The private-equity firm GTCR is eagerly investing in the mortgage industry, specifically in companies that can bring efficiency to the market.
"Mortgage costs are increasing very rapidly, primarily related to the increased scrutiny and regulatory requirements at the local, state and federal level," Aaron Cohen, GTCR managing director, said in an interview Friday. "There's an opportunity to automate many processes," which would help to lower costs and to provide documentation for auditing needs, he added.
GTCR announced Thursday that it would acquire the mortgage product and pricing engine software vendor Optimal Blue in Plano, Texas. The deal is set to close by the middle of next month. Financial terms of the sale were not disclosed, but the firm has committed up to $350 million in equity capital for growth initiatives and acquisitions at Optimal Blue. In other words, GTCR plans to use Optimal Blue as the centerpiece of its mortgage strategy.
"From a high-level perspective, we're looking at mortgage technology solutions that will enhance Optimal Blue's existing network and other solutions that will assist in the loan origination process," Cohen said.
"Optimal Blue is unique," Cohen said later, "because it's the only mortgage technology that actually has a network that connects originators with investors … and allows the issuers to provide pricing data and other critical data with originators."
A factor that makes Optimal Blue attractive to its new owner and industry participants alike is its usefulness in documenting the loan origination process for regulators, said Larry Huff, currently Optimal Blue's co-CEO.
"As the service and functionality continues to permeate all the different functions of the mortgage origination process, you become key in describing that process to auditors and regulators," Huff said in an interview. "As the loan is processed and underwritten and eventually hedged and sold, it takes on different characteristics. We're able to describe those characteristics."
GTCR, of Chicago, has invested more than $12 billion in over 200 companies since it was founded in 1980. It purchased HomeBanc Mortgage Corp. in 2000 and then spun it off into a real estate investment trust. And GTCR's Zenta subsidiary, which was previously known as H-Cube, purchased Global Realty Outsourcing in 2006. Accenture acquired Zenta in 2011.
GTCR has tapped mortgage technology veteran Scott Happ to serve as the chief executive of Optimal Blue.
It marks his first major foray back into the mortgage technology sector since he left Mortgagebot at the end of 2012 following its acquisition of the loan origination system vendor Avista Solutions. The Canadian fintech conglomerate DH Corp. has since combined the Mortgagebot and Avista systems to create a single, end-to-end loan origination software. In 2014, Happ joined ExactBid as its chairman and joined the board of ClosingCorp earlier this year.
"We've had a relationship with [Happ] for quite some time," Cohen said. "We both have a very similar thesis around the need to use more software in the mortgage origination process."
Happ founded Mortgagebot in 1997 and ran the point of sale system vendor as CEO until it was sold to DH Corp. for $232 million in 2011.
"The lovely thing is that Optimal Blue operates at the same point of the mortgage chain that Mortgagebot did, at the point of sale," he said in an interview. "It's the same space that we played in before. A lot of the same knowledge will be applicable to what we're doing with Optimal Blue."
Happ will be joined by Sue Baker, former senior vice president of Mortgagebot, in the role of vice president of product of Optimal Blue.
Optimal Blue co-chief executives Huff and Ivan Darius will continue to have a role in the company they co-founded in 2002, along with other members of the existing management team.
The private equity firm Serent Capital invested in Optimal Blue in 2013, allowing it to acquire its top competitor, LoanSifter. Serent acquired the appraisal technology firm Mercury Network in 2015 and was rumored to have put the company up for sale earlier this year.