Reverse Mortgage Call Centers Gain Steam, Move Away From Kitchen Table

Even through the reverse mortgage industry was built on a sales model that involves sitting with borrowers around a kitchen table to explain the reverse mortgage process, several lenders have developed a different model that thrives on process and technology to educate consumers.

The reverse mortgage call center has gained popularity as an effective model that can increase turn times and expand based on economies of scale. While call centers, some of which offer 24/7 access to loan originators, can be good for business, licensing aspects and the lack of face-to-face borrower interaction are aspects that are open to criticism.

Spring, Texas-based Reverse Mortgage Solutions launched a retail and correspondent channel in March, and now operates a 25-seat call center with room to grow.


“The call center does a great job of capturing certain borrowers where we have already identified a need, and the borrower already knows what they want,” says Michael Kent, senior vice president of RMS. Additionally, Kent says, “There’s a group of clients who need a substantial amount of education and [being on the phone] makes them comfortable with the process.” Kent explains that the RMS team is different from other call centers in the sense that the loan officers working with clients on the phone can, in some cases, push them to the field agents, who then follow up with the potential borrower.

One Reverse Mortgage, the Detroit-based division of Quicken Loans, operates a call center of 100 originators with plans to increase the number of originators to 125 by year end. Richard Mandell, vice president of One Reverse, the third-largest reverse mortgage lender in the U.S., says the model has continually proven effective for the company, which developed and launched its reverse mortgage operation after success with its forward mortgage call center.

“It’s probably even better for our [reverse] clients than for a forward client,” he says. “Our client finds that talking over the phone and not having to meet with someone is a huge convenience for them. A lot of pressure is taken off. They are willing to ask more questions and they’re more comfortable because it is over the phone.” The process also lends itself to technology use, and leads to quicker turn times, he says. Those turn times average 25 to 30 days from the time the client’s paperwork is received, according to One Reverse, which, based on the company’s research, compares to an industry average that is closer to 60 days.

On the flip side, some borrowers may benefit from a more intimate face-to-face interaction.

One broker tells RMD that a recent call center exchange involving one of his customers resulted in a complicated process due to a promised appraisal amount that ultimately came in quite short. He pointed to the potential danger of working with a phone originator who might have benefited from meeting the borrower face-to-face and visiting the borrower’s home. What ultimately led the borrower through additional hours and effort could have been avoided for a fee that was just a little bit higher, he says.

The licensing process can also present a challenge, in that call center employees must be licensed in the state from which the potential borrower is calling, in order to discuss aspects of the reverse mortgage loan. Some call centers address the licensing issue through complex routing systems to ensure that the borrower meets the originator along the right state lines.

The process can be rigorous, but rewarding, lenders say. The RMS call center is licensed in 31 states with individual loan officers maintaining licenses in several states each. “It’s a non-ending cycle of training, processing, licensing and passing national and state exams,” Kent says.

While obtaining licensing to work with clients in many states can be a challenge, Mandell says, “It is something that makes us better.” Because the company’s mortgage bankers have to be licensed in every state where they do business, they go through all of the requirements, he says. Some may have licensing in up to 25 states.

For a reverse mortgage call center to work effectively, the training of those loan officers is essential, explains Kent. It’s important for them to understand the anatomy of the sale, including where to start, where to educate and where to finish. RMS provides its call center loan officers with bullet points and a checklist rather than a scripted conversation, so that they can make sure the senior is engaged and fully understands how the process works. “We can’t leave that up to hoping,” he says.

The deciding factor may come down to the borrower preferences. While the model works for some, it may not be one-size-fits-all.

Written by Elizabeth Ecker

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  • None of this addresses one of the basic problems about doing at least one face-to-face meeting is the simple process of seeing that a senior with the photo ID is the person who is talking about the loan.  While one can get a photo ID of an incompetent borrower and someone other than the borrower pretends to be the borrower.  We actually ran into that. 
    How is the turnaround any quicker?  At a meeting, papers are all signed with few mistakes.  They are taken from the meeting and delivered directly to the processor.  Can it go faster? 
    Then comes the question about the borrower actually understanding what is being said.  A face-to-face meeting helps the ORIGINATOR know that the borrower understands the loan.
    Call centers are not nearly the panacea that call center owners and operators make them out to be.  At least one face-to-face between lender and qualified borrower should be required.  The number of endorsements is not rising.
    All of this talk about call centers has more to do with profits than what is best for borrowers.  It is true that volume can increase with the same number of originators but does that mean borrower care and safeguards to the HECM process increase?  Very, very doubtful.

  • The unintended consequence of many of the rules and laws enacted in the past few years for consumer protection is to increase the business pressures for using a call center model with economies of scale. This trend will continue in the foreseeable future.

  • onereversebanker,
    Your post makes you sound a little bitter/disgruntled…I am not sure I would want you working on my loan if I were a client or your employer.  Couldn’t really believe you do any business with that attitude and outlook.
    Then again I am one originator who hangs out at the beach most of the time and when I do work its 9 – 5??  You can’t honestly believe what you posted.  Otherwise, you don’t really know many originators.  Those 2 that “liked” your post must work in the next cubicle at One Reverse.  Certainly there are some that take advantage of their freedom but they are not in the business for long.
    I believe a call center can be beneficial.  Every client is different, some like phone interactions and others like face-to-face.  Can’t we all just get along? 
    Enjoy the long Holiday weekend but don’t try calling me, remember I won’t pick up my phone??   

  • onereversebanker,

    We are very different.  Working at a mortgage banker the name banker is available to me but being called an originator means far more.

    Your life centers around a bank of phones.  While you speak with people it is not your face or presence which has any meaning to your borrowers.  In fact your shift of call center bankers could be sitting in the same restaurant filled with the customers you just finished loans with and would you know them or what rocks their world?  Would they bring over their friends to introduce the guy who changed their world?

    Most of us who actually go out and press the flesh are interested in the people behind the voice enough so that we go to meetings to face down their attorneys who come to the meeting ready to shut us down.  We hear, see, and feel the fear of heirs about the possible mess the senior is about to reign down on themselves.  We would know them anywhere.

    You see we care about the senior behind the voice not just their financial need and closing the deal.  When you only deal with a senior on the phone it is easier to talk them into anything and close the loan.  You are focused and not distracted from anything other than doing the deal.  You will never know if it was in their best interests.  You really do not know what their favorite coffee cup is or what their neighborhood is like or what their garden looks like or their favorite flower.  You really have no idea if it is really the senior on the other end of the phone or a 45 year son who is ripping off a father.

    Yeah you are right.  Your call center is there ready to close a deal at the drop of a hat.  You have been trained at overcoming anything maybe even the real needs of the senior.  Even though my office phone is forwarded to my cell phone and I am away from the office today, it is only your call center that takes calls outside of 9 to 5.  And, yes, like you I am NMLS licensed, not just registered.

    Most originators in this industry have encountered the experiences described in this Comment.  It is not easy to market at your own expense, work with the seniors and their advisors, close the loan, and clear conditions but that is our life.  We chose it.  


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