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Financial Planners More Receptive to Reverse Mortgages During Crisis

A survey of approximately 230 financial planners during a Mutual of Omaha Mortgage and International Retirement Resource Center webinar hosted by Dr. Wade Pfau late last week revealed that 77% of financial planner respondents are more receptive to offering reverse mortgages to their clients in light of the stock market volatility introduced by the ongoing issues of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. This is according to Dr. Pfau, who shared the results of the survey with RMD.

Additionally, reverse mortgage borrowers have increased the levels of their draws from their reverse mortgage lines of credit recently, according to data shared by Celink chairman and CEO Robert Sivori during a “town hall” webinar conducted by the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association (NRMLA).

Reverse mortgages have often been cited by those receptive to their use in the financial planning community as viable products that can be used to avoid sequence of returns risk, where a hypothetical borrower instead chooses to draw on the reverse mortgage while their investment portfolio endures volatility due to the conditions of the stock market.

Market concerns driving receptivity

In the webinar hosted by Mutual of Omaha Mortgage with the International Retirement Resource Center, “Best Practices for Retirement Income,” many different elements related to retirement financing were discussed including the difference between the accumulation and distribution phases of retirement planning and understanding retirement risks in the current climate. The webinar was planned prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus, but had added relevance to the retirement conversation in light of the pandemic.

In regards to the response to reverse mortgages, Pfau discussed what reverse mortgages could bring to a retirement portfolio but polled his audience of financial planners about their receptivity to them well before he actually began the reverse mortgage segment of his presentation.

“The webinar covered many different topics, and we asked the question before I discussed reverse mortgages,” Pfau tells RMD. “I was a bit surprised that the number [of receptive financial planners] was so high.”

Much of this reverse mortgage receptivity is likely fueled by the anxieties currently inherent in financial markets. The market has continued to exhibit volatility even in spite of additional unprecedented action on the part of the Federal Reserve, which said it would buy as much federal government-backed debt as it needs to in order to ensure that financial markets continue to function, according to the New York Times.

The current market volatility likely creates even more concerns on the part of people who are at or near retirement in the current climate, so those who manage the assets of people in this situation are likely looking at more options to protect portfolios, Pfau says.

“I think there is a lot of concern about the impact of these market declines and the low interest rates on near retirees,” Pfau says. “And so, we are seeing more advisors being willing to consider ‘outside the box’ thinking to address these challenges.”

Additionally, Pfau’s work on reverse mortgages was also recently cited by Jeffrey Levine, CFP and director of advisor education for Kitces.com, when discussing that a reliable source of capital for a senior in times of financial stress can often be the home.

“Notably, there are a variety of ways in which homeowners may be able to unlock some of the equity in their homes,” Levine writes. “For instance, spurred on by research, including that conducted by Wade Pfau, some planners have encouraged eligible clients to secure line-of-credit style reverse mortgages on their home to help mitigate sequence-of-return risk and to avoid selling assets during significant market drops (like this one!).”

Reverse mortgage, LOC draws increase

When briefing industry professionals on patterns observed in reverse mortgage draw activity, Celink chairman and CEO Robert Sivori asked for a quick report on borrowers’ activity in drawing from their reverse mortgages, and related that there was an increase in activity of over 50%. 

“Week over week, if you look at the week ending [March] 13 versus the week ending March 20, we saw a 55% increase in the number of draws, it went to 1,055 draws,” Sivori said. “From the previous week, it was 720. And then the increase in the size of the draws […] we had a 14% increase. It was 8.7 million as of last Friday. The previous week and before that, it was 4.9 million. So, [the size of the draws has almost doubled].”

Draws on reverse mortgage lines of credit have also seen notable increases, Sivori said.

“And then we also are seeing […] some line of credit draws, the standby lines of credit, where some borrowers who had no balance or very little balance, maybe just the closing costs were on there — $3,000 — that did a full draw of $615,000 on that and they’re using it the way it was intended to be used,” Sivori said. “And by the way, these numbers fit January over February, as well. So, it’s been an increasing slope here on the draws being pulled down.”

Reputational issues remain powerful

In terms of the data shared by Pfau, while the 77% figure of those more receptive to reverse mortgages is a clear majority, the remaining advisers who did not answer in the affirmative to Pfau’s question are likely still influenced by their previous perceptions of reverse mortgages, Pfau says.

“For the other 23% [who did not express reverse mortgage receptivity], I do not know why they answered that way,” Pfau says. “But I suppose that it is still the impact of the built-in bias against reverse mortgages that has been part of the conventional wisdom for years.”

Reputational and educational concerns about reverse mortgage products have been a key issue that many in the industry have contended with for some time. In December 2019, RMD conducted a survey of its readers that garnered responses from more than 330 reverse mortgage industry participants, and a combined 62% of respondents expressed that the biggest challenges in the industry remain negative product perception and lack of product awareness among consumers.

To combat that, nearly half of respondents said that their own growth efforts in 2020 will revolve around refined marketing and consumer education practices.

Negative product perceptions among consumers still account for the biggest industry challenge, according to over a third of RMD survey respondents. A general lack of product awareness, which correlates with a low participation rate for reverse mortgages among seniors, is the next top challenge according to the same respondents.