Guild Mortgage Takes The 20-Year Option For Modernization
June 27, 2022 Alex Woodie
When Kurt Reheiser returned to the IBM i server after a 15-year hiatus away the platform, things weren’t a lot different than how he left them. “My skills were more relevant than I thought they would be,” the former RPG developer said during last month’s POWERUp 2022 conference. Now as the CIO of a multi-billion-dollar company called Guild Mortgage, Reheiser is overseeing a modernization initiative that will keep building on the company’s successful history of custom development on the IBM i platform.
Reheiser shared his and his company’s IT journey during a keynote address at COMMON’s annual user conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, last month. Reheiser was a guest of the keynote speaker, Chris Koppe, the senior vice president of strategy, transformation, and modernization services at Fresche Solutions, which is the company helping Guild Mortgage modernize its proprietary IBM i-based loan origination and servicing applications.
According to Reheiser, who started his IT career as a System/38 operator in college in the 1980s, the IBM i platform still has a lot of life left in it.
“The company that I worked for happened to be a mainframe COBOL shop in addition to being a System/38 shop,” Reheiser said. “They said ‘We have our own programmer training classes. Do you want to come learn COBOL on the mainframe?’ I said, hey I don’t actually have a job after college yet. So I would love to do that, as a matter of fact. So that started me down the development path.”
About a year later, employer bought a new machine called the AS/400, which it would run a packaged application on. Would you like to learn RPG, his employer asked? “If that means keeping my job, yes I would love to learn RPG,” was his reply.
“That really started 15 years straight on the platform, developing, managing developers,” Reheiser said on the stage. “And up until around the end of 2005, I was an IBM developer and supervisor and manager.”
Things took a bit of a turn for the next 15 years of Reheiser’s IT career. While he stayed in the mortgage business, he worked predominantly in Microsoft environments. That gave him a different perspective on how companies use different technologies to automate business processes. “It was good to see the other side of it and how work gets done in other platforms,” he said.
Then in 2020, Reheiser got a call from Guild Mortgage, a 60-year-old loan origination and servicing firm based in San Diego, California. The company was growing quickly and wanted the experienced IT professional to join the company as its CIO and executive vice president.
As it so happens, Guild also ran the IBM i server. The former RPG programmer had a chance to get back on the IBM i saddle again, and he took it.
“I was happy after seeing a lot of blue screens of death and unexplained infrastructure issues, of ‘I don’t know why it’s not working,’” Reheiser told Koppe. “It was nice to be on a platform that again – you hear it all the time – this thing just runs. It’s very stable, it’s scalable, the performance is awesome, it’s pretty secure with what you can do out of the box.”
Reheiser was happy to have his Windows experience. But now as the CIO of an independent mortgage bank that wrote more than $35 billion in loans and went public on the New York Stock Exchange in 2020, he apparently valued lower blood pressure and uninterrupted sleep just a little bit more.
“It was great . . . to not have those interruptions, where you get the CEO calling you and saying ‘Call Microsoft and tell them that they’re hurting my business,’” Reheiser said. “Microsoft doesn’t care that they’re hurting your business. But it’s nice to be on a stable platform where you don’t have to worry about it.”
Reheiser has other things to worry about now, not the least of which is security. “We treat every day as if we could be the victim of the worst, concerted cyber security attack,” he said. “Every day is just a nightmare from a security perspective.” But Reheiser feels fortunate to have an excellent information security team to keep the organization safe.
Beyond the day-to-day, however, Reheiser is overseeing a long-term modernization project. The company developed its own RPG-based systems, which have served the company very well over the past few decades, but the company is ready to take the applications to the next level.
In just the last 12 years, the company has grown from a loan volume of about $4 billion via 75 branches in 16 states. By the end of 2020, Guild had grown six-fold, expanding from its base in the West to more than 200 locations in 32 states.
While Reheiser was very complimentary regarding the development team inside Guild, it’s safe to say if his 15-year-old RPG development skills were still relevant, then he needed to make sure there was the right balance of continuous delivery in the current state and innovation towards a future state.
“I think that just reflects a trend: Do what works. Keep delivering for the business, which we certainly have done,” he said. “But I think that sometimes sacrifices the innovation. That’s why we hear so much talk about modernization now across the IBM i landscape.”
Guild is in the planning stages of its modernization effort, which it’s undertaking with the help of its business partner, Fresche. The goal is to give the business what it needs to understand its prospects, to deliver awesome experiences to customers, and to prevent lost opportunities, Reheiser said.
So many mortgage companies run on packaged applications that it gives Guild a competitive advantage with its proprietary systems. That’s a unique opportunity that Reheiser is eager to exploit to the maximum extent possible.
“We have that capability of whatever our leadership team can imagine as the great customer experience and the way to capture those customers, we can do it,” he said. “So I think that’s a tremendous advantage for us.”
But none of that potential matters if the modernization is disruptive to Guild’s business.
“The number one rule: Do no harm,” he said. “I can’t afford people posting on Twitter or Google or any other platform ‘I was trying to close a loan with Guild and these knuckleheads were doing something called modernization and they couldn’t close my loan.”
Guild will take it slow to ensure it can preserve its long-term investment in business logic and processes that make the company’s operation special, the CIO said. Just as data is an asset that can be exploited, Guild’s code is an asset that must be maintained, he said. If the company chooses its path correctly, it will keep the competitive advantage that exists in its RPG code in whatever new form the logic is expressed through.
“I learned yesterday Guild and COMMON both started in 1960, so they both have a long legacy,” he said. “I can’t plan for the next 60 years. But the challenge I give to my staff is let’s secure Guild for the next 20 years by modernization.”