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Fintech Startup Maxwell Financial Labs Adds Ex-Fannie Mae Lawyer

Nov. 23, 2021, 10:45 AM

Maxwell Financial Labs Inc., a digital mortgage platform serving more than 300 local lenders, has hired longtime former Fannie Mae in-house lawyer A. Sonny Abbasi as its first general counsel.

Abbasi oversees all legal, compliance, and data-protection functions in his role at the company, where he said he aims to build an in-house team of about five lawyers.

“Someone like me who has, frankly, seen heavy combat at Fannie Mae—I was there during the accounting restatement and credit crisis—should be reassuring to our clients and Maxwell that we’re going to do it right,” Abbasi said.

Maxwell, which has raised nearly $74 million during the past 16 months, saw its revenue grow 250% within the last year, Maxwell CEO John Paasonen, who co-founded the company in 2015, recently told Bloomberg News. The privately-held company provides technology with the goal of making the process for mortgage applications, processing, and underwriting more efficient.

Bloomberg News reported last month that Maxwell was valued at $450 million after receiving $28.5 million in equity funding from investors led by Fin Venture Capital LLC and Wells Fargo Strategic Capital Inc. Maxwell also raised $24 million in debt, bringing its total funding round to $52.5 million.

Abbasi comes to Maxwell amid a changing regulatory environment under the Biden administration, which Abbasi said he believes will be a “throwback to the Obama administration” with increased scrutiny of the mortgage sector.

Regulatory ‘Pendulum’

During his career, Abbasi said he’s witnessed first-hand the U.S. regulatory “pendulum” that often shifts the balance of power in the mortgage space.

Mortgage lenders face potential benefits and drawbacks from Democratic and Republican administrations, said Abbasi, who was an associate general counsel and director of mortgage-backed securities during his 11 years at Fannie Mae.

Smaller lenders seeking to compete with larger rivals in a U.S. mortgage industry that saw its value exceed $4 trillion last year need digital solutions like artificial intelligence and better access to capital markets, Abbasi said. His legal expertise in the mortgage space covers origination, securitization, servicing, and loss mitigation.

Now part of Maxwell’s senior executive leadership, Abbasi said the company “arms the rebels” in the mortgage industry, such as credit unions and mortgage originators in the $1 billion to $5 billion range, many of whom are looking to capitalize on a hot U.S. housing market that has emerged from the coronavirus pandemic.

Abbasi, who officially joined Maxwell in mid-October, is working remotely and will periodically commute to the company’s headquarters in Denver.

Mortgage Veteran

The 25-year mortgage industry veteran spent nearly the past seven years as general counsel and chief compliance officer for Lender Service Provider LLC, a Fairfax, Va.-based mortgage vendor known as LenderWorks.

Abbasi, who while at LenderWorks co-wrote a recent white paper on the changing U.S. mortgage landscape, was also the first legal chief hired by that outfit, which since 2013 has been co-owned by First Heritage Mortgage LLC and Intercoastal Mortgage LLC, a pair of captive mortgage companies respectively controlled by large East Coast builders Stanley-Martin Communities LLC and Van Metre Cos. Inc.

Upon the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act, both homebuilders, despite being competitors, formed LenderWorks to share the back-office costs of originating mortgages, Abbasi said.

LenderWorks hired Abbasi in 2015 after he spent almost two years as a director of mortgage policy at the Structured Finance Industry Group Inc., where a tax filing by the trade association shows he was paid $283,000 in 2014.

Abbasi started his legal career in the Clinton administration as an attorney in the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Federal Housing Administration. He went on to work as an associate at Thacher Proffitt & Wood; Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe; and McKee Nelson prior to joining Fannie Mae in late 2002.

McKee Nelson and Thacher Proffitt were both law firm casualties of the 2008 economic crisis, which also reshaped the U.S. mortgage industry.

Firms currently advising Maxwell include Lowenstein Sandler, which is handling mortgage-related capital markets matters, while Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck has been retained to do general corporate work, Abbasi said.

The Thomas Law Firm, an Austin, Texas-based boutique, is counseling the company on licensing issues. Goodwin Procter has been representing Maxwell on its fundraising efforts, Abbasi said. Scale LLP, a virtual law firm that recently hired a new leader, is also advising Maxwell.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com; John Hughes in Washington at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com