There are a couple longstanding debates in the reverse mortgage business. One is loan originator specialization, whether a lender or broker shop should have dedicated reverse LOs, or “converted” forward mortgage professionals. There’s also ongoing debate about how to market to seniors as they gradually adapt to changing tech. Alec Hanson, CMO of loanDepot, thinks about these issues often.
When it comes to specialization, Hanson describes taking an approach that is dictated by the individual professional themselves and what they want to devote their time and attention to. Meanwhile, marketing reverse mortgages comes down to expanding education around the product and its potential utility, and meeting seniors where they are, which increasingly includes social media platforms.
Loan officers determine their own course
Specialization is a hot topic of discussion among reverse mortgage lenders. Some say there are clear benefits to maintaining a pool of specialists, while others say that offering a path into reverse from forward is critical to expanding the industry’s ranks. It need not be a binary choice, Hanson said.
“We believe that [if] some originators want to expand their experience into reverse and they want to diversify their ability to offer solutions, we have that solution here,” he said. “So they can come in, they can get certified through our process. We have subject matter experts like Lisa Moriello, who can help them if they have issues. They can enhance their ability to produce here by hybridizing and finding new solutions.”
That’s only one option, however, as Hanson says an LO can always employ a “referral-type” strategy and hand a loan off to a dedicated specialist if they feel it calls for that kind of specific attention.
“I love niche specialists in reverse because some people just have a heart for it,” Hanson said. “They’re just like, ‘this matters to me, this is changing lives and this is impacting people,’ so they choose to go all in on it. […] We try to have an open playing field for people, but we also want to make sure we have enough support to provide to anybody.”
That way, the LO in question can decide based on the merits of the case in front of them, Hanson explained. They can choose to hand it off to a specialist if they require the extra confidence to know that the loan will get done, or they can choose to expand their own base of knowledge about reverse mortgages and add it to their own repertoire.
Education remains key
Getting to that point, however, requires the borrower in question to fully understand and be enthusiastic about the product in the first place, which goes back to the perennial issue of borrower education. Hanson is very aware of the challenges in the reverse space.
“There’s a stigma on [reverse mortgages] still as it’s been misused in the past, and [the product was] not necessarily as structured as it is now,” he said. “We’re coming at it with both those things. Part of that stigma is [people worried they will be] taken advantage of, [thinking] the bank’s going to take the house. There are all these misconceptions, so from a simplistic standpoint, it really comes down to how we are going to educate the community that needs the education.”
The difference that loanDepot can make in terms of its own reverse mortgage operation is through its well-established distributed retail channel, Hanson said. That places the impetus on the company to educate its loan officer corps as much as possible, who can then take that information into the various local communities they serve.
“Empowering those loan officers to go bring it to their local community, in a way to meet the people where they’re at,” he said. “In the community centers, [bring the right information to] those areas where they can then find their friends and family that may need it. That’s a huge marketing strategy for us: empowering local talent.”
Don’t sleep on social media
On top of that, more traditional avenues including direct mail campaigns and the increasingly important social media component remains crucial for informing seniors about the product in the areas they will see, he said. Despite evidence to the contrary, certain people continue to believe that social media is an ineffective method for reaching seniors in the U.S., but Hanson sees it differently.
“Social media is emerging dramatically with older adults,” he said. “The joke now is that Facebook is for older adults, Instagram’s for the next-gen and then TikTok [is for younger people].”
If anything, that illustrates the ubiquity social media has over a large swath of the population including seniors, but the choice of which platform to target becomes more relevant based on demographic data, he said. In any event, access to online information is widely available, and that’s something the reverse mortgage business needs to account for.
“Everyone’s getting into social more and more,” he said. “The trend is just like a rocket ship [upward]. So, finding out how to get on those platforms and strategically advertise and educate with open hands, [and] giving people information that empowers them to make great decisions whether it’s with loanDepot or on their own [is key].”