An Inside Look at NRMLA, the Reverse Mortgage Trade Association

The National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association (NRMLA) is the foremost advocacy and educational organization in the reverse mortgage industry, taking on a wide variety of responsibilities in an effort to educate potential borrowers and further legitimize the tapping of home equity as seniors try to determine the course of their financial futures.

Steve Irwin, Executive Vice President of NRMLA, recently sat down for a wide-ranging interview with RMD discussing the efforts of NRMLA: what it seeks to do, how it goes about facilitating the advocacy needs of the reverse mortgage industry, and exactly what a packed day is like inside the association’s Washington, D.C. headquarters.

The following represents just a portion of RMD’s conversation with Irwin, but you can absorb the full and in-depth discussion by subscribing to The RMD Podcast, downloading its third episode, and listening at your convenience.

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Editor’s note: the following portion of the interview has been edited for flow. Listen to the full interview in episode 3 of The RMD Podcast.

Your title is Executive Vice President of the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association, or NRMLA. Would you mind giving us just a brief overview of what that title entails, and what your responsibilities are with the association? It seems kind of like you need to be a jack of all trades, so to speak, considering everything you have to do.

Yeah. I mean, my work really focuses on furthering the mission of the association, which is to be an advocate for our members, working on our members’ behalf, but also to be an educational resource for those members, and also an educational resource for regulators and consumers, as well.

There’s a lot of work that goes on, and under my silo, if you will, we manage a whole slew of committees. These committees have leadership, which helps set priorities and objectives for any given time frame, all under the guidance and leadership of our president and CEO, Peter Bell, and of course, our Board of Directors.

Jumping off of that, walk us through a typical day in the life of Steve Irwin, and even the executive team for NRMLA at-large. Given everything that you guys have to oversee concerning the activities of the industry and the association itself, how does a day play out for you when you come into the office? Is there a typical day that can play out for you guys, or is it a case-by-case basis?

I tell you, we get a pretty early start here, and then we work fairly well into the evening. A typical day is only the early parts of any given day. Catching up on emails, member communication, etc. From there, it could depend on what we have in front of us, what we have scheduled, what committee meetings we have calendered, or what other different advocacy work we have planned for any given day. Recently, on behalf of our membership, we met with senior advisors to the FHA Commissioner, very recently. We met on a variety of issues, mostly regarding post-assignment servicing and possible solutions to the troubles there.

We’ve recently been in to meet with the CFPB. We’re very active in working and coordinating and preparing for the change in HMDA reporting, for example, but we’re also working with outside counsel on preparing documentation on the current state of the disclosure regiment related to reverse mortgage originations. That’ll then enable us to better craft proposals to the CFPB for the development of disclosures that are actually meaningful for our members’ borrowers.

Other days, we could be working in the states. We’re continually monitoring all state Houses here to determine if there are actions being taken at the state level that may impact reverse mortgages and our membership in those states. We’ve been up to Albany already to meet with New York state legislators and consumer advocates so that New York state law might be amended to accommodate reverse mortgage lending on cooperative apartments, and alongside with our outside counsel and co-chairs of the board, we’re closely monitoring legislative developments in Texas and Nevada.

What do you think the average reverse mortgage professional should know about what the association does for them that may not be obvious to them while they’re working on the frontlines, so to speak?

I think and hope that our members understand that the association and its management, all of its committees and all of its board of directors and all of our operations support staff here at the association is working on behalf of members, and advocating on their behalf.

There are times we get caught by surprise, but we try to stay as in front of issues as possible, and try to work toward solutions to issues our members face that are in the best interest for our members and for the consumers who use the products our members deliver.

Given your macro perspective that’s granted by your position with the association, how would you characterize the state of the industry right now?

I think it’s a challenging time, and I understand that. There is stress, and the need for production volume. I get that, but it’s also a time of huge opportunity. The FHA-insured reverse mortgage, the HECM, has never been designed, and it can’t sustain itself, by being the only product in the marketplace. There are gaps in take-up to the HECM product that will naturally be filled by proprietary products, and it’s exciting.

I have, for a long time, advocated and encouraged and been hopeful for the reemergence of proprietary product lending out there. So, I think we all have to adapt to change, and consider new ways of doing business and new opportunities, and take a very close look at some of the opportunities that are presented through these proprietary products. I think there will be more, and I think there will be different types of products. We’re already seeing a variety of non-reverse mortgage equity extraction products in the marketplace.

But, it just seems very evident to me that — and this is not news to anybody listening to this or to you — but there is a tremendous strain that’s going to be put onto the current retirement system and structure in this country.


Listen to the full interview with NRMLA EVP Steve Irwin by subscribing to The RMD Podcast.

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  • Unlike Mr. Irwin, I do not have the same level of optimism about the growth or duration of proprietary products in our market place.

    Perhaps the best form of a jumbo type of property reverse mortgage that the industry saw was the Cash Account created by Lehman Brothers as revised just before the introduction of the The Independence Plan (TIP) by Bank of America. Before two years were up about a dozen providers were offering all different types of jumbo reverses. The optimism in the industry was at all time highs during fiscal 2007 and HECMs reaching over 112,000 endorsements in fiscal 2008. Yet by then the short lived propriety era was dead with little noise of resuscitation until now.

    The Cash Account was around for about five years. That was an interesting period with some originators making spectacular commissions on that product in particular.

    Once we see proprietary jumbos in the industry with some type of reporting on them for a period of five years, then as a trained and experienced skeptic, you will see an immediate change in my optimism.

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