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Hard-charging Ace Mortgage bites the dust

October 28, 2008
Executives of Ace Holding Co. LLC didn't foresee the financial storm that caused the company to shut down late last week.

In an interview with IBJ 18 months ago, CEO Richard Hall said the company had originated more than $3 billion in loans in 2006, and he projected business to be up at least 30 percent in 2007.

Rather than battening down the hatches, Hall saw cause for optimism.

"Incomes are going up faster than inflation, and unemployment rates are extremely good," he said at the time.

Instead, Ace, once one of Indiana's fastest-growing companies, has joined more than 200 other U.S. mortgage firms that have gone out of business over the past two years.

"They fought valiantly in a very difficult environment for mortgage brokers," said Sam Smith, who represented Ace through Resource Commercial Real Estate as Ace leased space around the country to accommodate its torrid growth.

"They were very well managed," Smith added. "They had good people. But they couldn't swim against the tide that was so strong."

Ace, the parent of Ace Mortgage Funding, headquartered at 7820 Innovation Boulevard in Park 100, didn't respond to requests for comment. However, a man who would identify himself only as the chief financial officer told an IBJ reporter that the company had closed. The man would not provide details.

Founded in 1998, Ace grew quickly along with the housing boom, ranking ninth on IBJ's list off fastest-growing companies in 2006. Ace reported $117 million in revenue in 2005, more than double its revenue just three years earlier. In 2005, Ace had 875 employees.

Ace was acquired by Atlanta-based private equity firm Roark Capital Group in fall 2006. Later that year Ace acquired Millennium Funding Group, a wholesale loan originator headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Ace leased 36,000 square feet for both its headquarters and back office operations at the Park 100 site.

Jack Montgomery, Midwest regional manager for MetLife Home Loans, counted Ace among customers for whom he conducted wholesale lending.

Ace likely succumbed to the same problem encountered by many other mortgage companies, Montgomery said. Its own lenders likely pulled the plug on its line of credit after mortgage companies no longer were able to bundle mortgages and sell them on Wall Street.

"It was more bad luck than anything," Montgomery said.

Like Montgomery, Smith was impressed with the executive team. They were unusually smart and aggressive, Smith said. They also took advantage of the best technology.

Unfortunately for Ace, the investment in people and technology created high overhead, Smith said. When the industry went south, the costs would have been unsustainable.

He pointed out that the industry was walloped by changing regulations, the housing collapse, tightening credit markets and a cooling national economy - all at once.

"What they could control, they controlled very well, but in the end it wasn't enough," he said.

Smith added that he "wouldn't be shocked" if the executives started another business.

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