We’ve all seen those post-apocalyptic films, where survivors search a desolate landscape in hope of finding shelter and contemplating an entirely new way of life. In theory, such is the case with the post-COVID setting we now find ourselves in. Beyond the obvious consequences—health, economic loss, and adapting to reimagined methods of conducting business, there are the not-so-obvious byproducts of that unprecedented event. Following the Great Resignation, working from home became commonplace, the freelance sector flourished, and self-employed stopped being a negative attribute to one’s income status. Now, more than ever, the antiquated mortgage industry must evolve to serve this ever-growing populace. This is precisely the mission of Thomas Yoon, president and CEO of Excelerate Capital, one of the top three non-QM banking platforms in the country.
The non-QM (non-qualified mortgage) loan has traditionally been thought of as sub-prime, but, as Thomas points out, those typical associations from years ago are no longer accurate. This is a new non-QM for a new breed of borrower and the demand for it is both great and growing—and this is where Excelerate Capital distinguishes themselves.
Headquartered in Newport Beach, California, and licensed in 47 states, Excelerate Capital is a national lender and one of the top three origination leaders in the non-QM sector. With lending in over two dozen states, the company is expanding at a phenomenal rate and capturing a significant share of the market by offering a full suite of financing solutions that address the challenges of today's economic and regulatory environments. And, as Excelerate Capital’s newly appointed CEO, Thomas is leading the pursuit of their long-term vision.
According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, Thomas is the youngest-sitting C-suite executive for a company of Excelerate Capital’s size, but don’t let that statistic fool you into thinking he’s new to this field. He has over 18 years of experience in mortgage bank operations and sales and has been with the company since its inception in 2014. “It's imperative for me to focus on the big picture regarding goal-setting,” Thomas shares.
“Our plan to drive $5B in non-QM origination volume by the close of 2022, which will position us as the top non-QM lender in the country.”
In complement of the more fundamental directives Thomas focuses on, he is firmly committed to setting a standard of how a modern mortgage platform can cultivate an inclusive, fun, work culture. “I truly believe that company culture is vital. Ours is what differentiates us in the mortgage industry,” he shares.
We spoke with Thomas to learn more about his role and how Excelerate Capital is modernizing the mortgage industry to help Americans thrive in the post-COVID “new normal” by giving all borrowers access to an equal playing field.
Thomas, how do self-employed and freelance borrowers benefit from non-QM loans?
Non-QM considers the unique income parameters of borrowers who went from a standard W-2 to a 1099, especially after COVID, when businesses closed and so many people were forced into self-employment or chose to strike out on their own. Many of these people would not qualify for a conventional loan, even though they could afford the mortgage, because there may be employment gaps, or the adjusted gross income shown on their tax return might reflect write-offs. We aren’t putting them into sub-prime loans with soaring interest rates; we are just taking into account that their income documentation doesn’t align with pre-existing, conventional guidelines. We’re finding alternative risk assessment methods to qualify these stable yet overlooked groups.
You’re driven to modernizing an antiquated industry by combining tech with finance. How are you doing this?
We’re in the process of creating our own AI underwriting technology that is specific to our non-QM product. It is the first of its kind, allowing borrowers to prequalify and shortening the time between finding a house and closing on it. Right now, non-QM and conventional loans are manually underwritten, so they take time. Our app will automate the front-end process and will be intuitive, so consumers and loan officers can use it with ease—they enter basic information and get immediate qualification results. Oftentimes, it takes a great challenge to foster a great idea. When the world stopped in 2020, we pivoted and looked to the future, then we worked feverishly to launch our revolutionary AI app nationwide.
Company culture is one important key factor of your success, and one that differentiates Excelerate Capital from other firms. Tell about this.
I looked at what I didn’t like in our industry and vowed that I’d do things differently when the time came to structure a new company. I wanted to make it an enjoyable place to work, with an environment that helps build camaraderie. I’m a firm believer that breaking bread breaks barriers, so we created our office space like Google’s, very collaborative in its set up. We have a dining area, kitchen, couches everywhere. Our people feel that they’re truly part of the company, and as a result, our turnover ratio is astronomically low compared to others and many of our people have been with us from the start. We’re really proud of that.
Why did you choose a career as a mortgage banker?
It wasn’t initially my objective. I came here from Korea when I was three and my parents wanted me to be a doctor or lawyer. I was studying for the LSAT when a friend suggested I get into mortgages while waiting for the test results. I started as a loan officer and worked my way up the corporate ladder. I had aspirations of running a company because I saw things I didn’t like and wanted to change them. I also had a lot of great mentors who helped me to get where I am today. I’ve been at it for 19 years now and don’t regret a single day.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
What I really enjoy about being leader is the bunker mentality—I like when everyone is on the same page and we’re trying to achieve something bigger than ourselves. I enjoy that more than us hitting records. The real fun is this process of galvanizing a group of people to have likeminded goals and trying to achieve those goals. That journey is what I really like.
Thomas holds a B.S. from UCLA. He co-authored the best-selling book, The Mortgage Maze and is a continuing contributor of Forbes.com
President and CEO