Reverse the Mortgage Changemakers: Turning Pandemic Challenges into Opportunities

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has forced businesses around the world to reassess their behavior and meet the needs of customers and employees. The reverse mortgage industry as a whole has generally performed well amid the pandemic, as evidenced by increased total volumes in 2020 and 2021 and some expansions by active reverse mortgage companies.

After sharing the perspective of two 2021 RMD Changemakers, we round out insights into how COVID-19 has changed the reverse mortgage industry with the two remaining members of the class: Kristen Sieffert, President of Finance of America Reverse (FAR), and Fairway Harlan Accola, National Director of Reverse Mortgages for Independent Mortgage Corp. Like the rest of the industry, both companies saw overall volume gains in 2020 and 2021.

FAR also launched new initiatives, including the creation of a new creative multi-faceted campaign with a spokesperson character, as well as the addition of new proprietary product features, including availability for borrowers as young as 55. years in some states. Both Sieffert and Accola express that the pandemic has provided their companies with valuable learning experiences, while also emphasizing for employees and customers the value a reverse mortgage can provide by making aging in place easier.

The resilience of the reverse mortgage industry in evidence

Kristen Sieffert

Echoing a theme she shared with RMD a year prior, Sieffert explained that the resilience of people within the company she leads and its customers has been on full display throughout the pandemic.

“There were definitely times that were really, really stressful,” she says. “And obviously people experienced stress in different ways throughout the period. At FAR, I felt like our team was pulling together in a way that I didn’t think possible, because we were never under this kind of stress before. It was a very beautiful thing to watch unfold.

This was exemplified by employees who, in some cases, put their own concerns aside when given the opportunity to help their colleagues, Sieffert said, which helped strengthen the whole business.

“When you’re pushed to a breaking point, you’re under intense stress,” says Sieffert. “And when you always show up with a smile and find ways to help people, I think that really showed our team that the culture we created was even stronger than we thought.”

Keep in mind the effect on the elderly

For Accola and Fairway, he says he remembered a quote attributed to the American businessman and philanthropist W. Clement Stone: “Every great man, every successful man, whatever his field of activity , has known the magic that resides in these words: all adversity carries the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit.

For Accola, this helps describe the reverse mortgage industry in the midst of COVID-19: it brought initial adversity before giving way to opportunity for both the business as a whole and for customers. looking for ways to change their retirement in light of the new risks.

Harlan Accola

“If COVID has taught me anything, it’s especially among seniors that we’re more important than ever,” Accola said. “[A large share of] the deceased did so in nursing homes. We know this has affected our group of people, our customers, [and we are trying to do] everything we can to keep people out of nursing homes. They can have home care, they can have a home that they can age in place. We are more instrumental [than ever before].”

Sieffert also describes both recognition of the unique situation facing older adults in light of the pandemic, as well as gratitude to employees and customers for the generally beneficial business environment lenders currently find themselves in. reverse mortgages.

“In terms of our demographics, I think [the pandemic] really brought to light the importance of the ability to find ways to age in place,” she says. “I think home has become the hub area for everyone during the pandemic, and do you have a happy home where you can thrive amidst the chaos around you, or are you struggling to make ends meet? »

Reverse mortgage products offered eligible customers a unique opportunity, especially for those who were forced — or felt the need — to leave the workforce sooner than expected, Sieffert says.

High potential for HPA and reverse mortgage

Many of those customers who exited the workforce during the pandemic still remained bound by traditional mortgage debt, but a reverse mortgage option has become clearer due to very high levels of home price appreciation ( HPA) seen in 2020 and 2021, says Sieffert.

“Now this product is a perfect solution for people,” says Sieffert, who comes from a strong HPA background. “And couple that with, again, the desire to be home where you are safe. Fewer and fewer people want to go to retirement homes, more and more people want to make sure they can age gracefully and happily in the homes they have. So I think it really gives us an opportunity to look at the positive stories that we’ve been able to produce and support people and share this message with people so they can see how wonderful these solutions are for so many of people.

The impact of the pandemic on seniors is undeniable. Last month, when the United States reached a total of 800,000 deaths attributable to COVID-19 according to data from the New York Times, the data also indicated that nearly 600,000 of these total deaths occurred in the elderly. 65 or older. As of January 13, 2022, the total death toll from the pandemic in the United States has reached more than 843,000.

Read Changemakers interviews with Kristen Sieffert and Harlan Accola.

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