Finding a mortgage loan that works best for consumers can be complicated in an industry that has many options to offer, such as using different types of lenders and navigating what kind of mortgage professional to hire. An independent broker is one type of mortgage professional that can tap into multiple lenders, rates and other options to give their customers the best loan for their situation.
Many brokers join mortgage industry associations to amplify their toolkits and seek informative, unbiased tips to build their business and serve customers. One national trade membership association, known as the Association of Independent Mortgage Experts (AIME), promotes itself as doing just that, but does it really have the best interests of independent brokers in mind? Or, is it just a front group that's offering competitive advantages to a select few lenders who can afford to pay to play?
Anthony Casa, Chairman of AIME, touts himself as being an advocate for independent brokers. However, his circle of friends and special arrangements for his organization paint a very different picture. Before founding AIME, Casa was the founder and president of Garden State Home Loans from March 2011 until he divested from the company in January 2019 to focus on AIME, which he was already serving as chairman of since February 2018.
In July 2018, ARIVE, LLC was created, promoted as a private technology company that is "conceived as an engine to drive mortgage technology into the future, ARIVE offers the first-of-its-kind mortgage marketplace designed to allow independent mortgage originators access to lenders, borrowers and third-party vendors in a seamless ecosystem." It's worth noting that ARIVE was founded by Joseph Cicali who worked for Casa as executive vice president at Garden State Home Loans.
Since its launch, ARIVE has partnered with AIME so that members of AIME receive access to ARIVE free of charge. So who pays for ARIVE? Turns out that Casa's rich mortgage lender friends who are AIME's sponsors subsidize this "generous" member benefit by paying ARIVE seven-figures to be able to be included as a lender in the system. Companies including United Wholesale Mortgage, Caliber Home Loans, Flagstar Bank and AFR Wholesale are all both AIME sponsors and ARIVE partners, according to their announcement.
You may ask yourself why some of the nation's largest mortgage companies aren't partners on this list. It seems that Casa has a problem with successful companies who offer their customers the best rates possible directly without having to engage in the sorts of closed door arrangements such as between AIME and ARIVE.
The relationship between AIME and ARIVE is anything but transparent, with ARIVE going to great lengths to obscure its true ownership structure. This would make sense if you were building your own sales force conveniently disguised as trade association members. In a speech revealing ARIVE in 2018, Casa boasted that, "The game has changed. We have 35,000 people, 16% of the market, acting as one. One voice. One authority, to be able to hold every single participant in this channel accountable. This is the new game."
It's apparent that Casa has built a sales force of 35,000 association members to drive business to a select few of his friends' companies who forked out seven figures to back Cicali's ARIVE endeavor, while leaving out some of the nation's top lending competitors.
Another indicator of the egregious comingling of partnerships and conflicts of interest between lenders, ARIVE and AIME have swapped executive leadership at the very top levels. As mentioned, Joseph Cicali, who worked for Casa at Garden State Home Loans from December 2016 to October 2018, became CEO of ARIVE, formed in July 2018. AIME's Executive VP of Strategy, Katie Sweeney, was hired from ARIVE. Mat Ishbia, a good friend of Casa's, is president and CEO of United Wholesale Mortgage, another one of ARIVE's financial backers and AIME's 2020 Title Sponsor. At the same time, notably, Ishbia is a harsh critic of his rivals, so it's no wonder why they are left off of the ARIVE platform and excluded from being sponsors and members of AIME.
Here's the real question: how is the chairman of an independent trade association supposed to remain a neutral, truly informative voice and complete resource for independent brokers when his select friends are his exclusive funders and the lifeline of his organization? How are independent brokers the ones benefiting from a paid membership in his trade association when the technological platform that centralizes their resources blatantly excludes some of the nation's largest mortgage companies? How does this help consumers? The answer is: independent brokers are not getting what they believe they paid for and, ultimately, consumers get the short end of the deal.
Many questions remain about Casa's intentions for AIME and he and his friends have gone to great lengths to avoid answering these concerns. But, bottom line, if you're an independent broker in the market to expand your business, access the best resources and best serve clients, be careful about crony networks that might not help.
Jared Whitley is a long-time politico who has worked in the U.S. Congress, White House, and defense industry. He is an award-winning writer, having won best blogger in the state from the Utah Society of Professional Journalists (2018) and best columnist from Best of the West (2016). He earned his MBA from Hult International Business School in Dubai. Read Jared Whitley's Reports — More Here.
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