The reverse mortgage industry is preparing to convene next week in Atlanta, Ga. for the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association (NRMLA) Annual Meeting and Expo, the first such in-person event held in three years. The business at large has gone through a lot of changes since that event in Nashville, most notably a boom period stemming from a global pandemic that many industry professionals likely could never have predicted.
That boom period — fueled by a precipitous rise in reverse mortgage refinances — has largely subsided, but a new period of challenge is taking place related to macroeconomic factors, inflation, and high rates. As these factors define the backdrop the industry is currently operating in, the return of the NRMLA Annual meeting comes as industry professionals are aiming to shape their business reactions to the operating environment.
To get a better understanding of the event and what the association aims to bring to its attendees, RMD sat down with NRMLA President Steve Irwin to go over the programming, the format, and other details about what people can expect from the event.
RMD: How are you and the association feeling just generally about the first in-person NRMLA Annual Meeting in three years?
Steve Irwin: Oh, I’m feeling very positive about it. This is something that I am really looking forward to, and I know that a lot of our staff, our executive committee, and the Board is looking forward to getting together with a national event there in Buckhead.
What intangibles would you say were lost by the necessity of virtual Annual Meetings that you’re looking forward to getting back, both for yourself and for attendees?
The key is the unanticipated opportunities that present themselves to learn what our members are hoping we can do better [as an industry], and what our attendees might learn from each other in terms of how they might advance this industry forward. It’s a time for positive feedback and constructive criticism that you can get in the lounge at a reception in-between sessions, which leads to unanticipated opportunities that were lost through the virtual platforms.
Were there any lessons that you think were learned by moving to the virtual format that you’re able to bring to the in-person format, or are they just too separate to be interchangeable?
Virtual events required us to sharpen our focus, and I think that’s something that we’re carrying through now as we get ready for this event in Atlanta.
For returning attendees who were there in Nashville, would you say that the experience this year will be comparable to the format of that event? Or, should attendees expect certain things to be different?
That’s a complicated question. Structurally, we’ve got general sessions and breakout sessions, etc., and that’s just the frame from which we operate. We’ve made a concerted effort with programming, and developed a little ad hoc programming working group that we’ve pulled together in advance of this event. We’ve made a concerted effort to invite more outside speakers and presenters and ancillary topics that while are critically important for our attendees to grasp, may seem tangential to the reverse mortgage space.
What are some examples of that?
Just having Thomas Drapala in from the National Association of Registered Social Security Analysts speaking about Social Security, and the opportunities in the interplay of reverse mortgages to social security strategies that senior homeowners may want to consider, and imparting that knowledge. Having Lon Fuentes, who is an acclaimed strategy consultant and business coach, offer his insights to improving performance and reaching life goals is pretty important.
And Sarah Bolling Mancini from National Consumer Law Center will be speaking about trends that they are seeing, and how that may tie back to the industry. And even Tim Root will be moderating members of our executive committee on forward-looking approaches to the industry. Tim is a fantastic speaker and head of government relations there at SitusAMC, and I’m thrilled that he’s participating. So that changes things up a little bit.
What else in that respect are you looking forward to?
Of course, we have a new FHA Commissioner, Julia Gordon, and this is the first time this commissioner is speaking to our attendees and the HECM space, and the role that this plays within the administration’s strategies. That is going to absolutely be insightful and important. In that regard, I think people should expect to see a little change.
Would you say that one of those sessions is what you’re most excited about bringing to attendees this year, or do some other ones come to mind?
I think we have a strong program. Of course, I am very interested in the commissioner’s remarks. I’m very much interested in hearing — for the first time in quite a while — members of our technology committee speak to developments and paths forward through a variety of technology platforms and what is needed at an industry level from a technology standpoint to help this industry become more mainstream.
I also want to highlight that we have a couple of HMBS committee chairs speaking to trends and offering insights into the secondary markets, which are playing a more and more critical role. As we see our members’ experience change, a lot of this is secondary market-driven, and I’m really looking forward to providing the opportunity for our attendees to get a better grasp on how these markets function and the implications for our members’ business models.
A lot of protocols related to the COVID-19 pandemic have been lifted particularly at the local level. Is there anything you want to communicate to attendees about the ongoing issues related to the pandemic as it relates to the event?
There are no specific protocols we’re putting in place, but people need to remain diligent. We are not able to, nor are we wanting to, put any restrictions in place. We are trying to do what we can socially outdoors, and we are trying to provide ample space in our room setups. I’m just hoping that people remain diligent and understand that the pandemic’s not over.
The mortgage business broadly is enduring some challenges due to inflation, the economy, and higher rates. How do such challenges affect the utility of an event like NRMLA Annual for industry players?
It certainly enables better dialogue among competitors in terms of the best ways to meet these challenges head-on. There are industry-wide headwinds, but they are not necessarily new. We have cycled through these challenges before, meaning at the macroeconomic level, and we will cycle through this again. Expected rates came off the floor back in the summer, so how does this product provide benefit to the senior homeowners who may need to better enable aging in place, or aging in the right place?
[Attendees can discuss how they] are dealing with these challenges, sharing insights and past experience as well as new approaches. It’s hard, but sharing such experiences and looking at different paths forward, and sharing those amongst competitors is just a good opportunity for our attendees to help weather the storm.
Any final thoughts?
It’s a strong program. Registrations are strong, with over 120 different companies attending, so there’s a huge opportunity to learn and share. But, it’s also important for people to know that you’re also providing an opportunity for collective fun and an opportunity to lift your head up, look forward and socialize like people haven’t been able to do in a long time. So, we hope that the fun element remains strong, too.
RMD will be in attendance at NRMLA Annual next week in Atlanta. Feel free to say hello!