In the second part of RMD’s exclusive interview with recently-appointed American Advisors Group (AAG) President and COO Ed Robinson, we dive deeper into the 2022 path for the reverse mortgage industry’s leading lender. The leadership dynamics between Robinson and AAG Founder and CEO Reza Jahangiri are discussed, as well as what the future could hold for AAG on the proprietary reverse mortgage side of the business.
Robinson first assumed the president and COO roles at the company on an acting basis this past summer. Now as a new year has come, he shares some of his perspectives on leadership, what helps to guide his philosophy in getting results and further cementing AAG’s position as the industry leader, and what it’s like to serve as president when working remotely in the COVID-19 era.
RMD: You mentioned some of the conversations that you’ve had with Reza Jahangiri, and I’m curious about the dynamic and leadership relationship between the two of you. What is that going to look like now that you have assumed the president and COO roles at AAG?
Ed Robinson: Reza and I have an amazing partnership, and friendship. We speak every single day, sometimes for just a few moments like we did earlier, or sometimes for hours. We love digging into strategy. We share a lot of the same strengths. We have this routine at AAG for leadership where we utilize the Gallup Strength Finders tool. And it’s funny because there are four sections including execution, relationships, influencing or strategy, and Reza and I are very similar in the strategy and execution.
Where we complement one another is that one of us is really big on the relationship side of the house, and one is really big on the influence side of the house. It’s really fun to get to work with him because of his intricate knowledge of the product, the industry, and he’s passionate about seniors which is something that we truly do share. He’s been terrific in handing me the reins for the day-to-day.
Our trust and respect for one another are really otherworldly, to be honest with you. I have to compliment his in-depth knowledge of the reverse mortgage business, the industry and his innovative entrepreneurship.
Where do you guys differ the most in terms of your strengths?
I have that deep banking, M&A, customer experience, Lean Six Sigma process. That’s my background. So, it’s interesting. It’s almost like we’re a nice little puzzle that fits neatly together and there’s pieces, but more importantly than just that expertise and experience being valuable together, our personal working relationship is so strong already that we are completely unafraid to push each other.
That helps us to devise even better strategic outcomes and decisions. Like I said early on, I’ve found AAG to be home for me. I really look forward to working alongside Reza for many years to come. We have a great working relationship. When it comes to big plans or big futuristic strategic ideas, he really leans in beside me when it comes to running the day-to-day. He lets me just go ahead and make sure that we’re executing efficiently, and we work hand-in-glove to make sure that we’re driving the best outcomes across the board. It’s a lot of fun.
Over the past several years, AAG hasn’t really staked a claim in the proprietary reverse mortgage space as much they’ve been leaning on a correspondent partnership with FAR. Do you expect AAG’s posture to change at all when it comes to proprietary product development? Or, is the corresponding partnership still mutually beneficial for you and that company?
Without delving too far into our strategic priorities and positioning, I will say two things. One, our partnership with FAR is very strong. We work well together in being able to offer a proprietary product to consumers for whom it’s valued. It’s notable that both AAG and FAR have a strong voice at NRMLA for the good of the industry, and for senior consumers beyond just the prop product relationship.
Number two, given AAG’s general leadership position in the industry, we do believe there’s even more that can be done in the way of product development, marketing and positioning. So, we’re definitely looking at what AAG’s role is in regards to expanding that product development. I think we all saw FHA raised loan limits significantly again this year. But, we still believe there are many ways to provide viable solutions to seniors with higher home values, to unlock that equity, and to help them meet their needs.
So, I can’t get into real specifics about what we’re doing in the near term, but I will tell you it’s something we’re taking a very, very hard look at. We think there’s a lot that can be done in the industry holistically, and we believe that we should have a leadership position with that kind of new revamped look.
You’re assuming your role in a very unusual time for the reverse mortgage industry, the country and the world. How does it change the dynamic working remotely from the headquarters since I understand you’re based in Texas while the rest of the company is in California?
It’s interesting because I noted earlier that I worked for Genesis Financial Solutions. I went to work with Genesis, when the world fell apart. It was really funny. I recall the day I was in Portland, Oregon, interviewing with them, and it was early March 2020. It was the day that I went to the airport that evening that I saw in the news everything being updated every two minutes: COVID this, COVID that and people were in abject panic. I remember going to the airport that evening, watching the boards read “canceled, canceled, canceled.” It was a bit of a Planes, Trains and Automobiles moment for me getting home before I finally got back in the middle of the night.
When I started with Genesis a few weeks later, it was remote work from day one. So I recall in that time being on Zoom meetings, and very few people would actually do what we’re doing and sit face-to-face, being able to make that visual eye contact and recognize body movements. It’s funny because if you think about my history in the military leading a sniper team, visual contact is important to me! I like to know what I’m seeing and with whom I’m speaking. So, it was really hard for the first couple of months. I [tried to implore people] to get on Zoom. I don’t care about your appearance, I know you’ve got kids running around in the background because they can’t go to school. I just wanted to be able to see and put a name to a face and a voice. Every company in America and around the world has gone through that evolution.
How has that affected things at AAG, as far as what you can see?
It’s interesting because we truly are a nationwide company. We have call centers in several different states, we have distributed retail, we’re spread out across the country. We literally are a nationwide company. I think what’s happened is that our company has evolved very quickly. I was very impressed. When I came here, I saw another level as far as how people had adopted work from home.
Look for the next part of our interview with Ed Robinson soon, and read part 1.