Tips for Embracing Advantages, Avoiding Pitfalls of More Tech in Reverse Mortgages

Meeting with a wider pool of clients than was previously possible, and streamlining processes that could previously take much longer are just some of the advantages to the greater incorporation of technological tools into the reverse mortgage business, according to two originators in a recent panel discussion.

While there has been an increasing level of incorporation for new technologies into the reverse mortgage industry over the past several years, the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and its emphasis on social distancing seems to be accelerating the pace at which that incorporation is happening, and the results have been generally positive. This is according to two reverse mortgage professionals during a sales panel at the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association (NRMLA) Summer Virtual Meeting in July.

As more and more communities are still contending with COVID-19 primarily due to rising levels of infection in multiple parts of the country, the greater technological incorporation of communication methods or document execution tools — in concert with some assistance from regulators — have helped to keep reverse mortgage business in motion. As these tools become more important for keeping that momentum, the possibility emerges that in the future, these new tools will simply be incorporated into the regular way of doing business.

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Making tech a regular part of reverse mortgage business

One such person who has seen exactly that stream of events transpire is Christina Harmes Hika, reverse mortgage originator at the C2 Reverse division of C2 Financial Corp. in San Diego, Calif. Harmes Hika actually had something of a head start compared to other industry participants in terms of the current way of doing business during the pandemic, since she moved to a home office environment within the past few years, she says.

When the home office became her normal venue for work, she started to become more familiar with different technological services and processes and realized that many of them had enough potential to be taken to other loan officers within her organization.

“About five years ago, I started doing DocuSign [during the pre-application and application processes] and found that 70% of my clients preferred it,” she says. “Probably about three years ago, I started incorporating videos into everything I do. We have videos for walking you through preparing your home for the appraisal, for document collection, and really anything I found myself repeating to every single client over and over.”

There were simply not enough hours in the day to have to facilitate the amount of repeat questions she would get from either prospective borrowers or their families or other trusted advisors, she says. So, having a dedicated recording of her addressing all of the major points of a loan eliminated the need for her to have to repeat herself, since any interested party can simply rewatch a video related to their loan’s details either in its entirety, or in a specific section.

“[We started] training loan officers [in the use of video] for efficiency about three years ago, and I started the conference calls [between] loan officers with their clients, with a financial planner, and with an attorney, where we’d all jump on the same conference call, about two years ago,” she says. It’s developed and has just gotten more efficient over time. And I actually love what’s going on, because clients are becoming familiar with this technology without [our involvement]. I had to teach my clients how to use these platforms for so long, and now they’re just jumping on themselves.”

‘Zoom fatigue,’ client anxiety

That’s not to say that developing a kind of fatigue related to the use of these new technologies isn’t possible, especially considering that they’re being relied on more heavily in the midst of social distancing guidelines and evolving stay-at-home orders. In those situations, something as “classic” as just picking up the phone can become a novelty while also keeping a conversation moving, according to Steven Sless, reverse mortgage division manager with Primary Residential Mortgage, Inc. (PRMI) and branch manager with the Steven J. Sless Group.

“I found myself doing a lot of video conferences with our referral partners when COVID first hit. Now, I think there’s a lot of referral partners that almost have Zoom fatigue, and they enjoy a phone call,” Sless says. “And so we can’t forget through all of this, that there’s nothing wrong with just picking up the phone and having a voice conversation.”

There are also some people connected with the transaction, whether the clients themselves or even specific referral partners, that simply don’t like being in front of a camera, and it makes them feel vulnerable. Taking those people into account when determining the best way to connect is ultimately beneficial for all involved, Sless adds.

When Harmes Hika encounters a client who is uncomfortable with being on camera, she simply affirms their preference while explaining that she feels it’s important for the client to see her while she’s explaining the details of the reverse mortgage, so they can “fully know who they’re working with,” she explained to RMD.

Greater efficiency in meeting all stakeholders

When asked by NRMLA President Steve Irwin whether it’s more or less difficult to respond to typical borrower concerns related to reverse mortgages, Sless opined that it’s actually easier by virtue of the efficiency the videoconferencing formats can allow in terms of getting all of a loan’s stakeholders in one place.

“We’re getting families together much easier than trying to arrange a family meeting at the borrower’s house,” Sless explains. “And these platforms have been around for quite some time, but I think what this lockdown and what COVID has done is it’s taught us to be just more effective salespeople, and more effective at the rebuttals and in how we communicate with our borrowers.”

As an example, Sless described a loan in process involving a power of attorney and extensive familial dialogue concerning the borrower, a mother and a grandmother. To ensure that the prospective borrower can age in place, a majority of the family unit is involved in the discussion related to her potential reverse mortgage, Sless says. Organizing a meeting with everyone under normal circumstances would be difficult, but that difficulty is notably diminished when the meeting takes place virtually.

“There’s 20 people involved in helping this decision be made. And we got them all on a Zoom call the other day, and I could talk to every one of those 20 family members and address their concerns in an open format,” he says. “There was no way that we’d be able to do that face-to-face. I don’t think that I would have even thought about having them on a video conference if not for this experience in using these tools and technologies more now than we ever did before.”

In a call that had participants as young as 18 and as old as 90, the call was a lively conversation about the ways that the product category might be able to help the client, and it ended with positive results.

“They enjoyed it,” Sless says. “We took an hour and we addressed everybody’s concerns. And at the end of the conversation, they decided that the reverse mortgage is the way forward.”

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