For years, Wells Fargo has held the distinction of being the largest originator of mortgage loans in the United States.

But facing self-inflicted scandal, a regulatory crackdown and a fintech revolution that extends to the mortgage industry, Wells Fargo was dethroned in the fourth quarter of 2017.

The company that surpassed Wells Fargo last quarter was not, as one might expect, another major bank. Instead, it was Quicken Loans, a privately-held company that, unlike Wells Fargo, doesn't operate any branches.

Quicken Loans is no upstart. For years, it has been one of the largest mortgage originators in the country, and the largest online mortgage lender.

But a changing mortgage market combined with the fintech boom has allowed Quicken Loans to capitalize in a big way.

The changes in the market are dramatic. Consider that in Q4 2015, Wells Fargo originated $47bn in home loans. Quicken Loans originated $19bn, less than half of Wells Fargo's total but still enough to make it the third largest mortgage originator in the country at the time.

But change was already afoot. While Wells Fargo was still top dog in Q4 2015, according to RealtyTrac, its share of originations dropped 8% year-over-year. The same was true for other large banks, including JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and US Bank, which saw their share of originations drop by 30%, 27% and 13%, respectively.

Quicken Loans, on the other hand, saw its share grow by 10%.

And those gains continued as Quicken Loans doubled down on technology. In 2016, it launched Rocket Mortgage, one of the first mortgage lending offerings to give customers the ability to complete the entire loan application process online. Every year since, Quicken Loans has used a Super Bowl spot to promote Rocket Mortgage to the masses.

Rocket Mortgage's value proposition is simple: “get an approval to buy a home or refinance your mortgage in minutes.” To make this possible, Rocket Mortgage reduces or eliminates the need for paperwork by allowing applicants to retrieve their financial information from their accounts at their financial institutions Open Banking-style.

While prospective homebuyers using Rocket Mortgage have the option of talking to a human being about their options and application, they're not forced to. Contrast that with Wells Fargo, which offers homebuyers a form through which they can request a “personal consultation” by phone or at a local bank branch.

In today's market, for many consumers, a fully online no-touch or low-touch process beats a process that requires human interaction, especially if the human interaction isn't seen to be critical. For example, if a company can use technology to determine what loans and loan terms a prospective homebuyer can qualify for in a matter of minutes, a company that requires them to have a “consultation” to obtain the same information is increasingly going to be at a disadvantage.

So while Wells Fargo still originated the highest dollar value of mortgage loans for the full year of 2017, Quicken Loans' big fourth quarter is no fluke and the writing is on the wall: fintech has and continues to change consumer expectations. If big players don't take action to meet them, they will continue to be surpassed by once-smaller companies that do.

Patricio Robles

Published 7 February, 2018 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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