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For United Wholesale Mortgage, the secret to successful technological transformation is simple: There is no secret.
With an expected $175 to $200 billion in closed loan volume expected this year, United Wholesale Mortgage is the No. 1 wholesale mortgage company in the nation, a position the firm has held for five years running. Despite focusing strictly on wholesale B2B transactions, they’re on track to eclipse some of the industry’s biggest players—even those who service both wholesale and retail accounts.
A relentless focus on service is paying off for the Pontiac, Mich.-based enterprise, which recently underwent a system-reshaping move to digital technology. To get an inside look at the challenges and triumphs of making bold tech moves in a traditional, slow-to-adopt sector, we spoke with company EVP and Chief Technology Officer Jason Bressler.
One of the biggest challenges for financial organizations attempting digital transformation is stakeholder buy-in, and Bressler is at the tip of that spear for UWM. “I think that most CIOs and CTOs running an IT organization don't ever want to show anybody how a product is made,” he began. “They just want to give them the product and have everybody get out of the way. My approach was unique because I truly only have one customer and that's the business.”
Showing everyone how UWM’s IT products were produced turned out to be Bressler’s starting point for the transformation. The move demonstrated where system flaws existed, thus giving everyone a solid grasp on what thoughtful, meaningful change could do for the organization both inside and out. Importantly, it opened a pathway for collaboration from everyone who valued UWM at every level, regardless of their technological background—or lack of it.
“We got a ton of feedback from stakeholders on the business side, and even when they gave us suggestions that would never work in an IT organization we would listen and try to adapt them. Eventually, all of the stakeholders, from the CEO all the way to every department leader, realized the benefits of full transparency.” Two years of listening, planning, and justifying later, and the pendulum shifted. The UWM organization was ready to shift out of a transaction-based mindset into creating solutions.
“Instead of stakeholders presenting us with problems and asking for fixes, we’d go directly to them after recognizing their needs, and develop solutions to give them greater efficiency.” That approach created a tidal wave of positive momentum. The IT team sprang into action.
“We were deploying directly into production,” Bressler revealed. “It was literally by the sheer will of very good people that really believed in the overall direction of the company that made everything happen. At the start we broke everything apart and went to a pure matrix model so that everybody could learn the different disciplines in application development, security, and enterprise technology. Everybody understood their roles and we were able to start to become truly transformational, building cross-functional teams.”
It helps to have great partners to back you up and help you steer through change. “We have been in a partnership with AppDynamics for three years. They have integrated their platform throughout our tech stack and we rely on them to regularly help us proactively identify baselines and issues,” Bressler said.
The team moved from the linear waterfall approach to software development to iterative, team-driven agile methodologies. “That was a huge undertaking,” he admitted. “But even more than process changes, finding the right people was incredibly important.” Bressler led the team in a focus shift; rather than acting as an IT organization discrete from the whole, the IT function became an integrated function of the company. It was a meaningful, effective shift in mindset. “People really started to believe that they were part of something bigger. They weren't just here to create software. The true intrinsic value of what we did was to help the American economy.”
That focus on people and culture allows UWM’s IT group to change and adapt at a modern pace, growing their success with every step.
Gifts in the Midst of Crisis
“I’ve never worked at a company that has grown this rapidly and this quickly in data management, data lakes, and data warehousing,” he confided. “It boils down to finding a single source of truth in that data, and how we can properly continue to report that and deliver AI ahead of the curve.” Often, delivering actionable insights from the massive storehouse of collected data in typical financial firms is a lasting challenge.
“One of the things I've learned from the pandemic specifically is that there's a high appetite right now for the business to have tooling and platforms that (financial firms) were very reluctant to have before COVID-19. Companies are willing to invest more and are willing to hold themselves accountable a little more, so we focused on having our business partners work with us to break down information silos enabling us to actually start building a true data lake,” he said. “In the same spirit of collaboration as all of us work together to find the right solution for this instead of presenting a solution that we think is best.”
Directing change in a time of uncertainty is an e-ticket ride that Bressler is simply delighted to be taking, particularly when digitization is the engine to keep efficiency and relevance at peak during times when customer engagement is more vital to financial organizations than ever. “I think there has never been a better time in the history of business to be a CIO or CTO than it is right now,” he enthused. “All the hard work that CIOs and CTOs have done for years—strategic road mapping, data modernization and continuing to deliver product—IT hasn’t been included in the strategic business decisions ... and for the first time in history almost every company has given their CTO a seat at the table.”
For UWM, fortune truly does favor the bold. “This is one of those times where we should do everything that we can to be as transparent as we can, because when we have the momentum and we show our partners how we do what we do—it’s really showing how the secret sauce is made—their collaboration on a go-forward basis has implications outside of our own companies and cultures.
“The pandemic will reshape the entire technical industry, because there hasn’t been a cataclysmic event in our history when IT has been relied on so heavily. Nothing works better than seizing an opportunity and being transparent around what you do to drive true engagement and really become a true IT organization.”
United Wholesale Mortgage is the No. 1 wholesale mortgage lender in the country. Everything we do is designed to support our team members and clients’ business and make lending easy. We deliver the fastest turn times in the industry. We develop groundbreaking tools like UClose that give you the power to go from clear-to-close to closing in minutes instead of days, Brand360 which puts a full marketing CRM into the palms of our clients, and UMW InTouch, to give our clients 24 hour mobile access to EVERYTHING they need for their clients. We provide our account executives with over 200 hours of training before they dial up your number. We give you direct access to our underwriters and support teams — and much more. We’re also committed to making UWM a great place to work for our own team members so that they can provide the world-class service you deserve. Here, relationships come first. That’s why more brokers choose UWM than any other lender. NMLS #3038, Equal Housing Lender www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org
585 South Blvd E.
Pontiac, MI 48341