The reverse mortgage industry is far more focused on consulting and walking customers through the specifics of a particular loan than its traditional, forward counterpart. Because of that, the dynamics of the customer experience — and what makes it good or bad — are often hotly debated by professionals who wish to provide seniors a personal, fulfilling experience.
The evolving dynamics of the customer experience was at the center of a recent panel discussion at the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association (NRMLA) Eastern Regional Meeting in Baltimore, Md.
The panel included Open Mortgage Director of Reverse Mortgage Sales Patty Wills, HomeChex President Mark Browning, Longbridge Financial Senior Account Executive Ken Sawan and Atlantic Coast Mortgage Reverse Division Manager Neil Sweren, who all offered their thoughts about how to best fulfill the experiential needs of reverse mortgage borrowers.
Defining a good customer experience
Wills began the conversation by asking the panel their thoughts on what constitutes customer experiences, and what sets good ones apart from bad ones. Browning began by describing what a good experience looks like, and how oftentimes that can be visibly seen as getting a referral source from a closed loan.
“I think that’s, as you’ve all seen, a model of best progress,” he explains. “One of the best compliments you can pay me is by giving me some [additional] business. I think that really holds true to reverse, especially in dealing with the population we do.”
Sawan also described how a good experience becomes better when paired with good incoming education, but also a holistic overview for the borrower of what to expect after closing.
“It starts at immediate perceptions and information the consumer receives before you even get a chance to talk to them,” he says. “The quality of that matters a lot. I think that’s improved quite a bit over the years, but then as you go through the process for the consumer, it gives you an idea of how you approach the origination speech.”
Still, there is not enough conversation now about how borrowers are affected after closing and through servicing, Sawan says.
“We need to talk with consumers more about what to expect throughout the process,” he explains. “Servicing and including your duties and obligations as a reverse mortgage broker, those types of things, we tend to focus only on origination. But we really need to pay attention to customer experience before we even see the consumer, as well as after they leave us. Because we will use a very long period of time facing services.”
Involving family members: the good and the bad
For Sweren, a key component o a good customer experience is the involvement of a borrower’s family members, he says.
“People [ask] me what is different about a reverse mortgage compared to a traditional loan,” he says. “When you think about what happens when a traditional mortgage borrower gets in trouble and gets foreclosed on, society looks at what the circumstances were surrounding that scenario: it might’ve been a job or a spouse, things happen. With a reverse mortgage, we’re always looking at what the product is, no one’s really looking at the scenario.”
This means that the customer experience inevitably has to involve family members, since that built-in support system a borrower has can help to reinforce the strength of the loan sometimes years after-the-fact, he explains.
“I find that customer experience has to involve extended family members, and really having the best possible open communication that we can have,” he says. “That way, when things do change 5-15 years from now, our borrowers may not remember what they did, or what their responsibilities are. [Involving family ensures] there’s someone there to help support them. And that’s very much an experience not just about our borrowers, but for their families.”
The product reputation also plays into this component since it can set the tone for conversations with family he adds. Wills took the point on family a bit further based on her experiences.
“I actually think having the family members or an advisor involved is probably perfect in the right family,” she says. Because there are also other times — and I think it’s just a matter of listening to people and having the respect not to assume they want their family involved — because there are plenty of families we deal with that can be a problem.”
One such scenario could be that a borrower may not be thrilled about their family knowing they got a reverse mortgage, because once a certain family member learns about that fact then they might bother the borrower by asking for money, Wills explains.
“Respecting the people and listening to what they say, and going with what works for them is important,” she says. “But, somebody needs to know at the end of the line.”
Look for more from the panels at NRMLA East on RMD soon.