'If you don't have your data, you're going to fail'

Guaranteed Rate's managing director on his tech-driven foray into the market

'If you don't have your data, you're going to fail'

Success is a product of not only hard work but also adaptability and innovation. It’s a lesson Ben Cohen (pictured), managing director at Guaranteed Rate, understands well. After all, that’s how he’s managed to transition from being a technical architect to a top-performing mortgage expert.

Cohen’s journey began with a degree in computers, setting him on a path as a technical architect in the realm of customer relationship management (CRM) integration.

“When I graduated college, tech was the big thing,” he said. “CRM was the big thing – so I worked in consulting for seven years, even getting to live in Europe for two and a half years.”

Returning to the United States, Cohen met someone connected to the mortgage industry and the idea of a career shift began to take shape.

“I was tired of being on an airplane every week, and working so many extra hours a week, on a salary,” he said. And so, with a sense of adventure and the allure of unlimited earning potential, Cohen decided to give mortgages a shot. However, he’s quick to highlight that success in the mortgage business is never a solo act.

“You can’t be successful in this business if you don’t have good support and you don’t have a good team. From day one, when I started my career, one thing I know is that you always have to be working on your business and not in your business.”

This is something that Cohen admits is difficult to do. As he told Mortgage Professional America, when he first started out he was wearing a lot of different hats.

“I was the originator, I was the lead generator, I was the processor, I felt like I was doing everything,” he said. “In hindsight, that was really good because I now understand every aspect of the manufacturing process for a loan from A-Z.”

And while this experience undoubtedly helped Cohen to grow, it also meant he was working all hours of the week.

“I couldn’t keep up and I couldn’t hire people fast enough, just from a pure support standpoint,” he said.

Now, Cohen has a team of support – everything from business development to marketing, condo specialists and sales assistants. After all, as he previously pointed out, success in this game is very much a team effort. And that effort paid off when, in 2021, his people handled an impressive $1.7 billion in mortgage transactions.

Having been so heavily involved in the tech side of things at Guaranteed Rate, Cohen has some words of warning for professionals out there in 2024.

“If you don’t have your data, you’re going to fail,” he said. “So I’m very data driven. We’re always looking at data. We’re always tracking leads and prospects - because we don’t want to be a transactional lender, we want to be a lender for life.”

This customer-centric approach is a response to the transactional nature of the industry. With his strong background in tech, Cohen has implemented CRM tools that help streamline communication and reduce reliance on email.

“I’ve gone more from communicating all via email to communicating via text,” he said. “I get a million emails a day – I’m one of those guys who reads one or two sentences and then I’m done. I just don’t believe people read emails - they go right to the bottom line, figure out what’s in it and go from there.”

By streamlining communications and making process more succinct, Cohen believes he’s on to a winner. That, coupled with honesty and a dedication to truly helping his clients, really sets his team apart in a saturated market.

“There will be some online lenders that are working for pennies on the dollars because they’re just trying to maintain some sort of market share and stay afloat,” he said. “That’s just not a sustainable business model, which is why you’re seeing a lot of consolidation in our space – a lot of companies are merging. So I try to be real. My value proposition is more around service, speed and execution.”

And Cohen is understandably happy with his work in the industry – having been ranked the #2 Top Originator in America in 2022.

“I believe having a good lender helps clients win homes so that when they’re making an offer, they’re getting a pre-approval letter from the number one originator in the country,” he said. “I think that carries a lot of weight – and that’s not me not being a narcissist or egotistical, I’m just proud of my accomplishments. I’m here to deliver and set people’s expectations accordingly.”

For younger professionals just starting out their careers, Cohen is something of an inspiration. However, he’s not one to mince his words about the challenges of breaking into the sector right now.

“I wouldn’t encourage anybody to get in this space right now quite honestly,” he said. “If they really wanted to, they could – but it’s very difficult to crack into right now. You have a lot of consolidation.

“When I meet with a referral partner, which I try to do on a daily basis, everyone said they’ve got 10 lenders wanting to take them out for dinner. I don’t want to be that guy that’s just randomly cold calling to set appointments.”

Cohen operates differently to that – placing more of an onus on the calibre of the relationships and subsequent referrals from his successes.

“When I’ve shown my value proposition, that’s when I go out and I call on those people,” he explained. “I’m not a believer in trying to sell myself until I’ve actually shown what I’m capable of doing. There’s plenty of people who call random people - that works for some, it’s just that’s not my thing. But then again, different strokes for different folks.”