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How Fairway’s Company Culture Is Fueling its Record Reverse Mortgage Growth

Like most lenders, top-10 reverse mortgage lender Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation has seen increasing levels of business during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. But there’s more to the story than simply new demand, says National Reverse Mortgage Director Harlan Accola. In addition to economic factors felt across the industry and U.S., Accola attributes to new interest in the product and a company culture at Fairway always aimed at new growth.

The reverse mortgage industry seemed to prepare for the worst in the early days of COVID-19, but have been seeing a different scenario than the one they prepared for actually play out: based on both anecdotal evidence and performance metrics like Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) endorsements and HECM-backed Securities (HMBS) issuance, the reverse mortgage business appears to be getting a fresh look by many senior consumers.

Harlan Accola

This is an occurrence that is very visible to Accola. It’s also one that both he and his company take very seriously, since a reverse mortgage is designed to help provide relief specifically for a demographic that has been hit hard by the ongoing effects of the pandemic. Leveraging the positive aspects of business driven by the pandemic and relying on a determined company culture and the people who help drive it are key elements to staying competitive in the current reverse mortgage landscape, according to Accola in an interview with RMD.

Business is up, and expectations remain high

At Fairway, the occurrence of the pandemic has proven to have a positive impact on the levels of business that the company is seeing in its reverse mortgage division overall, but that positive business impact has been tempered by some of the other difficulties that the pandemic has created from an operational standpoint, Accola says.

“[Business has been] positive, despite all the hassle factors like sending 45 people [in our division] to work at home,” Accola says. “All 7,700 of our people were basically sent home throughout the organization, and then specifically our core group of people that do the processing, support and everything else. All the ops people were sent home. And so, there were challenges from an infrastructure and operational standpoint. But overall, the sales have gone up and we’re doing more closings now than we were last year at this time.”

Accola was also quick to praise the operations manager of Fairway’s reverse mortgage division, Kari Van Kleef, for coordinating the necessary details to ensure the company remained successful in spite of the pandemic’s disruptions to the regular workflow.

“Kari did a great job of coordinating the efforts of all 45 ops people from home, all while we were doing the largest volume months in our history at the same time,” Accola says.

That’s not to say that the increase in business was high enough to exceed expectations, however, considering the new financial hardship that many American seniors are now facing that stems from the pandemic.

“This is just something that more people should be doing when uncertainty like this comes along,” Accola says. “It’s not about trying to take advantage of the problem, but being there to help. I’d written some articles for NASDAQ saying that this is a cure. This is a vaccine to the financial virus.”

Still, Fairway’s reverse division has become visibly busier, he says. Considering the amount of people who age into the demographic every day, though, things should likely be even busier, he says.

“It’s been good. I’m just still waiting for people being lined up out the door because 10,000 people a day are turning 62, so we should be doing at least 5,000 [loans for] them,” he says. “So I’ve been patient for a long time because more people should be doing this, especially in a time like this.”

Standing out through company culture

Fairway’s status as a top 10 reverse mortgage lender nationwide is fueled primarily by the company’s culture, according to Accola. That culture — which extends beyond the reverse mortgage division — sees the leadership team constantly challenging the company to do better, and to deal with scaling its operations to meet its broader goals pertaining to loan volume, Accola says.

“We’ve got a pretty unique culture,” Accola says. “Our leadership constantly challenges us to think differently, to do better and to compete with what can be done rather than [simply competing] with other companies. That culture is just built-in. We ask ourselves that if we did 1,000 loans, why aren’t we doing 2000? Or, what if there was 10 times as much volume? How would you handle it? That thought process is everywhere at Fairway.”

Asking how the company can do better and, at the end of the day how it can serve a greater number of people is a big part of the company culture, and it was that culture that attracted the company’s new national reverse marketing specialist Timothy Harder to join Fairway in the first place.

“Looking at developments and what’s going on with reverse mortgages and the economy, it was easy to see what I would call a blue ocean of opportunity coming down the pipe with reverse mortgages,” Harder told RMD in a recent interview. “I felt that the timing was right to get into the mortgage business. And so I did my due diligence, and my research in looking at several different companies. Fairway was at the top of my list.”

The addition of Harder to the team has led to more people giving Fairway a more thorough look, Accola says.

“In light of Tim Harder, other people have seen what’s cool about Fairway and they’ve joined us,” Accola says. “I just talked to a guy this morning and he told me that he was with another company in the space, but has been watching Fairway and wants to work here. It’s not unusual for me to get calls from people that tell me they’re leaving their company, and that their first choice for a new company is Fairway. That’s the biggest advantage that we have: our people. We’ve got a lot of good people here.”