While the reverse mortgage industry has managed to weather the economic shock of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic reasonably well in the broader financial situation we’re now living in, some lenders are also still managing to grow. Taking a strategic approach to the ways in which economic shock can be endured or even avoided is something that HighTechLending (HTL) recently had to put into practice, and the results have been positive.
This is according to Don Currie, president of the Irvine, Calif.-based top 10 reverse mortgage lender in an interview with RMD. HighTech — like many companies in the reverse mortgage space — actively began managing its financial and business operations very closely when the impact of the pandemic came into clearer view this past March.
Coinciding that with a broader opening for reverse mortgage business has worked in the company’s favor, but observing some other realities presented by the pandemic have also led to other indirect advantages and efficiencies for the company, Currie says.
The disruption brought about by the early days of the pandemic in March required businesses across the country to adapt to a new and unfamiliar scenario, and the same was true of HighTechLending. One of the ways that the company adapted to the ever-changing situation was by carefully observing the way that profitability was affected, and reacting accordingly.
“We as a company hunkered down, retreated when it came to March’s precipitous drop in profitability. I think that we took a step back, and waited for the market to come back,” Currie says. “It was a bit of a crisis in that a lot of the seniors weren’t able to get the profitability that we needed to cover their closing costs. So in most cases, we did wait for the market to rebound. And then as soon as it did rebound, we really took advantage of it.”
Observing the pace of change in the business environment and how the company was able to adapt to it also gave HighTech greater confidence in expanding its marketing footprint, Currie explains.
“Because of the rebound in profitability, we all felt a lot more brave when it came to marketing in that now, we felt that our marketing dollars could be well spent,” he says. “So, we did explore all different avenues of marketing, whether it’s direct mail, internet, telemarketing, etc. We took advantage of the resurgence in profitability to test all different types of marketing mediums, and that really panned out well for us.”
The ability for principal limits to be higher factored into the company’s quick action, as well. The preparation that the company displayed allowed them to jump back into the marketplace with notable quickness, Currie says.
Business rises, new efficiencies are found
In addition to noting that the reverse mortgage business has expanded during the pandemic, additional efficiencies in terms of HighTech’s own operations have been illuminated by the current situation enough to make a difference on how it approaches its current activities, Currie says.
“The pandemic has resulted in some peripheral benefits that I wasn’t anticipating, including sending our entire staff of 175 people to work from their homes, and to continue to be so efficient that we’re able to continue to break production records,” Currie says. “That we were able to do that with everybody working from their homes, that was a benefit that I did not realize could happen.”
Additional efficiencies have been found in the realm of the greater incorporation of technology into the reverse mortgage process along with relief handed down by the federal government to ensure that property appraisals can still take place while observing social distancing and other virus mitigation practices, Currie says.
“The efficiencies of the desktop and exterior appraisals, as well as e-disclosures were other added benefits which allowed our production to continue to flourish,” Currie says. “But I tell you, the one benefit that I truly did not anticipate was Zoom. We are a company that really prides ourselves on meeting with the seniors at their kitchen tables, so we collectively raised our eyebrows when we realized that we couldn’t continue face-to-face meetings in-person.”
Enter Zoom, the now-widespread video conferencing service that has exploded in popularity as more businesses have begun shifting to remote work. The ubiquity of Zoom combined with the accelerated pace of required change caused a higher level of adaptation to current circumstances very quickly, Currie says.
“People might normally take a year to change their ways, but we were forced as an industry to change our ways in a month,” Currie says. “With technology like Zoom, we’re able to have that kitchen table interview with anyone, anywhere. You’re no longer bound by the geography of going out to somebody’s home, as long as they have a computer and a camera. You are still able to meet with them face-to-face.”
Working from home in the right job
Remote work is not a wholly new concept for HighTech, Currie says, since the company has always had at least some of its employees working from home. The increased prevalence of work-from-home as a practice did lead to a more focused application of the concept, he explains.
“We’ve always had remote workers, particularly underwriters,” he says. “When they became difficult to find, we did hire people that worked from their homes. But now, I feel that we have a far higher confidence level in not just underwriters, but funders and really the entire operations staff. They can efficiently work from home.”
The fact that the efficiency among staff working from home has remained so high across different levels of the employee base can likely lead some leaders, including himself, to naturally think about what the future will be for the big and expensive office spaces currently being maintained, he says.
“Once our leases come up, we may ask if we really need these massive offices,” he says. “For our experience, we’ve found that you can be just as efficient working from home as working in an 11,000 square foot office. However, being a bit old fashioned, I enjoy the camaraderie, family environment and ability to readily share ideas and smiles. For the time being, we will keep the office.”