Higher hires ex-Goldman associate Talwar with eyes on itemizing

Embattled online mortgage lender Better is turning to a former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. consumer-banking veteran to help it pursue a public listing just as rising interest rates pressure the business already reeling from a slew of personnel missteps.

The company appointed Harit Talwar as non-executive chairman, according to an internal memo from Chief Executive Officer Vishal Garg seen by Bloomberg News. He starts effective immediately and will “provide strategic direction to achieve Better’s long-term goals,” according to the memo.

Talwar’s appointment comes as Better grapples with hikes in interest rates that weighed on the company’s loan volume, leading it to make staff reductions over the past several months. The cuts sparked backlash after a December round of firings was carried out over Zoom, and Garg took a hiatus from the company for his handling of the situation.

“There will be challenges, both internal and external, but the goal is to build a business which we are proud of. The goal is to go public,” Talwar said in a phone interview. “It is mission-centric, it is customer-centric, it has the track record, and it has challenges. And this is exactly the kind of situation in my career I’ve always jumped in.”

In Talwar, Better is getting a banking veteran with more than three decades of experience who built and led Goldman Sachs consumer-lending unit Marcus. Goldman hired Talwar in 2015 from Discover Financial Services, where he had headed the company’s U.S. cards division. He left Goldman late last year and was named to the board of payments firm Mastercard Inc. in January.

“Harit was a critical senior hire for Goldman Sachs in the early stages of our consumer business,” former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein said in an interview. “Better is lucky to have him as chairman.”

The non-executive chairman position was among leadership roles the company’s board said it would create and fill in the wake of an independent review carried out in the aftermath of the December firings. Talwar’s appointment follows the hiring of Richard Benson-Armer as chief people, performance, and culture officer in March. The company is still looking for a president.

SPAC Transaction

Better is preparing to go public via a special purpose acquisition company, a vehicle that lists on a public stock exchange to raise money so it can buy another firm. The company pushed back its listing late last year after revising terms of the deal.

A Securities and Exchange Commission crackdown as well as souring markets have chilled the market for SPAC deals. The IPOX SPAC Index fell 9.5% in the first quarter of 2022, the worst performance since its July 2020 launch, and has lost more than 22% over the past three quarters. 

Bloomberg reported earlier Monday that Goldman is pulling out of working with most SPACs it took public, throwing into doubt the fate of billions raised for those blank-check vehicles. 

Better offers mortgage, real estate and homeowners’ insurance products online and eliminates origination fees and commissions. The company has been steadily cutting its workforce and had about 5,800 team members at the end of March this year, compared with 9,300 at the end of December.

“Harit will bring incredible practical knowledge,” former Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga said in an interview. “He’s someone who has credibility, maturity, gray hair and the ability to be a humane leader.”

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