Although he was near the age of 80 and had been semi-retired for several years in East Tennessee, Don Larson – who had spent a 45-year career at the Aflac insurance company – was still occasionally quoting insurance to people in his community. When Loren Riddick, national director of reverse mortgage lending at Thrive Mortgage in Alcoa, Tenn. asked Larson to come by his office to quote health insurance, at the end of the conversation Riddick asked Larson a question.
“Coach, are reverse mortgages good or bad?,” Riddick asked, still calling Larson “Coach” since the man had served as Riddick’s own Little League baseball coach decades before.
“Well, I don’t know,” Larson responded. “Coach, that answer won’t work,” Riddick replied. “You’ve got to tell me a yes or no.”
Larson replied that since he didn’t know, they were bad. Riddick asked why, and this led to a conversation between the two men about whether or not a reverse mortgage could potentially work for Larson and his wife. The road after that would see Larson go from a reverse mortgage borrower to a fully-fledged member of Riddick’s team at Thrive Mortgage, and Larson is now a licensed reverse mortgage loan originator. RMD sat down with Larson and Loren Riddick to chart this unique journey.
Becoming a reverse mortgage borrower
Before Larson could begin his journey to reverse origination, though, he had to overcome any misgivings he had as a potential borrower. Like many people who find themselves first interacting with the reverse mortgage product concept, Larson related a degree of skepticism not uncommon for many people who find themselves thinking in greater detail about what a reverse mortgage might be able to do for he and his wife.
“I left [Loren’s office] that day very intrigued by what I had heard, because I had always thought that reverse mortgages were for old folks who [see it as] kind of a last resort,” Larson says. “I thought that maybe they were desperate, and that [a reverse mortgage] was the only way they had out. But, I began to understand that it could be beneficial to me.”
Riddick gave Larson some additional information, leading to a conversation that Larson had with his wife about the possibility of taking a loan out. She related immediate skepticism given the fact that their own mortgage was nearly paid off.
“We’d been looking forward to [our mortgage] being done,” Larson says. “So, we weren’t wanting another mortgage. But, I shared with her how it would work, and she began to listen, and a couple of weeks later, the two of us came in and sat down with Loren. When we left, I could tell that she was very interested. But, another couple of weeks went by before we decided that we wanted to move forward with finding out what it would do for us, and we did it, and we’ve been very pleased in every way.”
With Riddick’s help, Larson became not only a reverse mortgage borrower, but a product proponent. The next step he would take came from inspiration from someone in Riddick’s office, offering Larson a new career path at the age of 80.
From borrower to originator
The first step and initial idea for recruiting Larson as a more active part of Riddick’s team at Thrive Mortgage came from his senior client relations specialist, 77-year old Elaine Gregory, Riddick tells RMD in an interview.
“And, of course, what’s better than that?,” Riddick says. “Having somebody [of that age] that’s actually licensed and being able to deliver a reverse. She kind of gave me the idea.”
The second element came from Riddick’s familiarity with Larson, a well-known member of the local community who is respected by many people within it. About a year after he became a reverse mortgage client of Riddick’s, the process began in earnest to bring Larson on as an originator.
“I said that he should think about getting out and helping other people,” Riddick explains. “So, he just decided he would get out there, and of course he’s a very accomplished professional. The guy’s got a picture of him and George Bush and Ronald Reagan in his office, and he at one time was one of the top 10 people in all of Aflac and had about 126 Aflac representatives underneath him. So, obviously he’s a tried-and-true professional, and the rest is history.”
Because of the amount of people that know and trust Larson in the community, Riddick explained to him that having him come on as a part of the organization could be a difference-maker for the area’s seniors. This led Riddick to express to Larson that he would be a credit to the team.
“Loren said to me, ‘Coach, you know hundreds of people and you need to come help me.’ He said, ‘You’re not retired, you’re re-fired,’” Larson explains. “So, I told Loren I was interested and I began to study for the test. And I took it in November 2019, and passed it the first time I took it. I’m excited about being on his team here, and I’m just getting started.”
How a senior originator can relate to senior borrowers
Larson became certified as a reverse mortgage loan originator as of January 1, 2020, so the days of his new career path are still early ones. Still, Riddick sees an extraordinary opportunity for Larson to connect with seniors on their level, and hearing from an originator who has been in the proverbial shoes of a borrower could potentially make a difference not just in his own business, but for the entire reverse mortgage industry, Riddick says.
“There’s three key points,” Riddick explains. “Number one, it’s to empower our seniors. If we truly care about our seniors, why not give them an opportunity to work? Like Elaine [Gregory] said, it’s actually an advantage to be more vintage. The second component is, think about it: everybody that this guy knows is [a part of] his generation. So, yes, he can relate.”
The third component, Riddick says, is that because the people Larson knows are already within the senior demographic, then the leads he’ll be able to generate will also be there, too.
“All of his leads are going to be in his age group, speaking first-person and eyeball-to-eyeball with them, and he’s a very, very highly respected individual,” Riddick explains. “So, you combine all those three components together, it’s a winning formula. Not just for here, but I think it could be universal for everywhere.”
Larson sees his potential to connect with fellow seniors about reverse mortgages to be a benefit, as well.
“There’s nothing like somebody being able to genuinely say to you, ‘I’ve been where you are,’” Larson says. “I think I’ll be able to identify with what their concerns are as we age. I know that firsthand, and I think that’ll make a difference.”
As to whether or not Larson recommends that other seniors enter the reverse mortgage space, he sees a big opportunity there for anyone concerned about needing to remain flexible and active in their later years.
“If they’d like to help people and they want to be busy, I recommend it,” he says. “I intend to work until I die. But, I also want to work at my age and [for] my interests. I’ve got grandchildren and so on, so I want to be flexible enough that I can go and do what I want to do. But, I want to be busy. So, a person that would like to do that, if their health is such that it would allow them to do that, then I recommend it. You bet.”