Mahwah, N.J.-based leading reverse mortgage lender and servicer Longbridge Financial announced on Thursday the appointment of mortgage industry veteran Bill Packer to serve as its new chief operating officer, an appointment which will be final pending regulatory approval.
Packer most recently served as the EVP and COO of American Financial Resources, a traditional mortgage company, where he spent nearly seven years in several different capacities. He also spent the previous nine years at Bank of America, first as an EVP and eventually as an SVP and applications programming executive.
This is the latest news regarding Longbridge’s new expansion push, coming off of news earlier this year that investment firm Ellington Financial would be acquiring the company, a deal which currently remains in process. Longbridge also recently launched a new field sales division, appointing an industry veteran to lead it.
Responsibilities, reverse mortgage industry entry
Packer is coming into Longbridge as COO, and is the second individual to serve in the role after co-founder and former president and COO Manjiang Xu left the organization late last year. Packer will work closely with Longbridge’s Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer Melissa Macerato under the purview of CEO Chris Mayer, and will aim to strengthen the company’s technology offerings while streamlining its processes.
Packer is new to the reverse mortgage industry, having primarily worked on the forward side. He sees a unique opportunity with Longbridge, however, particularly as someone who has an interest in serving markets which have often been traditionally underserved.
“At my previous employer, that meant serving veterans, buyers of manufactured homes, low-to-moderate income and first-time homebuyers,” Packer said in an interview with RMD. “People who had had issues with their credit in the past largely due to education loans that they had difficulty repaying, or a medical condition that forced them out of the workforce for some period of time.”
For his next career step, Packer wanted to find ways to serve market segments that may have been overlooked, and in conversations with Mayer he saw such an opportunity to assist seniors in retirement through the reverse mortgage industry, he said.
“Clearly, our senior population has worked their entire lives and they deserve an experience in retirement that they’ve earned,” he says. “The reverse mortgage world is one place where we can assist them in having that kind of experience in their golden years. Not only that, but we can also enable them in many cases to help the next generation either find their first-time home, or to meet educational expenses. The things that grandparents or other relatives can help their grandchildren with.”
Technology, making the reverse mortgage experience easier
For Mayer, bringing aboard someone who is new to the reverse mortgage industry but still comes with a high level of experience in the broader mortgage world is key to expanding the capabilities of the business broadly, and Longbridge specifically. Additionally, Packer’s track record specifically with technology is critical to the goals of Longbridge, he said.
“Having Bill come in is a real positive for us,” Mayer told RMD in an interview. “He’s going to bring a series of things to the table, certainly from technology, process and operational perspectives. Bill brings deep experience having served in senior technology roles at Bank of America and AFR. He was chair of the residential technology committee at the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) and sat on the residential single-family board. You have somebody here who has a lot of deep experience in technology.”
That experience certainly plays into how well he will fit in at Longbridge, Mayer says, particularly as the company is experiencing new growth and a change in ownership.
“Those are important things for us as a company as we’ve grown bigger,” he said. “They’ve heightened the importance of taking advantage of scale. As a company, we have to be able to bring our costs down, to provide better customer service for our clients and for our brokers, and for our loan officers. To be able to make the process of getting a reverse mortgage as seamless as possible while still sitting within the FHA requirements.”
Packer also lauded Macerato, whom he has credited with teaching him the proverbial “ropes” of the reverse mortgage industry, and he will continue to work closely with her while still operating in what he has fund to be a collaborative environment, he said.
“Melissa’s areas are really going to be more on the sales side, where my areas are going to be more on the operations, closing and post-closing servicing side,” Packer explains. “But with that said, I expect that for quite a while to come, she will be a real go-to person and that we’ll be working together on these projects very closely.”
When it comes to the things that Longbridge will look to technology to accomplish, much of it comes down to creating ease and efficiency on the front-end and back-end alike, for both consumers and for partners, Mayer said.
“One of the things that we’ve seen both in traditional mortgages and certainly in reverse is the importance of salespeople in the process,” Mayer said. “I don’t think we see technology as replacing salespeople. What technology should do is the process as efficient as possible for the customer. But, customers still need to interact with salespeople,” he said.
Customers need to be properly educated and given assistance to understand the products as much as they can, Mayer said. That leads to greater consumer confidence and conceivably, more business, he explained.
“So to me, technology enables us to serve our clients better, and that then should be a part of virtually the entire process from start to finish,” he said.
What the industry should know about this move
For Mayer, the appointment of Packer is a message to the industry that Longbridge is continuing to invest in ways to improve the customer experience, he said.
“We’re always looking for the best way we can reach and expand the market for reverse mortgages,” he said. “And that means being able to use technology to get scale and create the seamless experience they need. So for us, that’s really what we’re looking at doing. But also, as a company we want to bring someone in who has strategic ability, experience, and innovative thinking.”
For Packer himself, he wants his new industry to know that customer experience is the best factor to put front-and-center.
“I think as an industry or in government, whichever part of the reverse mortgage world we touch, just keep doing what is in the customer’s best interest,” Packer said. “There is some press in the industry from a really long time ago detailing mistakes that were made when we lost sight of the consumer. That’s the number one, most important thing is to let every decision be driven by their best interest.”
Thinking beyond the immediate moment can help to make a difference in better serving customers, he added.
“I can tell you already during my three days with Longbridge, I’ve been into meetings where a decision was made simply based on what was best for the consumer. That may be suboptimal for the company in the short run, but it’s optimal for the industry and for the company in the long run.”