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Guaranteed Rate’s Kate Amor On A Bespoke Tech Approach

HousingWire Editor in Chief Sarah Wheeler sat down with Kathryn Amor, senior vice president and head of enterprise products at Guaranteed Rate, to talk about the intersection of product and technology.

Sarah Wheeler: You joined Guaranteed Rate in January of 2023. What drew you to that role?

Kathryn Amor: Their amazing tech stack was a really important factor. They had really great tech — including some proprietary tech — and they were at the leading edge of creating tech around products that I wanted to launch.

SW: As a product leader, how did you think about products coming into a year like 2023?

KA: Coming into 2023, a lot of people were just thinking about survival and there was a lot of movement going on with investors. For me personally, I was walking into a new company so I was looking at: what do we have going on here? What do we need to rebuild? And how do we frame out what the future is going to look like?

I spent a lot of time doing research to understand how to position Guaranteed Rate for the future, to be a center of product excellence, and to leverage all of the technologies that have been put in place to create products and programs that we can monetize. Part of that was also having to completely reconsider how we looked at investors and how we look at sources of liquidity. It was also to find meaning in all the change that’s happening and a new north star because what worked in 2020 and 2021  — and actually for the last 10 years — isn’t what’s going to work in the future.

For me it was a lot about embracing change and how to get other people to embrace change and to see what could be done, because I think there’s a lot of negativity out there. But there’s a lot to be hopeful about. We’re on the brink of seeing that in 2024.

SW: Does this cycle remind you of any other time in housing?

KA: It doesn’t remind me of anything I’ve seen before. If anything, it’s being able to take advantage of opportunities as they’re coming in front of you, and having a more bespoke perspective. I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all solution to any of this. In the past, you could come up with big broad solutions that were going to solve for a large swath of people and I’m not saying that some of that doesn’t exist today. But where we differentiate ourselves is in the ability to see opportunities and to take advantage of what’s coming because we’re diversified. And we’re not just serving a single cohort.

The biggest theme is the need to let go of the past and embrace where the future is going to take us.

SW: What was attractive about Guaranteed Rate’s tech stack?

KA: I really like their hybrid model of build your own, combined with some tech that was taken off the shelf. And what I dig about it is that we’re not in any box. We’re going to take the best of the best and not limit ourselves based on any one particular perspective. At the end of the day, Guaranteed Rate really is a fintech company that happens to also do retail lending, which is a very unusual combination. Usually fintech companies tend to be focused on consumer direct and a pure digital play.

I liked that they were trying to solve the problem across a variety of different channels of customer touch points, which I thought was much more relevant to the way that customers want to interact with their loan officers. So sure, some people just want to do online, and we can do that. But there’s also that need to be able to support Realtor partners, to be able to talk to financial planners, to have more of a consultative sales approach.

And then on top of it, Guaranteed Rate was at the cutting edge of automation. As a product person, I have all these dreams and aspirations for all the cool things I’m putting out. And if your tech partner can’t deliver on that because all they do is vanilla, Fannie and Freddie business, that’s limiting. We’re actually solving across all these different products and programs, which really supports my ability to be creative.

And we’re quick — we don’t have all this red tape. And that speed is like a dream come true. So now I feel like I found some real alignment between the ability to dream things and quickly execute a go-to-market strategy and plan that we’re able to implement in a meaningful way. That’s like nirvana.

SW: What are some of the things you have done this year?

KA: We’ve had an amazing year with getting out our reverse product line and we have launched a proprietary non-QM product, which I think is really amazing. We’ve put out 223 new product programs and features this year so it’s been an awesome year.

And we’ve done a lot with affordability, which has been so important in this market. And I don’t just mean like down payment assistance programs, but affordability options when mortgage rates have impacted everyone.

SW: How do you work with the tech team? And where do the ideas for new products come from?

KA: Victor [Ciardelli, Guaranteed Rate’s CEO] is a visionary when it comes to tech, and one of the great things about working with him is that he is so tech-focused. Where I come in and complement that is that I’ve always been super focused on product and how product interacts with tech in order to drive meaningful results and allow us to serve more customers. So Victor sets the direction and really provides the north star, but there’s room for everyone to contribute to how we bring the best version of that out to market.

I’m a firm believer that product is a team sport so I partner closely with the tech team. It takes a range of different amazing people and different ideation to create great product strategy and programs. My job as an executive is to know a good idea when I hear it. My philosophy for product management is to bring smart people in the room and let them all participate in that and raise up the best idea.

SW: Looking back to when you started in the industry, what are some defining moments as far as technology and what technology could mean for product?

KA: The first was when Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac came out with Day One certainty, which started the conversation about what could automation look like and how could we do more to create a better customer experience. That was a moment where I started dreaming and realizing it’s not just about getting rid of the little plastic things on our fingers to flip through the paper. We’re gonna do cool stuff!

And then, when blockchain HELOCs became a thing, I thought about, where does data lead us in this equation? To me, it’s still one of the most interesting conversations because it’s really a conversation about data and ledgers and what that means for how we bring data into the process. Because technology can have all these great ideas, but if we can’t get into a format that ultimately goes into the secondary markets and people are going to buy, this is where the breakdown occurs. And so thinking about how to be part of that long-term solution that could really benefit customers in the long run is cool.

And then recently, of course, seeing that AI is going to be another defining moment. We haven’t really seen how that one’s going to suss out yet but it’s going to change the way we in our industry provide value to our communities. It’s going to completely change the way over time that we fulfill loans and everything else that we do.

SW: One of the products you launched this year was the Rate App, which is focused not just on financial education but overall wellness. What was the thinking behind that?

KA: We often talk about educating people and communities to drive better outcomes, and when I think through that lens of education and empowerment, I see Victor’s vision for the Rate App, which is about financial wellness but also total personal wellness. It allows us to make and maintain a relationship with a consumer by offering a true value to the community that we’re serving — it’s not just a transactional relationship. It also provides a social good that is beneficial to everyone. It’s got meditation and yoga as well as financial education.  

SW: How are you developing products for the next wave of homebuyers?  

KA: When I think about where the future is going, I see a continued diversification and departure from this homogenous customer base that’s a W-2, single-breadwinner household.  

It is very unusual to find a single-income household any longer. Many people have multiple different jobs and there are lots of multigenerational households, so the definition of what it means to earn income and how we provide value to society is really changing.

SW: How do you stay close to the consumer to make sure that there’s a reason for a particular product and it’s not just a cool idea?

KA: I think it’s important to start out with the vibe, but the next step needs to be looking at some facts and data. After doing some digging I might find it’s not as cool as I thought it was, so I like to have a robust process around product development and idea evaluation. It’s important to have a wide net, looking at data, P&L, a cost benefit analysis, then talking to trusted resources and influencers throughout the business to get a pulse on what they think about an idea.

I have a very informal committee structure where I will shop around an idea, pulling data together and just doing a temperature test. And then sometimes it’s also fun to experiment because there’s not always a clear answer. So we’ll try it and see if we’re going to innovate some gold here.

SW: Looking to 2024, what are you excited about?

KA: I am really excited about 2024 because I have spent the last year building out a new team and a product launching structure that I think is going to dominate. And I feel that I’m at the right place, at the right time and with the right company to pull that off.

For the industry at large, I think we’re going to continue to see consolidation in 2024. I think that we’re going to see companies that have been prudent with their finances and made smart tech investment being the ones that succeed. There’s going to be a lot of companies that reinvent themselves. We need highly adaptable companies with prudent capital who are well invested in tech — I think those are going to be the winners in this whole consolidation piece.

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