During the Super Bowl advertising blitz, the most controversial advertisement seemed to be (no, not Mountain Dew’s PuppyMonkeyBaby) Quicken Loans RocketMortgage Super Bowl Ad: What We Were Thinking
David Stevens, CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association was annoyed at the public outrage.
Even the Urban Institute’s Laurie Goodman who is another voice of reason, writes a blog post on Why Rocket Mortgage won’t start another housing crisis.
I am one of those who were angry after seeing the QL commercials that aired before the Super Bowl and my disbelief continued after watching the Super Bowl ad. I lived the insanity and the QL commercial was completely tone deaf and gave me great concern about repeating mistakes in the past. In fact I was so concerned that I made the QL Super Bowl commercial the cornerstone of last week’s Housing Note: Rockets Engineered to Amaze Housing: What was Quicken Loans Thinking?
A week later my view on the ad hasn’t changed and in all due respect to Laurie and David, I think they missed the forest for the trees (there’s a digital v. paper pun somewhere). I’ll explain by going through their own points:
- Borrowers can give lenders easier access to bank information – this is one of those wiz bang promises we always see with new technology (assuming this product is new technology). But I don’t think anyone is arguing to keep the process arduous.
- Approvals might be less prone to human error. – Sure, that’s entirely possible although this argument is like saying if there was less air pollution we might all feel better. We would have to assume that borrower data entry is better and it matches up to official documents like tax returns and pay stubs – something that was not a lender concern in the last cycle.
- Automation may ease tight credit. That’s another one of those wiz bang assumptions that any technology gain – automation is better – remove humans and the process gets easier (again, we don’t understand what the details are of this wiz bang new technology). EZ Pass scanning technology on the highway is far better for toll collecting but it took a few decades to perfect. The mortgage lending process is full of judgments that need to be made and common sense has been removed from the mortgage underwriting process so it can be completed with checkboxes. I contend that automation will NOT ease credit any time soon because automation means a series of lending rules and it will take years to iron out. It may even delay credit normalization as lenders are reluctant to fully trust it. Plus lending continues to remain tight because of bad decisions made in the past and a weak outlook for the future (30 year fixed is below the level just before the December Fed rate hike), not because the process needs to be more efficient. Mortgage origination volume has fallen nearly every year since 2006 so I can’t see lack of automation as holding back the normalization of credit.
- Digital lending is here to stay. No one is really arguing against digital lending per se. The future across most industries is digital and that transition can be good and bad. The mortgage process is much more digitized than it was a decade ago so disagreeing with the Rocket Mortgage message doesn’t make someone anti-digital.
- Make a complex process easier for qualified buyers. Of course! If that is what is actually being delivered. It’s a black box and the consumer is getting their information from a commercial that conveys dated message. If David gave a speech in a 1970s era polyester suit with bellbottoms, would his current information leave the audience with a current market impression?
The real reason for the pushback on this rocket thing is not because we are anti-digital, anti-efficiency, anti-credit easing, anti-automation or anti-polyester bellbottoms. The pushback comes from the messenger being the second largest mortgage lender in the U.S. who marketed their product seemingly devoid of any understanding of the housing bubble, which after all, was really a credit bubble.
And it becomes even more clear to me as an appraiser, looking at their complete reliance on appraisal management companies and how awfully unreliable that post-financial crisis industry really is at estimating collateral, that their judgment is flawed in the long run.
The same sort of promises and expectations were made during the run up of Countrywide Mortgage. We are nearly 9 years down the road from the 2007 implosion of American Home Mortgage and those 2 Bear Stearns mortgage hedge funds and yet economically, the world is still in the hangover stage.
I don’t really believe that QL’s Rocket Mortgage product will bring down the world’s economy as we saw with financial engineering in the last cycle. But it is a concern and unbelievable that this was the messaging they chose to go with. As Mark Twain said (paraphrased) “History doesn’t repeat itself but sometimes it rhymes.”
Please watch that commercial again.