From war-torn environs to freedom

For Rocket executive, the term 'freedom' has added weight

From war-torn environs to freedom

When Mike Fawaz speaks about giving mortgage brokers the tools needed to perform at their highest levels, the optimal word is “freedom.” Having emigrated to the US from war-torn parts of the world, he invokes the term with palpable solemnity. 

“As you know, within our industry there are a lot of people out there that are trying to take away freedom from the individual mortgage broker,” he told Mortgage Professional America during a telephone interview. “And there are a lot of challenges the mortgage community has dealt with in 2022. When you think about just the last couple of months, we’ve heard a lot of information and a lot of articles and a lot of news about credit report fees increasing dramatically. You’re talking about $50, $60, $70, $80, $100, $120 on average – and that’s a huge increase for the broker community.”

Freedom from fees

Recently tapped as executive vice president leading the arm of Rocket Mortgage that serves mortgage brokers and correspondent lenders, he enthusiastically shared news of a newly introduced product his company launched this week: Fee Freedom, which enables brokers using the company portal to pull credit reports at no charge. The program formalizes the arrangement - as company officials noted in their announcement Rocket has never charged for credit report fees.

“It was important for us as a company to go out there to the broker community and announce on Monday our Fee Freedom initiative, giving broker partners access to credit reports for free,” he said two days after the program launch. “You work in our portal, you’re pulling credit reports from our portal, you don’t have to pay for it. We’re talking about thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars in savings every month for the broker community.”

The nascent program is already a big hit, he noted: “I can’t tell you how many calls I’ve received in the last 48 hours,” Fawaz said. “And how many partners have called potential partners that have called saying ‘hey, I want to work with you because I see value in that. I can see you’re fighting the good fight, and we appreciate it.’”

By availing themselves of the program, brokers can direct more money back into their businesses, he added: “Fee Freedom is out there to give the broker community that freedom when it comes to relieving that burden as it relates to credit reports, and putting money back into their business,” he said. “So if you’re a broker partner out there – whether you’re with Rocket or not – you can save money with Rocket when it comes to credit reports, and you can take that money into a market where it's needed the most and invest it into leads, marketing, payroll to continue to be successful in 2023.”

Freedom of movement

Fawaz has risen the ranks at Rocket since joining the company as a mortgage banker about a dozen years ago. Shortly after that, he became a team leader before being appointed as director of mortgage banking on Rocket’s retail side. About six years ago, he was transferred to the wholesale side. “I spent most of my career on the retail side, and it was fun to see what we could do on the wholesale side. It’s been an incredible journey.”

The word “freedom” has special resonance with Fawaz. Born in Liberia of parents who had escaped war-torn Lebanon, Fawaz detailed some of the struggles he shared with his parents and a sister before emigrating to the US in 1998. Liberia would also be ignited by the scourge of civil war, leading to the common sight of dead bodies in his midst.

Freedom from past hardship

“There’s not a moment – there’s not a day – I don’t think about where this all stated and where I am today,” he said. “I am blessed in multiple ways – blessed more than I deserve. My parents left Lebanon during a civil war. We were poor, I don’t want to define our life based on that word, but we didn’t have much.”

In moments of reflection often attendant to the holiday season, he recently looked back on his implausible success after having experienced such hardship and trauma. “We’re blessed today if we wanted to have Thanksgiving dinner, we can cater,” he mused. “Our form of catering was a can of sardines and a cup of white rice. That was our dinner celebration. Those are moments I’ll reflect on until the day I die.”

Now in his 40s with a family of his own, Fawaz has been writing an autobiography with the working title of “One Way Ticket” that he hopes to have completed in two years. He expounded on the title’s meaning: “When I measure success, I measure it in the ability to provide not just for my family but others. Providing a way toward opportunity, a chance, just like I was provided with a one-way ticket – a one-way ticket toward success, a one-way ticket to inspire.”

Indeed, a one-way ticket to freedom.