When top-10 reverse mortgage lender and servicer Longbridge Financial announced the launch of a new field sales channel last month, they also named reverse mortgage industry veteran Melanie Parks as the point person to lead it. Parks joined Longbridge after nine years at industry-leading lender American Advisors Group (AAG) as VP of its national field sales operation in the western region.
Prior to joining AAG, Parks served as the area reverse mortgage sales manager for the western region at the company now known as Liberty Reverse Mortgage, and had branched into Management at Financial Freedom and started at MetLife as a manager in the central west division, respectively, going back to 2003. Like most people involved in the reverse mortgage business, however, she did not take a straight path into it.
In this edition of RMD’s “Origins” feature, we speak with Melanie Parks to chart her path into the reverse mortgage industry, how she sharpened her skills as a loan originator and ultimately what led her into a key leadership position at major lenders in the space.
Early aspirations, a need for change
Melanie Parks saw a lot of potential paths forward for her. She entertained the possibility of following in the footsteps of both her grandfathers and joining the California Highway Patrol, she considered a career in the medical field and, like every young person, had sky-high dreams that made her consider turning her love of speed into a career as a competitive racecar driver. One thing she did know coming out of high school and college, though, is that she loved the pursuit of work.
That led her to a position with national coupon provider Valpak, but a desire for a more visible advancement path and the relentlessness of the sales schedule opened her up to the possibilities of finding new career paths. She found one through an acquaintance that served as a financial advisor, who knew a man named Monte Rose who worked in the reverse mortgage industry.
After her friend encouraged her to look more closely at reverse — which Parks was not totally sure about, citing common misperceptions about the product she had in those days — she decided to meet with Rose, who was preparing to begin a new leadership role at Financial Freedom in 2003. Like with many people, learning more details about the reverse mortgage product helped her relate its capabilities to someone she was close to, she explains.
“I did some research online after meeting with Monte and talking to him about what the job entailed and what he was doing. And the first thing I thought was, ‘my grandmother needs this,’” Parks tells RMD. “She’s a widow, her home is paid off, she has money in the bank and in investments, and she has my grandfather’s pension from the Highway Patrol. She’s doing fine on the surface. If you were to look, she had no debt, no mortgage payment and absolutely looks fine from the outside. But what I knew was that she was not spending any money.”
Her grandmother having a very reserved lifestyle helped her to see the potential possibilities a reverse mortgage could provide for her, which in turn opened her up to the broader possibilities and even her own potential career path in the industry, she says.
“So, that was my first inclination about how [a reverse mortgage] would actually, probably, be great for a lot of people in a lot of different situations,” she says.
On top of that, her discussion with Rose helped paint a picture of opportunity for her own future, she says.
“Looking at the opportunity in the space was one side of it, but the other side of it was that I know how hard I work,” she says. “I’m always going above and beyond, but my compensation was locked in a salaried position. It was never going to be more than that, outside of maybe a raise here and there every year for performance. But my excitement in sales, after speaking with Monte about the opportunity, made clear to me there was no ceiling [in working with him].”
Forging expertise in reverse mortgages
After beginning her time in the industry as a loan officer, Parks spent five years as an area sales manager at Financial Freedom, before moving to western sales management positions at MetLife and the company now known as Liberty Reverse Mortgage, respectively. From there, she went on to begin what would become a nine-year stint at AAG before joining Longbridge to launch that lender’s field sales division earlier this year.
For Parks, maintaining a focus on field sales throughout her career has allowed her to hone and develop her skills further. She also recognizes, though, that beginning her time in the industry as a loan officer gave her a demonstrable advantage in developing her leadership skills and her dedication to the reverse mortgage industry.
“When I first got into this business, I did have my mentor in Monte Rose, and he was a fabulous mentor,” she says. “At the end of the day, though, I still needed to go out and generate business. There weren’t any referrals or leads from the company at that time, since it was before James Garner began doing the advertising for Financial Freedom. So it was really all about going out and building referral sources.”
Pivoting to leadership
Spending time as a reverse mortgage loan officer allowed Parks to set real goals for herself each year, which she met and exceeded in places, and after about five years as an originator she started to set her sights on leadership positions. Her manager gave her the opportunity to advance into field sales, and the new challenges were tough but rewarding, she explains.
“Taking on a leadership role when I’m in my very early 30s at that point, and managing or leading a team of people that are in their 50s, 60s and 70s is a challenge all on its own,” she explains. “You really have to prove yourself. You have to earn the team’s respect and their trust, and they have to know that you are somebody that’s going to add value to them.”
Being a manager and being a leader in the reverse mortgage business are very different things, she says. Management is more specifically process-based in getting the loans to closing, while leadership in this space has a different series of responsibilities.
“Leading is helping people identify opportunities, how to do business better, how to do more business and to either get obstacles out of their way, or remove obstacles so that they can do more with their time,” she says.
Leading is also about reliability, a skill Parks honed as a loan officer with her clients and referral partners, she says.
“As I used to treat my customers and my referral partners back in the day, I’m always there for my team,” she says. “If I don’t answer the phone, I’m going to call you back. I’m going to get back to you as soon as I possibly can. And I’m going to help you resolve what it is that you need to resolve so that you — and we — can succeed.”