Feeling at Home in the Mortgage Industry

Ken Kane and Guaranteed Rate champion their hometown

The days of someone walking in with a shoe box of tax returns, pay stubs, and traditional documents to get a mortgage are gone. Even a decade ago, long before he joined Guaranteed Rate as its chief financial officer, Ken Kane foresaw a digital future.

“Whoever was going to develop an electronic solution to the mortgage process was going to be the front-runner,” Kane says.

So when the opportunity came to join Guaranteed Rate, Kane jumped on it. Founded in 2000 by Victor Ciardelli, Guaranteed Rate is known for bringing the industry its first all-digital mortgage. That means new home buyers can get a quote and find the right mortgage without ever setting foot in a traditional office. It’s an inventive approach that’s grown the company from a small operation to a top-ten national lender with more than 3,000 employees and $23 billion in home loans closed in 2016 alone. And this reputation as an innovative market disrupter was a huge draw for Kane.

On the other hand, something else about the company piqued Kane’s interest: its Chicago ties. Kane is a Chicago Southsider, through and through. He was raised in the Ashburn community area in the city’s southwest corner, and growing up with five siblings in what he calls a traditional, blue-collar, Catholic household had a profound effect on his personal and professional lives.

“Being one of six, everything was definitely a competitive atmosphere,” he says. “My dad was a vice principal of a Chicago public high school, and he was also in the army at one point, so discipline was very much a part of my upbringing. A lot of the value structure that I have and the way I conduct my business life and my personal life stems from that.”

When it came time for Kane to go to college, he chose to pursue a business degree from DePaul University on the city’s North Side. It was his father’s alma mater and none of his siblings had gone there, so he felt it was his duty to enroll. It also didn’t hurt that DePaul is one of Chicago’s premier business schools. On his first day of class, he met his future wife, also a South Side native, and they started dating a month later.

Four years after that, in May 1990, he graduated and passed the CPA exam in the same month, which made him a highly recruited job candidate. With all of the large firms having a presence in Chicago, Kane had his pick of where to work, but instead of going with one of the big eight, he chose a firm where he could be exposed to many different areas of finance.

“When people walk into an environment where they know their opinions matter, it makes my job of attracting top talent easier.”

“I ended up going with a medium-sized, regional firm, which gave me the luxury of working in the tax area as well as the audit practice,” Kane says, adding that he would handle the company’s corporate taxes and the client’s personal income taxes after the audit. “In the summer, there were projects in different industries. For example, a common area of billing of the accounting firm was to get involved in nonprofits and governmental entities.”

After seven years of learning all sides of accounting, Kane moved to the mortgage industry. And following eighteen years at three national independent mortgage lenders, Kane found a company that was the right fit, Guaranteed Rate. After all, the company was an innovative top-ten lender that was proud of its hometown. In fact, about a year into his tenure at Guaranteed Rate, the company announced it would be buying the naming rights to the Chicago White Sox stadium—now officially named Guaranteed Rate Field.

“From a business standpoint, we had a unique branding and advertising opportunity; very seldom does one of the four major sports present a stadium naming rights opportunity,” Kane, a lifelong Sox fan, says. “From a local perspective, teaming up with an iconic team like the Chicago White Sox was a dream come true. Both organizations have a hardworking mentality and value system and an extreme Chicago tie.”

Bold moves like that make Guaranteed Rate such a great place to work, and being a great place to work makes Kane’s job easier.

Kane sees his role as protecting and enhancing shareholder value. He does this by managing risk, implementing compliance standards, monitoring key performance indicators, and building a robust reporting system for the executives of the company. However, to accomplish all of the goals, he surrounds himself with top industry talent, which he couldn’t do without Guaranteed Rate’s corporate culture.

“We’re a collaborative environment, and we’re constantly evaluating every process. Everyone’s ideas matter,” Kane says. “When people walk into an environment where they know their opinions matter, it makes my job of attracting top talent easier.”

To that end, Guaranteed Rate also promotes a positive work-life balance and has all the amenities employees need to achieve that. The company has an on-site gym, three full-time chefs who cook breakfast and lunch, a juice bar, a dry cleaning service that comes in twice a week, a full-time nurse on site, and a beautiful roof deck that hosts at least one employee event a month.

“The owner wants you to be active and exercise, eat healthy, get your rest, and get your eight hours of sleep,” Kane says. “He understands you have a life outside of work.”

Kane also easily attracts younger talent by creating a team atmosphere, which he says millennials tend to favor over a traditionally structured environment. Similarly, the offices are located in a vibrant neighborhood in Chicago rather than in a stark, glass skyscraper in the city’s downtown district. In fact, it’s been named as one of the top workplaces by the Chicago Tribune five times in the past six years. On top of that, Kane says Chicago is a world-class city where you’re no more than thirty minutes from anything—shopping, Broadway-caliber theater, professional sports, nightlife, five-star restaurants—and it’s exactly why he’s proud to call the city and Guaranteed Rate home.