While only about three times the size of Rhode Island, Puerto Rico could be the location of one of the largest reverse mortgage lenders in the United States if David Levis, CEO of Moneyhouse, has his way.
Born in Puerto Rico, Levis came to the U.S. for college, attending Penn State University and then obtained a law degree from John Marshall Law in Chicago. After finishing up his law degree, Levis came back to Puerto Rico and got involved in the mortgage business.
Levis purchased the company in 2007 when it was a one branch mortgage company based in Cayey, P.R. Since the acquisition, Moneyhouse has added seven branches and closed over 5,800 loans totaling over $750 million, he says. Today, the company employs 85 people in Puerto Rico and is making plans to expand operations into the U.S.
The decision to expand was something Levis had always considered, but seeing major lenders like Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and most recently MetLife, leave the industry presented the perfect opportunity. “The idea to come to the States was as a result of [the bank exits]. There is tons of business to be done,” he says.
MoneyHouse recently received approval to originate in Florida and plans to open an office in the Sunshine state and employ about 10 people there. For the time being though, Levis says the company will handle the retail business from Puerto Rico because he has a few originators that are already licensed.
Florida has a significant hispanic population and many of have family connections to Puerto Rico. Of its 18.8 million total residents, the state’s population comprises 4.2 million Latinos, according to 2010 Census data. Of those, 17% are in the 65+ age bracket.
“The idea is to go into Florida and open a [wholesale and retail] office and learn about the market,” Levis says. “Already in cities like Orlando, we have clients from there who trust us to do business.”
Until Moneyhouse, no reverse mortgage lender has invested heavily in the Hispanic marketplace in the U.S. and it’s surprising considering it’s the fastest growing aging population according to the Census Bureau. Projections from the agency estimate that the elderly Hispanic population of those 65 and older will grow from 2.9 million in 2010 to 13.8 million by 2050.
At that time, Hispanics will make up 20% of the elderly population, up from 7% in 2010.
Even with a strong presence in Puerto Rico, the brand equity doesn’t necessarily transfer over into the States. To help with the transition, the company signed Salsa star Gilberto Santa Rosa as its company spokesperson, employing his large hispanic following in Puerto Rico and the U.S.
At 49 years old, Santa Rosa is significantly younger than the traditional reverse mortgage spokesman seen in the States and is the first to come from the music industry. Levis told RMD not to expect him to run a campaign the might resemble some of the more traditional spokesmen the industry is used to seeing.
Santa Rosa is close to the reverse mortgage product; his father obtained one from Moneyhouse and Levis says this is important, because in the hispanic community it’s critical for the children of potential clients to understand and approve of their parents’ obtaining a reverse mortgage.
“That is why the “kitchen table” way of originating reverse mortgages in the Hispanic community is important,” he says. “We urge the entire family to learn and understand the product, so that they can help their parents make the right decision.”
The strategy has served Levis well in Puerto Rico, being the second largest lender and originating 416 loans in 2012 according to data from Reverse Market Insight. Over the history of the company, it has originated more reverse mortgage loans than any other company, with more than 2,700 being endorsed, says Levis. Whether the company will have the same success stateside isn’t clear, but Levis is confident and there have been some positive signs already.
After launching the campaign with Santa Rosa in April, the company saw firsthand how Moneyhouse’s brand can carry into the States. On Facebook, the commercial received more than 10,000 likes from customers who didn’t know anything about Moneyhouse previously.
“Only 1,000 were from Puerto Rico; the rest were from the States,” he says. Florida is the first step for Moneyhouse, where it plans to operate both wholesale and retail operations. The company recently hired Sandy Tennekoon to run its U.S. expansion, where it plans to aggressively build wholesale in Puerto Rico first and then the ‘States.
The next step will be to expand, but Levis doesn’t have any plans to open up offices in too many states initially. Instead, he wants to target areas where there are significant hispanic populations.
“[Taking] baby steps is important for us. We really want to take the success from what we’ve built in Puerto Rico and transfer it to the ‘States,” he says. If all goes as planned, reverse mortgages in the U.S. could be its largest areas of business.
“Eventually it will likely be more than we do in Puerto Rico, but I’d like it to be 50/50 at the end of the first year,” he says.