Thriving in Tucson: First Magnus Financial Corporation Is a Privately Held Mortgage Banking Firm That Is a Technology Powerhouse. Leading This Growing Company Is a Tech-Savvy Management Team

Article excerpt

G.S. Jaggi doesn't look like a computer geek, although his Tucson, Arizona-based company, First Magnus Financial Corporation, is so technology-oriented that people sometimes forget it's actually a mortgage banking firm.

Including contract workers overseas, First Magnus boasts almost 400 employees dedicated to programming and software development. "Our technology people claim we are a technology company, but the guys on the mortgage side don't buy it," jokes Jaggi, First Magnus' president and chief executive officer.

The levity is not misplaced. His decision, soon after founding the company in 1996, to plunge into technology is one of the key reasons First Magnus, as an independent mortgage banker, is thriving in today's difficult lending environment when so many similar companies are going out of business.

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First Magnus develops its own software, and that includes its business-to-business (B2B) eCommerce platform, LoanTracker [R] one of the industry's most advanced Web-based platforms for agents and mortgage brokers. The system includes real-time updates with loan status notifications to brokers, listing/selling agents and borrowers; separate Web portals for agents and borrowers to allow anytime access to all files; Web Docs[TM], which allow borrows to review their closing documents online prior to closing; and Launch, a marketing system for prospecting and client retention.

The company is particularly proud of its Product Finder[TM] system, which helps users find the "best-fit" products, and FMFC Direct[TM], which allows direct automated underwriting integration and automatic loan-status notification.

Most lenders, even some of the bigger banks, eschew in-house technology departments as too expensive to maintain. But Jaggi strongly asserts it gives his company the edge in a number of key ways:

* Continuous advancement. Many lenders hire a software firm to create technology. The software may be leading edge when the project is completed, but it becomes outdated quickly, and subsequent changes probably don't happen for another two years. So, for 24 months the lender has to live within a box that is not changing. First Magnus continually improves its product, says Jaggi. "We are working on 300 different enhancements at any given time," he says.

* Control. By controlling its own software development, First Magnus is not only more flexible, but can move quickly to take advantage of ongoing opportunities.

* Employees. First Magnus has a recruiting advantage, maintains Jaggi. "Technology allows us to hire the best people, because we have the most sophisticated tools to offer them and their brokers."

* Efficiency. The company claims its cost to produce loans is lower than many of the larger publicly traded and bank-owned mortgage companies that it competes with on the national level.

* Customer loyalty. Jaggi didn't mention customer loyalty, but customers did. For example, Adrian Porter, an underwriter associate with Maritime Mortgage Corporation, Stoughton, Massachusetts, says she has been working with First Magnus for the past four years. "They are one of the people I call first; I go for their product line first," she notes. "Their guidelines are easy to read, turnaround time is good and their system is easy to use. It's very user-friendly." When asked whom she calls if there is a tech problem, she responded, "I haven't had any technical problems; I haven't had to call tech support."

Although at first glance Jaggi appears conservative in style and manner, he's a true iconoclast, forever going against the grain even within his own shop.

While most First Magnus employees, including many of the company's top executives, have adopted the casual West Coast style of office dress, Jaggi himself hasn't gone the sartorial way of a Bill Gates. His one nod to style relaxation is to remove the suit jacket while in his office. …