Guild Mortgage CEO McGarry: ‘The differentiators are the people’

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Ask a Lender
April 27, 2018


Mary Ann McGarry, President and CEO, Guild Mortgage

San Diego-based Guild Mortgage was one of the top companies in Ask a Lender’s Best Mortgage Lenders 2018 rankings, placing multiple lenders in the Top 10 of eight states. Collectively, the 110 Guild lenders on the list closed nearly 33,000 loans in 2017.

With 110 lenders named to Ask A Lender’s Best Mortgage Lenders 2018 rankings, San Diego-based Guild Mortgage is among the top companies in our inaugural list of the nation’s best. A big part of that success is president and CEO Mary Ann McGarry, who has been with the company for over three decades.

McGarry first joined Guild Mortgage in 1984 as supervisor in the internal audit department. Three short years later, she was Guild’s senior vice president of loan administration and information technology. Her climb up Guild’s corporate ladder also included tenures as the company’s chief financial officer, chief production operations officer and chief operating officer.

We spoke to McGarry about the keys behind Guild’s national, multi-billion-dollar success, the meaning behind its mantra, and the state of the market in its Southern California home.

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Guild placed lenders near the top of the Best Mortgage Lenders rankings in 18 states. What’s the key to your success over such a large footprint?

I think it’s a number of things. Even though we’ve expanded our reach throughout the country in so many different states, our culture has remained really solid throughout. It’s very consistent, and our philosophy is really “high tech, high touch.” We believe in personal service — customer service being one of the key components to our success — along with the entrepreneurial spirit of the leaders in the markets we serve.

We empower the leaders in our company. They know their markets better than we do, so we provide the necessary support so that they can make business grow. They are the ones who build relationships locally, and I believe my job is to provide the tools they need to be successful.

We also have built Guild University, and within that, we have a program of coaching so that we can coach each other at different levels of production. Through that, we can help the beginning tier get to the middle tier, the middle tier into the next tier, and so forth. Sharing best practices — even though markets are different throughout the country — has proven to be very successful for Guild. That’s another one of our core values: collaboration. It has worked very well within our entire organization.

Tell us more about your “high tech, high touch” motto.

It means combining technology with customer service. While we believe technology is very important and absolutely necessary, we believe that technology is not the differentiator. The differentiators are the people and the relationships. In order to build those relationships, you have to be knowledgeable, you have to be an expert in your field, and you have to be able to fit the customer with the best product for their needs. That’s the “high touch” part: Excellent customer service, setting expectations at the beginning and delivering on those expectations.

“[A home purchase] is an emotional transaction. You have to connect with both your referral partner — whether it’s a realtor or a builder — and the borrower.”

We do a lot of first-time homebuyer products, and that’s where customer service is especially important. [A home purchase] is an emotional transaction. You have to connect with both your referral partner — whether it’s a realtor or a builder — and the borrower. You have to guide your customer all the way through the process and make sure that loan is the right loan for them, that they understand it, and that they’re set up for success. That, to me, is the human aspect of the process, and that’s what our people do really well.

Last year, that’s what got us tied with Quicken in J.D. Power’s “Highest in Customer Satisfaction with Primary Mortgage Sales in the U.S.” That was very rewarding for us, because we take a lot of pride in that and we educate our people all the time about our customer service. We have an independent survey after every loan closes, and we use those surveys to note trends, rank everyone in the company and communicate what works best to help people improve.

What are you seeing in the home purchase and home mortgage market in San Diego?

The problem we’re experiencing in many pockets around the country, especially in Southern California, is low inventory. There’s just not enough homes.

There is product being introduced: There’s a lot of construction. Builders are starting to build again. People are renovating their existing homes. So we’re seeing a lot of that activity, but it’s still difficult because of the shortage.

That’s creating an affordability issue for first-time homebuyers, because interest rates are inching up. We’re anticipating that more to be the case later if rates continue to rise. Right now, there are still programs that are available to help borrowers get into homes. There is still property available. There’s still opportunity everywhere to find the right house. Unfortunately for the buyer, there’s many offers on every home, so sometimes, that drives the price up a little.

What tips can you offer to people looking to purchase a home in such a tight market?

That depends on your goals. I’d say be careful and define clearly what you’re trying to accomplish. Is it buying your first home? Is it finding the right school or the right neighborhood? Or is it an investment? You have to look at the whole package.

Make sure you can afford it. Really consult with your adviser. Make sure the product is something you feel comfortable with and that you can still continue to do the things you normally do. Don’t leverage too much.

What’s the outlook for Guild Mortgage for the rest of 2018?

I think we’re projecting close to $18 billion for next year. We just acquired a company [Cornerstone Mortgage in St. Louis], which has been terrific. Their culture aligns with ours in every way. We weren’t in the Midwest as much before, and they are based in Missouri, so it’s a great addition to our company. They’re going to help that jump in volume as well as continuing to grow organically throughout our company. And we’re still looking for opportunities for acquisition — we’re just trying to find the right people that fit our core values. We’re very optimistic and excited about the future.

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