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Best Mortgage Employers

Fortune ranks Quicken highest

January 9, 2007

By COCO SALAZAR


photo of Coco Salazar

The best mortgage-related company to work for last year paid its mortgage bankers an average of $82,000, provided employees with professional sports entertainment and brought in a major pop band for a big company celebration.

FORTUNE magazine released it's latest annual list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For.

The ranking was based on an evaluation of the policies and culture of each company, and the opinions of the company's employees, according to an announcement. Two-thirds of the total score came from employee responses to a 57-question survey on attitudes towards management, job satisfaction, and camaraderie within the organization. The remainder of the score was on an evaluation of the demographic makeup, pay and benefits programs, and culture.

Edward Jones was the second-best mortgage-related company to work for, placing at No. 20 out of the 100 companies. Additionally, the parent of Edward Jones Mortgage placed fourth out of the top 10 Best Companies where employees feel "encouraged to balance their work and personal life."

The "brokerage firm, organized as a partnership, has more U.S. offices -- 8,955 -- than Starbucks has cafés," FORTUNE said in its comments about why Edward Jones made the list. "In 2006 the number of limited partnerships was expanded from 4,535 to nearly 12,000, more than a third of employees," which number 30,326.

A much smaller organization took the title of the third-best mortgage-related entity to work for -- Umpqua Bank. with 1,435 employees and at No. 34 on FORTUNE's list. The Portland, Ore.-based community bank, with 131 offices on the West Coast, was commended for allowing employees 40 paid hours a year for volunteering, and for some of its lobby stores offering free Internet access and complimentary coffee.

Goldman Sachs followed closely behind at No. 36. The mortgage-backed securities player has a U.S. staff of 12,542 and among its most common job salaried jobs are associates, which make an average of $129,00 per year, according to the magazine. The Wall Street firm was one of six companies commended for unusual perks, for giving employees who get married or register a domestic partnership an extra week of vacation.

At No. 46 was First Horizon National. The mortgage lender's reputation as a sterling employer -- as it has made the list for 10 years -- and its "Firstpower" culture, "which puts employees above all other stakeholders, has helped it attract top talent in new markets," FORTUNE said. Of the Tennessee-based company's 12,491 employees, the most common hourly-paid job was a loan processor, with an average annual pay of $45,361. Nonetheless, First Horizon's job growth was down 6 percent for the year as it subtracted 790 employees from its staff over the year.

HomeBanc Mortgage Corp. came in at No. 67. At the Atlanta, Ga.-headquartered company, underwriters reportedly have the most common salaried jobs and make an average of $51,624 annually while customer service specialist make $35,988 and hold the most common hourly job.

"When faith-based lender HomeBanc had to lay off 60 people, annual bonuses to top execs were the first thing to go," FORTUNE noted. "Departing employees were given extra paid vacation, severance, and outplacement help."

HomeBanc reported that an important part of its strategy is to build a company that attracts the best talent available. It started out 10 years ago as a small Atlanta-based mortgage company with about 150 associates, an office in south Florida and mortgage volume of about $500 million, but currently has offices in Georgia, Florida and North Carolina, will soon open an office in Nashville, Tenn., and originated over $6.4 billion in mortgage volume last year.

"It has always been my belief that the foundation of a great business is the people who work there every day," HomeBanc Chairman and Chief Executive Patrick S. Flood said in an announcement. "We believe that our 2007 ranking, our fourth consecutive appearance on this list, shows we are continuing to make progress in this important part of our strategy."

Within the top 90, American Express reportedly landed in spot No. 74, FORTUNE said, noting that nearly a quarter of its employees have been with the company for over 15 years. Principal Financial Group followed at No. 77.

Meanwhile, Capital One Financial placed 84th and was among 10 companies recognized for having the highest percentage of telecommuters, or employees who are allowed to telecommute or work at home at least 20 percent of the time.

Spot No. 98 was taken by Synovus. The magazine noted that the banking and credit card services firm offers rich retirement and profit-sharing contributions to every employee, adding that the supplement was 15% of pay for banking employees in 2005. The Columbus, Ga.-based company, which also finances mortgages, noted that it was inducted into the "Hall of Fame" in 2005, which recognizes companies that have been on the Best Companies list each year since its inception in 1998.

The last of the mortgage entities on the ranking, at No. 99, was A.G. Edwards, which recently formed joint venture A.G. Edwards Mortgage LLC with Wells Fargo Home Mortgage.

But the gold medal for the best mortgage company to work for was thereby Quicken Loans, which took spot No. 17 out of the 100 companies.

The most common salaried job at Quicken is a mortgage banker and pays an average of $82,000 a year, while the most common hourly-paid job is a client care specialist, with pay of $53,797 a year, on average. Through 45,000 applicants, it hired 554 employees over the year for a 19 percent annual growth.

As to what makes Quicken a Best Company, FORTUNE noted that the Michigan-based lender celebrated its 20th anniversary with a bash at the Quicken Loans Arena," home of the Cleveland Cavaliers, owned by Quicken founder Dan Gilbert, with the Black Eyed Peas as special guests. The magazine additionally recognized Quicken as one of six companies with the most "unusual perks," as workers in Michigan get to "hop on company-sponsored buses to see the Cavaliers play ball."

"This award really comes from our employees as two-thirds of the FORTUNE score is based on their survey responses," Gilbert said in a written statement. "Our people enjoy working here because we've created a unique culture that is based on trust and empowerment.

"We encourage our team members to have a high level of awareness and take initiative when they come up with new ideas or notice something that can be improved or fixed. You have to empower people to take action, which means trusting them to make the right decisions."

According to Quicken, its staff has created innovative mortgage programs, streamlined the mortgage process, and developed unique technology, all of which has resulted in record growth last year. Loan volume grew by $2 billion to nearly $18 billion last year and 600 new positions were created. Currently, it is hiring nearly 200 employees each month.

The company's results-based compensation plan includes a generous performance-based pay and annual bonus plan, spot bonuses and more. In addition to tuition assistance, the company offers unique benefits such as leadership training which includes a SWAT-type obstacle course, and empowerment training in which family members are encouraged to participate.

Among benefits, awards and recognition given to Quicken employees are discounted home loans, Internet and gym reimbursement, a scholarship program for employees' children, and several times each year, opportunities to win trips, such as last year's four-day cruise to the Bahamas for 600 people, according to an announcement.


Coco Salazar is an assistant editor and staff writer for MortgageDaily.com.

e-mail: [email protected]


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