This month, we’ll talk to mortgage leaders about where the market is headed and how products are evolving digitally to suit buyers’ needs now. We’ll also explore emerging alternative financing options that are changing the game for buyers and sellers. Join us for Mortgage and Alternative Financing Month.
During HousingWire’s 2021 Spring Summit, Figure Technologies CEO and co-founder Mike Cagney made a bold prediction that perked the audience’s ears: Walmart will (eventually) enter the mortgage industry.
“Everyone should be taking notice of the moves that Walmart’s making because they’re absolutely going to come into the mortgage space,” Cagney said in reference to the corporation’s month-old partnership with Ribbit Capital, the investment firm behind financing giants Robinhood, Credit Karma and Affirm.
“For years, millions of customers have put their trust in Walmart to not only save them money when they shop with us but help them manage their financial needs, and they’ve made it clear they want more from us in the financial services arena,” Walmart U.S. CEO John Furner said about the partnership. “We’re thrilled to work with Ribbit Capital in a new venture to help us deliver innovative and needed options to our customers and associates – with speed and at scale.”
Cagney quickly moved on to explaining his mortgage acquisition plans, but his history of transforming Figure from a blockchain technology company to an alternative financing company for homeowners means that he, likely better than anyone else, can notice the moves of a company entering into the mortgage space.
However, three mortgage experts Inman spoke with had little to no knowledge about Walmart’s intentions of launching mortgage products but didn’t underestimate the power of the corporation and its ability to become a fintech powerhouse in the future.
“I haven’t heard about this, and I hadn’t even heard of Ribbit Capital, which, you know, wow, what a name — the first thing I do is think of a frog,” Nerdwallet mortgage expert Holden Lewis said before getting serious. “But, with Wal-Mart, my first reaction is to never underestimate them. They really know what they’re doing.”
Lewis said Walmart is in a great position to eventually offer fintech services, as the store is often one of the main options for rural dwellers to take care of basic financial needs, such as transferring money, cashing checks, paying bills or preparing taxes through its partnership with Jackson Hewitt.
“When I think, ‘Okay, so what are Walmart’s advantages?’” he said. “I tend to take vacations in rural areas and there are tiny towns that are so small, they don’t even have a Walmart, and there are bigger small towns that do have a Walmart.”
“They have that physical presence where they’re the dominant retailer in a town, [which] I think is really a key strength,” he added.
With that in mind, Holden said he doesn’t see how fintech plays into Walmart’s long-term strategy as much of their power relies on in-store purchasing and interactions. However, he could see Walmart taking a similar route to Costco, which generates leads for mortgage companies through its mortgage program for store members.
“But if Walmart is partnering with a fintech term, they’re going way beyond lead generation,” he said, adding, “it’s going to be really interesting to see what happens with this.”
Bankrate Chief Financial Analyst Greg McBride said the information about Walmart and Ribbit Capital’s plans is scarce, but Cagney’s prediction is a “natural conjecture” considering their history with offering in-store financial services.
“I think the natural progression of their fintech efforts will go into first traditional banking products — checking accounts, savings accounts and debit cards — and they’ve got a massive built-in customer base for that,” he said. “Any foray into the mortgage space would be well down the road.”
“It’s not likely to be the first product they roll out by any means,” he added.
Although it seems you won’t see advertisements for Walmart mortgage services anytime soon, WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez said their eventual entrance will give competitors a run for their money, but wouldn’t lead to a takeover.
“Seeing as Walmart is one of the biggest retailers in the country, its entrance into the mortgage space would have a serious impact on the market, both for competitors and for consumers,” Gonzalez said in an emailed statement to Inman. “Walmart could have a competitive advantage considering the fact that they already have a large number of customers they serve on a daily basis.”
“This would obviously give them an advantage when entering any market, including the mortgage one,” she added. “However, I don’t think there is a reason for concern that they would monopolize the industry.”
Holden and McBride offered similar sentiments, saying that Walmart and other companies that may seek to enter the mortgage space, such as Amazon, have a huge advantage in terms of consumer data and loyalty.
“There’s a lot of brand trust that consumers have with entities like Amazon, Walmart and others,” McBride said. “There’s also a massive built-in customer base, so they’ve got a couple of advantages if they decide to move further down the path of financial services.”
Holden said Walmart and Amazon have a treasure trove of information they could use to target consumers based on their purchase history. That, he said, could allow those companies to offer rates and services to consumers before they officially shopping around for mortgage options.
“Companies like Walmart and Amazon know so much about the consumer, not only in the aggregate but individually,” he explained. “They have so much information about you they can use to reach out when you might be in need of a mortgage, or home equity line of credit, or refinance.”
“I can see where both companies would know when you’re doing a whole lot of work on your house [based on purchase history], and they might get you a home equity line of credit, just based on that information,” he added.
Although Walmart’s entrance into the mortgage space could cause headaches for competitors, all three experts agreed the move would be great for consumers, as competition tends to breed the innovation needed to capture market share.
“More competition benefits consumers and I think that’s really the key ingredient,” McBride said. “More competition, especially low-cost competition, will mandate greater efficiency among existing players.”