Having fun is serious business for lender United Shore
(Top photo: The 3 p.m. dance party on Thursdays can draw 100 to 150 people at United Shore Financial Services in Troy, MI.)
Having fun is part and parcel of the culture at United Shore Financial Services, a 30-year-old Troy, MI-based company that houses the nation’s number-one wholesale lender, United Wholesale Mortgage (UWM).
According to Mat Ishbia, president and CEO, fun is good for business.
“If you take care of your people, they’ll take care of your clients,” says Ishbia. “We’re here 40 hours every week. And we want it to be a place that our team members enjoy and have fun while they’re at work.”
When Ishbia says 40 hours a week, he means it. Overtime rarely happens.
“We work to live, not live to work, so holding the work week to 40 hours is a huge thing,” he says. “Our team members appreciate that we respect their families and personal lives. They like the certainty that comes with knowing they can spend Friday nights and the weekends with their family or friends.”
Fun in Many Forms
When it comes to fun, Ishbia is often right in the thick of things. During a recent lunchtime chili cook-off, “Judge Ishbia” tasted all 21 of the chili dishes. Cups of the stuff were sold onsite for a quarter, with the proceeds donated to charity.
“We run contests for exceptional client service, use a ‘power cart’ for surprise deliveries of free candy and snacks, organize charity ballgames, lots of little fun things,” he says.
United Shore hosts an annual company fair near its office to show its appreciation for the staff’s hard work. The event draws more than 5,000 employees (called team members) and their families, who enjoy an evening of unlimited rides and free food, drinks, and games. Each Christmas, United Shore adopts families through a local charity and raises money to buy presents for all of the family members.
There’s also the popular Thursday 3 p.m. dance party to help team members shake off the mid-afternoon slump. Started by an individual who wanted to do something fun with his small team, the dance parties now draw 100-150 people. For 15 minutes, team members join a conga line, imitate “Thriller” choreography, or bust-a-groove free-style before buckling down with renewed vigor to loan underwriting, production, or servicing.
“I look forward to coming to work,” says Brad Pettiford, communications strategist. “It’s incredible what we do to make work fun, open, and collaborative. The culture here allows everyone to be happy, enjoy a nice work-life balance, and really develop themselves personally and professionally.”
Caring for One Another
In addition to fun, United Shore takes care of its 2,000 team members in other ways. It offers onsite dry cleaning, a fitness center, a cafeteria, and a Starbucks. In October 2016, United Shore signed a contract with a primary care provider to bring a doctor’s office into the workplace. Ishbia says the move was prompted by team members saying they don’t go to the doctor enough, because they don’t have time.
“These doctors only serve our people and they’re available every day of the week. On the weekends, team members can text the doctors and they’ll get right back to them,” he says.
This culture of taking care of its own extends to career progression, too, as job vacancies are filled almost exclusively by internal staff.
“Once you’re here, whoever shows the ability moves up,” says Ishbia.
United Shore also does whatever it can to hold on to its people, encouraging team members to transfer internally to other departments if they think their interests align better with another position. That means, for example, that an underwriter can apply for a job in sales or in marketing, even if he/she doesn’t have a background in those areas.
“If they have the right attitude and the all-around work ethic, we can teach them the skill,” Ishbia says. “It’s a big part of our culture,” he adds.
Not surprisingly, turnover is lower than the industry average, according to Ishbia.
“Overall, it’s about 8 to 9 percent a year, but it’s not uncommon for sales at companies in general to turn over faster than other teams. Excluding sales, our turnover is closer to 5 percent,” he says.
These happy people do a lot of hard work.
The primary business division of United Shore, UWM, serves 6,500 brokers and some 22,000 loan officers across all 50 states. In 2015, it originated a then-record $13.1 billion in loan volume. In 2016, loan volume topped $23 billion.
Beyond the investment in its people, Ishbia says the millions the company invests in technology has helped to fuel growth. Of its 2,000 team members, more than 250 are dedicated IT professionals who make sure United Shore’s network of brokers “have the best tools and technology to provide great service to their borrowers.”
One example is United Shore’s commitment to starting a doc-less revolution that allows brokers and borrowers to navigate the loan process through automation, without having to submit hard copies of pay stubs, tax returns, or bank statements. With these new capabilities, borrowers with high credit scores can “e-sign” documents and benefit from “hassle-free” conforming mortgages that can be closed in as little as 21 days.
Ishbia, too, is recognized as an industry innovator, speaking frequently at conferences. The former Michigan State University basketball player records a monthly video newsletter “3 Points with Mat Ishbia.”
He credits MSU’s legendary coach Tom Izzo for lessons learned on the court that were applicable to life and business. “When I joined United Wholesale Mortgage as an account executive making $18,000 a year in 2003, I didn’t know squat about mortgages, or about business, really. But I knew basketball, and I knew it the way that Izzo taught it,” he wrote in Inc. magazine in January 2015.
“I rolled up my sleeves and worked my way up as my father, who founded the company in 1986, made it clear I would have to do,” he adds.
As to his aspirations for the company, Ishbia says, “We want to make sure we create an environment where we can make a difference for our people, continue to grow, and create an amazing experience for the broker community for the next 30 years.”