improvements that we’ve been able to make. Quicken Loans, PennyMac and other companies decided to take an alternate route because it didn’t align with their long-term goals. Mortgage brokers don’t necessarily dislike Quicken Loans or any other whole-tail lender, they just dislike the way they do business. There’s a difference.
It has been published, by multiple publications, that UWM supported the creation of BRAWL, perhaps beyond just verbally backing the movement. What kind of role did UWM play?
We (Garden State) have had a strong relationship with UWM ever since we left Quicken Loans a couple years ago. UWM’s client service dedication is clear-cut the best in the industry. True to what UWM has stated, they have always helped with marketing, public relations and social media, as well as other business support. They did so with BRAWL, as well as with Garden State.
It isn’t just Garden State. UWM partners with all of their mortgage broker clients to the extent that they’re essentially a consultant as much as they are a lending a partner. I like to write, but I’m not a writer, so being able to connect with someone on their public relations team and get help crafting press releases or featured articles based on messaging I wanted to get across was very valuable.
I actually visited UWM sometime in 2016 and brought out a guy that I was recruiting at the time to join me at Garden State. While there, we got into a conversation where he mentioned an issue he had with Caliber Home Loans stealing clients of his. It sounded exactly like my issue with Quicken. So it actually turned into an impassioned talk about what could be done to call out bad partnership practices and start a movement to solve the problem for brokers. [UWM President/CEO] Mat Ishbia told me that if I was this passionate about it, I should get serious about it and help educate other brokers, and that UWM would back us like they always have. There was never this concept of us teaming up to take down a specific lender. I simply wanted to start a movement that changed the wholesale mortgage industry for the better and help educate independent mortgage brokers so they can thrive. UWM supporting us was a natural partnership because the company is very supportive of brokers.
With the tremendous buy-in that the BRAWL movement received from brokers, you went further and created AIME as more of an all-encompassing broker association. What thought went into that, and what have been some bigger takeaways from that?
We had previously looked at NAMB (National Association of Mortgage Brokers) as an association that supported mortgage brokers, but when they didn’t support BRAWL, it became obvious that NAMB was never going to fully get behind the mortgage broker channel the way that brokers wanted and needed.
Mortgage brokers want to be part of a community with other brokers where everyone supports one another, shares best practices, and everyone has exclusive access to additional ways to build business.
The amount of support that we’ve received from wholesale lenders wanting to do right by mortgage brokers, and the support that AIME has received from a sponsorship standpoint has been incredible. United Wholesale Mortgage was eager to jump in as Title sponsor, and AFR, Caliber, Finance of America and other lenders, plus companies like Salesforce and Cloud Virga, along with several others, have joined our cause as event sponsors. AIME has created a positive environment for brokers and took support in the wholesale channel to another level. We’ll continue to make big things happen for mortgage brokers and help the broker channel grow.
The sole focus of AIME is on what matters to the mortgage broker community, whether it’s BRAWL, technology, advocating for lenders to change business practices, or any kind of additional broker support. That’s never going to change. We will be rolling out a new digital platform at our national event in Las Vegas on Oct. 20 that will speak volumes about AIME’s commitment to mortgage brokers.