The Art of Deal Making

Colin Darke is not only using his talents to improve RocketLoans, but also to help revitalize a city

One might say that Colin Darke’s lifetime calling is to create. As an artist, attorney, father, and avid fan of the newly burgeoning city of Detroit, Darke has harnessed his considerable imaginative skills to enhance his home, office, and even his community.

It’s fair to say that thousands of happy borrowers have also benefited from his artful implementation of online personal loan services. In his words, the journey from his bachelor of fine arts degree to his LLM degree in banking and finance was simply a series of adventures in pursuit of enhancing his creativity.

Sitting in his home art studio, Darke spends as much time as possible painting with his three children. An avid watercolor artist, his work has been displayed in galleries throughout Michigan, as well as studios in Glasgow, Scotland, and the Bowery Gallery in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. He often illustrates for organizations, including both the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit and the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum. One can even find his work in the form of caricatures on the walls at RocketLoans, where he works as chief compliance officer and general counsel.

Darke was a notable student at Western Michigan University, where he focused on watercolor painting and spent a summer at the Royal Scottish Academy of Art in Glasgow. He could have easily pursued a fulfilling career as a painter and artist, but after receiving his undergraduate degree, he elected to join his brother at Michigan State University School of Law because “it would be too much fun to pass up.”

His intent was to either represent other artists, or to be a prosecutor. His graduation with honors merited a career in any legal capacity. However, his first job following law school was representing Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustees, and he found himself drawn to the business side of the practice.

Fortuitously, his wife’s residency as an anesthesiologist triggered a move to Boston and created an opportunity to attend Boston University School of Law for an LLM in banking and finance. That experience, Darke recalls, was “exhilarating.”

“I can’t explain the renaissance of Detroit. You’ll have to come see it.”

Darke’s classmates were made up of international students who shared with him eye-opening examples of how countries around the world differ when it comes to economic philosophies. Despite the additional financial burden of LLM student loans, Darke says his advanced degree was as much about “the joy of learning and having a once-in-a-lifetime experience” as it was about honing his banking skills. That joy of learning was recognized by Boston University, and he was awarded the A. John Serino Outstanding Graduate Banking Law Student Prize during his graduation ceremony.

After graduation, Darke and his growing family (his first child was on the way) moved back to Detroit, where he launched his banking and finance practice in earnest. First it was with a firm, and then it was as in-house counsel for a local bank. Darke became immersed in financial arenas that often required creative solutions to complex financial problems. Ensuring compliance with applicable laws and regulations, he applied his creativity to resolve issues involving consumer finance issues, loan workouts, and debt restructuring. Considering his love for his hometown, he was proud of his contributions to its long-time primary industry while representing automobile companies as they restructured in response to the challenging economy. Eventually, Darke also served his clients in bankruptcies concerning General Motors and Chrysler.

In 2012, he joined Flagstar Bank as its in-house counsel for mortgage and consumer banking. With an emphasis on “community banking services,” Darke turned to his legal analysis skills and counsel, helping ensure that the bank remained in compliance with regulations.

While focused on these activities, he couldn’t help but notice how mortgage giant Quicken Loans was creatively redesigning Detroit. Dan Gilbert, founder and chairman of Quicken Loans, began moving his family of companies to Detroit’s central business district in 2010 in an effort to help lead the transformation of the historic city. Since then, he has invested more than $2.2 billion to purchase and renovate nearly one hundred commercial properties accounting for more than fifteen million square feet in the city’s urban core.

The creativity and imagination with which Detroit was being reinvented impressed Darke, who, when given the opportunity in 2015, took the job as general counsel and chief compliance officer at RocketLoans, a sister company of Quicken Loans.

The culture and philosophies of RocketLoans match well with Darke’s own view of the world. The placement of his team in the same room as the lending and technical staff also meant that he was always in conversation with colleagues, regardless of the roles they played in the company. He could see, hear, and discuss issues before they became problems. His new occupation turned out to be the perfect marriage of his artistic, analytical, and financial management skills. RocketLoans brings a user-friendly experience with unmatched speed and transparency to online personal lending.

Darke spent the first year getting the company off the ground, and his creativity proved to be a significant aspect of the process. Rather than follow a common practice of merely relying on opinion from outside counsel for what state statutes could mean as they relate to his industry, Darke and his lean team proactively reached out to state regulators directly to ask them questions and educate them on his industry.

By launch day, they were confident that their creative infrastructure design—a collaboration of both cutting-edge technology and excellent banking practices—would be embraced by both potential customers and existing regulators. It turns out that was the case, and the company has assisted thousands of borrowers to obtain personal loans on fair terms, all online, some in just minutes, and usually without having to speak to a single person.

Darke took what he learned through the RocketLoans launch to the newly developed Online Lending Policy Institute, a collaboration of FinTech experts working to provide policy analysis, research, education, and thought leadership to assist in the responsible growth of online lending.

Darke is thrilled with the success of RocketLoans and the continuing resurgence of Detroit. “I can’t explain the renaissance of Detroit,” Darke says. “You’ll have to come see it.” In his eyes, Detroit’s future is as a FinTech hub, where finance and technology come together to reinvigorate the entire area. In his position as a leader in that emerging industry, there’s no doubt that he will bring his particular artistic, creative, and analytical skill set to that endeavor as well.