A lot has happened in the reverse mortgage industry since Willow Bend Mortgage Company entered the market in January. As the company nears its one-year anniversary next month, it sees 2016 as the year to hunker down and commit more resources to its growing reverse division.
Headquartered in Plano, Texas, Willow Bend Mortgage has been active in the forward mortgage space since its establishment in December 1993. The company, which was founded by its current President Bill Shaddock, was formed as a small brokerage shop, having evolved over the years into a full scale mortgage banking operation that annually generates $400-$500 million of single-family mortgages in the state of Texas.
The reverse mortgage division is a relatively new venture for Willow Bend Mortgage, with the company closing about 75 Home Equity Conversion Mortgages year-to-date in 2015, according to Mike Hicks, reverse mortgage divisional manager at Willow Bend Mortgage. On a monthly basis, the company averages about seven to eight HECMs per month. Willow Bend Mortgage, however, remains committed to growing its footprint in the reverse mortgage market in a big way for 2016.
“It’s been slow and steady, but it’s been the right time for us with all of the movement in the industry,” Hicks told RMD. “Obviously we’ve got a lot ahead of us.”
Since its launch in January, Willow Bend Mortgage has grown its reverse division’s national exposure from being licensed in just three states at its inception to a total of 12 to date (Ala., Ark., Calif., Colo., Fla., La., Mich., Miss., Mo., Okla., Tenn., Texas). Looking ahead, Willow Bend Mortgage plans to eventually grow its reach to 30 states.
“In 2016 we are going to focus on developing the states we are in right now,” said John Smaldone, business development director at Willow Bend Mortgage. “We want to grow methodically and profitably.”
Willow Bend Mortgage originates, processes, funds and closes loans in its own name. The company also employs about 20 staff members in the reverse division, 16 of which are loan officers. The only thing the company is not doing currently, but plans to do so eventually, is underwriting its own loans.
While Willow Bend Mortgage has offered reverse mortgages at its discretion, the company sees 2016 as a year to fully take advantage of what it can do with the product.
“You can’t make reverse mortgages just one of your menu items, you have to make this part of your company,” Hicks said. “You can’t just put one foot in; you really have to be in it for the long haul.”
Over the course of next year, the Willow Bend Mortgage’s strategy will be looking at the bank’s different channels and finding ways it can help create new business opportunities for loan officers working in the reverse division. This may include working with Willow’s forward mortgage branches, leveraging its lead platform and even collaborating with Capital Title, one of the largest independent title companies in Texas, which like Willow Bend Mortgage, falls under the holding company Shaddock Companies, Inc.
“For us, looking at all of the different channels to funnel down to loan officers and help them create another source of business is going to be our largest model of consistency where we see has the ability to help us grow,” Hicks said.
Willow Bend Mortgage also plans to focus heavily on its staff training programs and educational efforts in 2016. This includes getting more involved with CE classes and developing a rigorous internal training program that covers every spectrum of the reverse mortgage field, including the Financial Assessment, which will test Willow Bend Mortgage employees with a series of exams before they can receive a certificate of completion. Ongoing educational and training opportunities will also continue to be available for staff on a volunteer basis as well.
“Education is going to be a key factor in 2016,” said Smaldone. “We have to look at new blood coming into this industry, but we can’t take it for granted. We have to spend a lot of time and commitment.”
The reverse mortgage landscape in 2016 could provide this type of stable environment, now that the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Housing Administration don’t have any big changes on the horizon for the HECM program.
“Going into 2016, we don’t have a crystal ball and don’t know what’s going to happen with HUD, FHA or the federal government, but we have to go into the year and look at it as a clear, open path,” Smaldone said.
With all of the program changes that have transpired in 2015 alone, next year could even result in a dormant year for the reverse mortgage industry, but in a good way.
“This is a good opportunity for us as an industry—that this might be a very good learning curve year for all of us,” said Hicks. “I think the best is still ahead for this industry.”
Written by Jason Oliva