Finance of America Reverse (FAR) on Wednesday announced the creation of a new “Borrower Engagement” division, giving the lender’s reverse mortgage customers access to a dedicated team of professionals that will help to provide more personalized support and guidance to borrowers for issues related to their reverse mortgage as well as for personal milestones and disruptions that they may have over the life of a loan.
Work on creating the new division reportedly began over two years ago, focused on providing more personalized attention to borrowers of the lender’s proprietary reverse mortgage product suite, HomeSafe. It was initially found that HomeSafe borrowers required more personal attention in being guided through a loan’s servicing process, which has led the team to grow from a group of five in 2019 to a team of 25 in 2021.
For additional insight into creating the new division, RMD sat down with Jill Portilla, VP of borrower engagement at FAR to learn more about how the team will be deployed for FAR and its customers.
Why a dedicated division is needed
Traditional means of engaging borrowers after origination can work for many people, Portilla says, but the need to create a dedicated team of experts to address issues that specific borrowers may have became quickly apparent.
“Traditional servicing can tend to be narrowly-focused and often has a limited scope of assistance offered to the borrower,” Portilla tells RMD. “We believe that the relationship with the borrower only starts, not ends, at the signing of the loan. Throughout the entire loan relationship, borrowers and their families can contact a representative in the division to ask questions, get help with processing forms, receive reminders for deadlines, and assist with everything from vendors for home improvements, to liaising with estate heirs once the assets are passed on.”
This allows members of the division to act as something of a concierge to HomeSafe borrowers, Portilla says, and can facilitate creative solutions when necessary to ensure a loan remains in good standing. From the borrower’s perspective, engagement can come in the form of creating more continuity between servicing and origination, Portilla says.
“As more and more people learn about the Borrower Engagement Division, they are leaning on us to help with issues post-funding,” she explains. “Loan officers are calling into our toll-free number or emailing us for help with setting up Automated Clearing House (ACH), urgent line of credit (LOC) requests and/or life expectancy set-aside (LESA) questions, just to name a few. Borrower Engagement is helping to bridge the gap between originations and servicing that often develops in traditional set-ups.”
To put it into greater context, Portilla explained that the division could help present the difference between different methods of walking someone through any process that requires the execution of forms or engagement with any financial instrument.
“Think something like a question about a statement, or helping them fill out forms, or talking to someone one-on-one about how a life event will impact their finances—important conversations that provide additional context and peace of mind,” she says. “We also provide reminders to ensure borrowers don’t miss deadlines, and we check in with them on special occasions. Our division prides itself in being able to provide guidance and assistance from professionals who will get to know the borrower and their families to understand their circumstances better and offer paths to financial wellbeing.”
Proprietary-only for now, engagement with other services
Currently, the efforts of the borrower engagement division will be solely focused on borrowers who have taken out a HomeSafe proprietary reverse mortgage loan. There is not currently a plan to roll the division’s efforts out to borrowers of a Federal Housing Administration (FHA)-sponsored Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM).
“The division laid its groundwork two years ago when it identified a need to ensure that customers of its proprietary HomeSafe suite of products were guided through the entire servicing process by experts,” she said. “It was just a handful of representatives at the start. Since then, we have expanded the team to more than 25 to take on more customers from our other products such as EquityAvail. There are pilot programs to reach HECM borrowers but we have not expanded to full concierge service for those loans. As the division grows, we will assess our ability to increase capacity and more fully include borrowers from our other offerings.”
One other component that the division will be able to oversee is potential connections with other services at the larger Finance of America (FOA) organization and partnerships that FAR itself has previously engaged.
“Around the one-year mark of the loan, we will check in with the borrower to discuss the progress of their retirement planning,” she says. “We have a dedicated team that is reaching out to the FAR HECM portfolio, and we contact borrowers to let them know we are here to help with solutions. Based on that conversation, we can identify possible points of need for borrowers and assess which solutions fit their situation.”
Specifically, this could include services such as the recently-launched Finance of America Home Improvement (FOAHI) vertical or a partnership with Silvernest, the roommate matching and home-sharing company aimed primarily at baby boomers.
“This is why having access to a representative for the duration of the loan is so vital to the borrower,” she says. “At any given moment, your circumstances may change and you need to talk to someone familiar with your loan and offer sound advice by presenting viable options that can alleviate the stress promptly.”
Cost and partner loan access
When it comes to creating additional costs, Portilla noted that the borrowers themselves will not see any impact on their loan’s pricing structure resulting from the availability of these additional services.
“We are pleased to note that there is no additional cost to the borrower for taking advantage of the Borrower Engagement Division,” she explains. “This service is included free-of-charge with the loan, and for the entire life of the loan. We are committed to being a source of help to our customers and to not adding to their financial burdens. At FAR, we know that the process of taking on a mortgage can be stressful and a lot to manage. However, with the right kind of support, it can be manageable, reassuring, and a weight lifted.”
The division’s services will also be available to loans originating from FAR’s broker partners, so long as it remains on FAR’s non-agency books, she said.
“Our current services are offered to any loan that is in the FAR proprietary portfolio, regardless of where it originated,” she explains. “Therefore, so long as the loan is with us currently, we are more than happy to be of assistance. We are committed to lending our expertise and guidance to all our customers, working hard to give them a great experience being a part of FAR, and doing everything we can to ensure they can stay in their homes.”