Former Senator and longtime actor Fred Thompson is no stranger to the reverse mortgage industry. He’s the spokesman behind a multimillion dollar advertising campaign run by American Advisors group and has become a familiar face to lenders and borrowers alike.
What some may not know about Sen. Thompson: He wasn’t initially sold on reverse mortgages. And, today his mother has one.
We sat down with Sen. Thompson to hear his thoughts on reverse mortgage advertising and why—from his point of view—the industry will persevere.
When you were initially approached about joining AAG as spokesman, did you say yes?
I didn’t say yes immediately because I seldom to say yes to anything immediately. I didn’t know much about the reverse mortgage industry and I didn’t know anything about AAG. That really started the process of my doing due diligence, as far as the nature of the industry, the types of things they wanted me to do, the nature of the TV spots and things like that. Frankly, I was in negotiations with another company in a different industry and decided to go with the AAG opportunity instead.
We understand your mother has a reverse mortgage. What was the process behind her getting one? Did you think it was a good idea at the time?
My mother asked me about it first. She watches the commercials, and she called me. She still calls to tell me when she has seen me on TV, even if it’s in a movie I did 15 years ago. In this case, she was interested in the option for herself. She doesn’t like any more help than she absolutely has to have, so she asked me, “What about this thing you talk about on TV? How does it work?”
One thing led to another, and we wound up going that route. Now she’s much more independent than before and I was able to go through the process and all of the documentation with her. It’s difficult to understand until you go through it yourself. In the process, I was interested in the nature of the government involvement, HUD and that sort of thing. I also learned about the counseling process and procedures.
Did you find anything you weren’t happy with?
I knew that in times passed, there had been some bumps in the road with people trying to sell annuities as part of reverse mortgage packages and other things that were frowned upon. But I learned about the differences between then and now. Since that time, I’ve had a chance to attend meetings and conferences in order to meet people in the industry and those who are invested. It gives an additional level of pride and comfort.
You endorse reverse mortgages for AAG. Why did you choose this product and not some other product or service geared toward older Americans such as senior living or pharmaceuticals?
I didn’t sit down and say: “Let me pursue an endorsement contract.” I’ve had people contact me from time to time, and I don’t think of myself as particularly geared toward the elderly. It was the opportunity that made the most sense to me. It was a business deal, but I wouldn’t have done that business deal had I not been sold on the product.
What do you think of Washington’s opinion of reverse mortgages is in this political climate?
Not much. Only joking. Seriously, this isn’t a partisan thing. Politicians, to a fault sometimes, like to focus on the present. But at present these are difficult times. We’ll come out of these times the way we always have, but nobody is going to mess with something that provides an opportunity for someone to take from what they have owned and built in their lifetimes.
As for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, there’s a lot of uncertainty about it. There are rules only at the stage being formulated in the dark recesses in the minds of bureaucrats. Not just for this industry, but for practically everything. We’re not going to know yet what they’re going to try to do to any of the financial services industries.
As part-owner of a reverse mortgage company, what are the challenges you see this industry facing?
It’s postured to be able to provide a service regardless of the ups and downs of the economy. In good times, people may see an opportunity to pay off their mortgage. In difficult times, people need the equity out of their home, whether to care for a loved one or some other purpose.
It makes no sense to a lot of people to sit on the equity in their home in times like this if they can get something comparable with the value in these down times. From a very objective business standpoint, it’s an industry that is well postured.
What’s the biggest misperception about the product that you find yourself correcting among friends or family?
Well there hasn’t been any misperception since my ads have been running.
Of course not!
Seriously, though, I don’t get much of that. Some people nay not been exactly clear on retention of ownership until they die or sell the home, and that’s something that might be misunderstood, but only by someone who has not looked into the product at all.
When will we see you next on-screen?
Probably on a reverse mortgage commercial….
No, really, I have a couple of things in the can. Releasing now is The Last Ride, the story of Hank Williams. It’s directed by Harry Thomason. Another project with Ethan Hawk will be out later this year.
And we will see you in San Antonio for the NRMLA conference later this year, too. Any hint as to what you’ll say there?
Those decisions are best left to be made on the back of an envelope on the airplane….
In all seriousness, I think most people will be interested in hearing about something that is interesting to all citizens right now: politics this year.
Written by Elizabeth Ecker