Early last month, multi-channel lender Open Mortgage – itself a top 10 reverse mortgage lender – announced the creation of a new president position, and the appointment of industry veteran Joe Stephenson to be the first person to serve in the role. The creation of the new position reportedly came after a long search, and is said to allow the company’s founder – CEO and 2021 RMD Changemaker Scott Gordon – to pursue other growth-related activities beyond the day-to-day management of the company.
“Not only will his nearly three decades of experience in independent mortgage banking and depository institutions serve Open Mortgage well, but his strong leadership skills and warm demeanor will also complement our family-like culture,” Gordon said at the time of Stephenson’s appointment.
Officially assuming his duties on December 6, 2021, Stephenson recently sat down with RMD to discuss what his priorities will be in the company’s newly-established additional leadership position, and how the reverse segment of Open Mortgage’s business is looking as we barrel further ahead into 2022.
Industry outlook, why he made the jump to Open Mortgage
Echoing some of the sentiments shared by lenders and originators on the heels of the 2022 lending limit announcement, Stephenson sees a lot to be optimistic about when it comes to the reverse side of the business, he says. The lending limit plays a role in that, but there’s also more to it than just a new maximum claim amount (MCA).
“Our outlook is very positive,” Stephenson says. “Lending limits have increased, the [MMI] Fund is stable and the need for this product continues to grow as people look to strengthen their retirement strategies. Open Mortgage is well-positioned for market growth as the infrastructure through multiple distribution channels exists.”
While he maintains experience in the forward mortgage arena, Stephenson comes to Open Mortgage after having previously served as an SVP of operations at American Advisors Group (AAG). When asked about what attracted him to make the jump over to Open Mortgage, Stephenson cites one of the components often prioritized by founder and CEO Scott Gordon: the company culture.
“There were multiple factors attracting me to Open Mortgage, starting with the culture of the organization,” Stephenson says. “Many of the employees have a deep history with the organization and that only happens when the company is driving the right values. The second aspect is the established network of retail branches along with their strong wholesale presence, both in the forward business and in reverse.”
The potential for growth comes from the way the company is structured, Stephenson explains. Open Mortgage is an over $1.6 billion annual production platform, “and has the infrastructure to grow” owing to the size of its overall footprint, Stephenson says.
Strategies for reverse leadership in 2022
According to data compiled by Reverse Market Insight, Open Mortgage grew its reverse mortgage origination volume notably in 2021. For the full year 2020, the company recorded 1,724 reverse mortgage loans between January and December. In the same period in 2021, that total figure grew to 2,316 loans, making Open Mortgage the seventh-largest reverse mortgage lender in the nation.
While volume is higher, that is also true of virtually all other major lenders in the space, so open Mortgage’s overall ranking in the top 10 did not change between 2020 and 2021, according to the RMI data. Nevertheless, Stephenson sees growth potential in the new year company-wide, due to its status as a multi-channel lender with a presence across the forward and reverse mortgage industries.
“I definitely expect Open Mortgage to continue to expand its footprint in the mortgage space for both reverse and forward,” Stephenson tells RMD. “With over 100 branches nationwide, the opportunity exists to grow both.”
In order to expand the proverbial “pie” of borrowers served by the reverse mortgage industry, Stephenson thinks that it remains very important for both Open Mortgage and the wider reverse mortgage industry to focus on the expansion of the product category’s reach. Because of his personal affinity for reverse mortgages, Open Mortgage will aim to be an active participant in this way.
“I have a great passion for this product, and the industry as a whole can benefit from multiple organizations expanding their traction with the reverse product,” he says.
This is why it remains paramount for the entire industry to make reverse options more widely available to a wider swath of seniors, he adds.
“It’s in all of our best interests to continue to find ways to serve our senior clients,” Stephenson says. “Product adoption comes via education and trust. Open Mortgage will continue to look for ways to deliver both.”
In case you missed it, be sure to read RMD’s interview with Open Mortgage Founder and CEO Scott Gordon stemming from his selection as a 2021 reverse mortgage Changemaker.