How Quicken Loans Changed Detroit–and the Mortgage World

DETROIT–If you look up the word “disruption” in the dictionary, you might find the Quicken Loans logo.

Not only has Quicken Loans actively disrupted the mortgage market (Rocket Mortgage, anyone?), it’s also transformed this city, which was on the brink of disaster a decade ago.

GilbertBeginning in 2010, Quicken, led by its charismatic founder and chairman, Dan Gilbert, began buying up properties in the city’s dilapidated city center. Today, more than 17,000 employees of Quicken and its parent corporation, Rock Ventures LLC, work in a revitalized downtown, expanding the city’s tax base and leading to numerous media proclaiming Detroit as “America’s Comeback City.”

Without question, Quicken has transformed the mortgage industry. What started as a three-person company in 1985 has become a giant, with 110-plus affiliated companies that employ more than 30,000. In 2017, Quicken became the largest retail lender in the country. Between 2013 and 2017, Quicken Loans closed more than $400 billion in home loan volume across all 50 states. For eight consecutive years, Quicken has led J.D. Power’s rankings for client satisfaction among all U.S. mortgage lenders and has ranked consistently among major publications’ “Best Places to Work.”

“We love that you’re here,” said Bill Emerson, Vice Chairman with Rock Holdings Inc. and 2016 Chairman of the Mortgage Bankers Association, here at the Mortgage Bankers Association’ Technology Solutions Conference &Expo.

“It was our investment in technology that made us successful,” said Gilbert, Founder and Chairman of Rock Ventures LLC, and Founder and Chairman of Quicken Loans Inc., Gilbert is also majority owner of the National Basketball Association’s Cleveland Cavaliers. “In this industry, if you want to do business in all 50 states and all 3,000 counties, you have to have technology.”

The differentiation for Quicken, Gilbert said, is delivery. “All of us handle the same product–we acquire data and curate it,” he said. “Our goal was to simply deliver it better than anyone else.”

Another differentiating factor, Emerson said, is culture. “At the end of the day, when you get so big, you can’t simply have two eyeballs guiding the ship,” he said. “You have to be able to define yourself beyond the leadership.”

Gilbert agreed. “We do truly try to walk the walk,” he said. “The default setting is the status quo…if you can define who you are to everyone in the organization, then they’ll know what to do.”

“A good culture also empowers people to think, and create,” Emerson added. “When you can get 17,000 to think that way, it’s one of the most powerful things you can see in an organization.”

Quicken eliminated the word “borrower” 15 years ago. “I don’t think clients and customers want to be known as ‘borrowers,’ Gilbert said. “That was a deliberate strategy on our part.”

Gilbert said the decision to move from suburban Detroit to downtown Detroit in 2010 was motivated by the desire to be part of a solution. It became part of a campaign called “For-More-Than-Profit.”

“The blight situation in Detroit was pushing the city into a death spiral,” Gilbert said. “Our leases were coming up and we had to make a decision–to look for land to build a campus, or to come downtown and make a run for it. We knew there were going to be challenges, but we realized that even back in 2009 and 2010, we were losing people we were trying to recruit from Michigan and Michigan State and Ohio State who didn’t want to come to Detroit. We realized we had to do something.”

Quicken’s first move was in 2010, bringing 3,400 people to its new downtown headquarters. Today, 17,000 Quicken employees occupy 12 buildings downtown; the company owns several other properties. Quicken said 3,400 employees have moved into Detroit. So far, Quicken has invested $5 billion in the Detroit economy, including $2.5 billion in real estate investment, resulting in $1.2 billion paid in state and local taxes and a $13 billion economic impact statewide.

“We could feel something,” Gilbert said. “There was a new energy. Today, that energy is about 100 times that it was back then.”

Emerson said the new challenge is to position Quicken to be relevant enough to invigorate a younger workforce. “This new generation is active, and motivated and energized,” he said. “We have to match that enthusiasm.”

“We are successful because we can attract the best and the brightest,” Gilbert added.

Looking ahead, Gilbert said lenders must continue to think of technology to attract customers and remain successful. “Data will move faster and be more accurate,” he said. “What can we learn from it? If we don’t get on the train, it’s going to be over. Whoever can move faster on technology and invest time and effort in technology will succeed.”