Reverse mortgage product education remains a core concern for the entire industry, and the necessity of lenders to find new ways to appeal to borrowers is key. Finding new and novel ways to provide accurate information about the details concerning how the product can interact with an individual’s financial situation seems to be a daily brainstorming occurrence on the parts of lenders, originators, brokers and industry-adjacent public relations professionals.
This also extends to reverse mortgage professionals outside the United States. Toronto, Ontario-based HomeEquity Bank (HEB) is Canada’s leading reverse mortgage provider, and while the product offered north of the border has specific and abundant differences with the way that American products operate, the moves that HEB has been making in connecting with borrowers in its own country has garnered significant attention from the American reverse mortgage business.
Whether it’s in the form of some comedically-oriented commercials aimed at empowering seniors, or a campaign featuring a notorious con man-turned-FBI informant in an effort to protect seniors from getting scammed, HEB has now turned its attention to the publication of a book designed to inform the public even more about what a reverse mortgage may be able to do for seniors.
RMD sat down with HEB EVP of Marketing and Sales Yvonne Ziomecki to discuss why a book is the right next step for HEB, and how the company hopes that it will connect with seniors in its market.
Describing reverse mortgages as a ‘Home Run’
The book, titled “Home Run: The Reverse Mortgage Advantage,” is co-written by HEB CEO Steven Ranson and Ziomecki and details both the reverse mortgage product and the environment which surrounds it. That includes information about recent developments in the Canadian real estate market; what the “portrait” of a modern retiree looks like; the benefits of aging in place; and how reverse mortgages can compare to alternative products available to the senior demographic.
Some of the impetus for the creation of the book comes from the ways that seniors, specifically, have been affected by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic throughout 2020 and 2021, Ziomecki says.
“The pandemic has changed everything, for everybody, and people have realized more now than ever, how important their homes are for them,” Ziomecki says in an interview. “They realize how important it is to be safe and secure in that home, and on how to best manage through retirement. What we’re trying to accomplish in this book is to talk to people about different things they need to consider.”
Some of these considerations the book describes that should be made on the part of the potential client includes taking stock of a financial situation prior to hitting retirement age, determine what they want their retirement to look like in terms of living situation and lifestyle, and research what will be required to meet those expectations, she says.
“A lot of people have said that they want to downsize, and a lot of people were thinking about going into a retirement home prior to the pandemic. That has changed,” she says. “So, knowing and researching your options is very important. And then – because of the business that we’re in – we really think that for the Canadian homeowners that we serve, staying in the home and aging in place is the best option. The real estate market has been doing incredibly well, even through the pandemic now.”
After embracing new media, why a book still makes sense
As RMD has detailed a lot over the past couple of years, HomeEquity Bank has often embraced new and novel approaches to connecting with its clientele, including some very original television commercials that American reverse mortgage professionals responded to very enthusiastically at the 2019 National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association (NRMLA) Annual Meeting & Expo in Nashville, Tenn.
HEB also made use of American former fraudster Frank Abagnale, Jr. in a campaign called “Catch the Scam,” which was designed to teach seniors about the ways they can be targeted by fraudsters trying to swindle them out of money by posing as an official from the government or a credit card company, or even members of their own family.
Because of the organization’s history with new and novel marketing strategies and techniques, that seemed to beg a question from RMD: why publish a book?
“It’s a very good question,” Ziomecki replied. “Our average customer is 72 years old, even though we offer the product starting at 55. This group has been staying home during the pandemic, they’ve been isolating, and they still value print. They like to check their mailbox for mail, they are very tactile, and there’s a lot of credibility that comes from the written form.”
The page count for the book stands at 220 pages, so it’s obvious that it can’t be read in a single sitting, Ziomecki says. But that longer length, for someone who is determined to take it all in, gives options for absorbing all the information at the pace of the reader, while also reading both informative chapters and customer stories along with expert advice, she says.
“It’s just a different medium, and different delivery of our message,” she says. “And I think for this demographic, I hope they have it on the nightstand, or on the coffee table. But I also hope that once they finish it, maybe they’ll think ‘this for me,’ or ‘maybe this is for my next door neighbor,’ and they can lend it out.”
The influence of the American reverse mortgage industry
While HEB offers its own reverse mortgage tailored to the needs of Canadian seniors and conforming to the necessary local regulations, it’s difficult to avoid “spillover” of American product concepts into the minds of Canadian consumers, Ziomecki says. So, while the book understandably focuses on Canada, it does take the time to address misinformation and product myths that have arisen out of the ubiquity of American reverse mortgages in North America.
“I think in the section on myths, we were very thoughtful about which myths we included and how we talked about them, because we know there’s a lot of spillover from the U.S. product and our product,” she says. “Sometimes people watch U.S. advertising or they read U.S. newspapers, and are sometimes confused.”
An original version of the book actually did feature a chapter on the specific differences between the American and Canadian products, but it was ultimately decided that would take focus off of what the book should be: an easy read for people in the market to determine what they should do in their own lives.
“You can go down so many rabbit holes, and it’s just not necessary,” Ziomecki says. “This is meant to be contained. But of course, it’s informed by the U.S. market, of course, and it’s informed by the U.K. market because we stay plugged in and connected all the time.”
HEB launched “Home Run: The Reverse Mortgage Advantage” earlier this month. More information about the book is available on the HEB website.