Melissa Macerato worked in financial services for years before she encountered the reverse mortgage business in 2007.
“I had never heard of it,” she said in an interview with RMD.
Since then, she’s gotten reverse lending operations off the ground, climbed the industry ladder and now leads revenue and marketing for Longbridge Financial.
To chart the path Macerato took into the reverse mortgage business, we sat down with her for a discussion about what led her to reverse, what keeps her there, and how the business is shaping up at the end of 2022 and into 2023.
Jumping into reverse mortgages
Macerato got her start at a company called MBNA America, which was later folded into Bank of America. She went through a management development program and went on to work for companies such as GE Capital and MetLife.
In 2001, while at MetLife, Macerato was tasked with helping to start a new banking division at the company after the purchase of a local bank charter. She jumped between different divisions to help get the banking side of things off the ground, including a large online marketing presence for MetLife while the internet’s implementation into Americans’ financial lives was still in its infancy.
By 2007, leadership had decided that retirement was another area of focus and expansion, bringing the reverse mortgage topic to Macerato’s attention for the first time, she said.
“They came to the bank — because it’s a mortgage and fits within the bank — and at the time I was in marketing. They asked me to head up this initiative, and of course, I said, ‘Sure.’ That’s when I started doing a ton of research, working with other senior people in MetLife on the insurance side of the business, and we started exploring the product.”
At that point, the company decided to enter the reverse mortgage arena and Macerato oversaw the hiring of loan officers and an underwriter. That’s when she helped locate Everbank Reverse Mortgage, which MetLife would go on to acquire in 2008. Working up-close with the reverse mortgage division, Macerato requested to be moved there.
“At that point, I said I wanted to formally move into the division,” she said. “And so, I was the national sales manager. We began rolling out a large national program, and the rest is history there. But many people don’t know that I was with MetLife before I even started the reverse mortgage business.”
Still, it wasn’t until she started to hear borrower and employee testimonials that Macerato says she found a greater desire to devote herself to that product and industry.
“Honestly, I didn’t know much [about the product] at all,” she says of the time she first began her journey in the business. “Until I started doing the research at MetLife Bank. And then, I started to talk and interview loan officers, and that was really where I started to get the hook. One of the first initiatives we undertook at MetLife when we were kicking the tires there was consumer and borrower research.”
That research initiative brought another important side to the forefront of her reverse mortgage perceptions, she explained: borrower satisfaction.
“To sit behind the curtain and hear all these real borrowers who had done a reverse mortgage talk about how it changed their lives and how it helped them, I was really hooked,” she said. “And so, I quickly got indoctrinated into the program and immersed myself. Having to start a business in that area, it was really important that I understood everything.”
Pivoting to a new path in financial services is never easy, but it may have been made a little easier by Macerato’s own desire for a new challenge.
“What I was doing within the bank were the same old types of things,” she said. “And this was new, it was different, it was exciting. I was running an online bank on the marketing side at the time, so it was doing advertising and things like that. So, to begin to meet and talk to and work with loan officers and understand how we were helping people — [along with] just the creativity of the product and the innovation — was really just what I found fascinating.”
It also allowed her to get back to her “roots” in working with salespeople.
The beginning of Longbridge
In 2012, a group of former New York Life employees started the planning stages of a standalone reverse mortgage business that aimed to offer both Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) and proprietary reverse mortgage products in what was described as a “socially responsible” way.
While this was happening, Macerato was shuttering the reverse mortgage business at MetLife when she began speaking with Chris Mayer about the possibility of jumping to a new endeavor.
“MetLife had to get out of the banking business, they had to get out of the mortgage business. So, it had nothing to do with the reverse mortgage product,” she says. “It had more to do with the too-big-to-fail rules that were encroaching on MetLife. They actually loved the product. And so, it was then that I decided I had had a long, successful career at MetLife, but I decided that I wanted to stay in the reverse mortgage business.”
Staying within the MetLife organization after the closure of the reverse mortgage business was an option. Macerato could have gone onto another division, or spoken to prior bosses she had good professional relationships with. Instead, she followed what she was passionate about.
“And before I even finished my time at MetLife — I was helping to shutter the business — I connected with Chris [Mayer], and I met with him about Longbridge. So, I really had no downtime in that endeavor. I was still at the closing of MetLife when I got introduced to Chris.”
Shortly after Longbridge was revealed to the reverse mortgage industry, the company hired Macerato from MetLife to serve as VP of sales and marketing.
Listen to the full conversation with Melissa Macerato on the latest episode of The RMD Podcast.