Written by Marty Bell, as originally published in The Reverse Review.

You might compare NRMLA to a reverse mortgage. As the industry’s trade association, our mission is to provide our primary constituency, our members, with the security and the peace of mind that enables them to function best.But in order to accomplish that we need to deal with three additional constituencies: the government, both federal and state; the press, both local and national; and consumers, both seniors and their families.

Serving each constituency can require its own set of skills, strategic approach and a whole lot of studying. At times it can feel like finals week at college, when you never have enough time to do all you want to but you have to get it done anyway. At others, it feels like you’re on a runaway stagecoach with an edgy team of horses that keeps hearing gunshots and starts to run wild, only to be calmed down again—but just temporarily.

Peter Bell, the president and CEO, is in the office for part of Monday, racing to get things organized before he heads out for the rest of the week to meet with legislators on pending reverse mortgage legislation in Boston and Sacramento. He’ll participate in our weekly update call with Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications, reviewing recent press coverage and next steps for our public affairs campaign; sit down with the staff to review the evolving agenda for our upcoming Western Regional Conference in Irvine; touch base with our registered lobbyists, David Horne and Melody Fennel, on our effort to get the HECM volume cap removed by the House Financial Services Committee; speak with members on pending legislative issues; perhaps conduct one of our monthly board meetings; and give half a dozen interviews in response to press queries.

Peter grew up on Long Island, studied history at Hiram College in Ohio, and then came to Washington in the mid-’70s, where he worked as a paralegal at a law firm that represented the housing industry. When that industry decided it needed a trade association, it brought on Peter to organize it, and 35 years later, he’s still running it. In 1997, he was approached by Jeff Taylor of Wendover Consultants and Pat McEnerney, who were seeking advocacy in the nation’s capital for the fledgling reverse mortgage industry. At the time, the HECM was still a demonstration program for HUD that was not made permanent until the following year. One of the first things Peter explained to his visitors was that to be taken seriously in Washington, an organization that sold to consumers—particularly to a protected class—needed a code of conduct that all members agreed to adhere to and that served as the association’s rallying point. With that set in motion, Peter, who already had more than 20 years of experience working with HUD, corralled the industry participants together to form NRMLA, which began with 17 member companies and grew to 32 by 2001, 63 by 2002. It now has 320 member companies.

Having dealt with seven presidential administrations and 10 HUD secretaries, Peter provides strategic overview, coordinating activities and advocating policies for the membership on Capitol Hill, dealing with the regulators in Washington, D.C., as well as lawmakers in various state capitals. He has described his job as “explaining how government works to our members and how our industry works to government.” When searching through 15 years of NRMLA archives and the history of the HECM program, it is apparent that this association has been involved in each and every change to the statute since its inception and has been key to the development of many necessary regulations.

“There are many things we have had to fight for,” says Bell, “and many others we have had to fight against. But I think our track record is almost perfect in both instances.”

On Monday night Peter heads to Boston where our local lobbyist from the Rasky office, Jeff Terrey, will usher him, board member George Downey and Independent Certification Committee Chairman Brett Kirkpatrick to meetings in the State House on Tuesday. There they will meet with state regulators to argue that the state simply does not have the bandwidth to require face-to-face counseling of all potential borrowers, a provision in a law passed in 2010 and due to be implemented this August.

On Wednesday, he flies to San Francisco and drives to Sacramento to meet with the staff of Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla of California’s 11th district, located halfway between San Francisco and the state capital. At the urging of the California Senior Legislature, a voluntary group that meets annually to recommend action to elected officials, Bonilla has written a bill now in the Assembly that also requires face-to-face counseling. Peter will argue for an opt-out clause for those who cannot get to counseling offices, which Bonilla will eventually add to her bill. Along the way, in airport lounges, hotel rooms and even the jazz clubs he likes to frequent in his spare time, he’ll be writing his column for a new issue of Reverse Mortgage magazine or his blog; participating in conference calls with committee members; rounding up speakers for upcoming conferences; arranging future events with our conference planner, Sarah Aaronson; and leading our weekly Friday call with the six executive committee members and staff.

Meanwhile, back in our maze of an office 10 blocks from the White House up 16th Street, Steve Irwin, our executive vice president, runs the day-to-day operations and, though a staff this small requires that everyone is involved in everything, he focuses largely on convening NRMLA’s nine committees to deal with policy and intra-industry issues. Steve grew up in various cities around the country, did his undergrad work at Grinnell College in Iowa, earned an MBA from the University of San Francisco’s MacLaren School of Business and promoted events in New York rock clubs. He has spent the past 17 years in the reverse mortgage industry, and served as the first vice president of servicing operations at Financial Freedom Senior Funding Corporation when it was the largest company in the industry. Not many people have as comprehensive a picture of the details of the reverse mortgage rules, delivery process and borrower experience as does the former head of the servicing department for the industry’s largest lender.

Prior to Steve’s arrival at NRMLA in March of 2010, the committee operated with less discipline. But he has provided a strong sense of organization and management and a great deal of output. In a week, he may meet with the HUD Issues Committee and draft a letter to HUD on the committee’s behalf, urging the removal of restrictions on seller concessions on HECMs for Purchase; meet with the Risk and Compliance Committee to review recommendations on Mortgage Origination Exam Guidelines to the new CFPB; push the effort of a new data collection working group; begin to pull together a new committee of HMBS issuers; and attend an MBA conference across town. Being the most tech-savvy of us all, he has also taken on the lion’s share of responsibility for implementing our new, complex and versatile contact management system.

In the office next to Steve, Darryl Hicks is on the phone answering questions from members or consumers who submitted queries to our consumer website, reversemortgage.org. Darryl’s title may be vice president of communications, but he’s really our utility infielder, skillfully playing whatever position he’s needed to fill on any given day. Darryl hails from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and covered the political and regulatory scene for National Mortgage News. He was one of only a handful of reporters who covered the reverse mortgage business before he joined the NRMLA staff in 1999. He takes on most of the responsibility of writing our weekly reports and member alerts when news is breaking and contributes stories to most issues of the magazine. Darryl takes the lead on coordinating the Certified Reverse Mortgage Professional designation program and convening the Independent Certification Committee that administers it; works with the rest of us to plan agendas, round up speakers, organize preparatory phone calls and prepare materials for our conferences; and devotes a good deal of time to member development and servicing members’ requests for assistance.

I arrive each morning and go right to the day’s news clips that we receive from various sources, measuring the current temperature of our industry and searching for inaccurate or cranky reporting. As senior vice president of communications and marketing, I take on the day-to-day responsibility of managing our public affairs campaign and talk regularly with Larry Rasky, Dave Tamasi and the rest of the team at Rasky Baerlein. We have a meeting with both of our staffs each Monday to review our ongoing agenda, and I also speak with them nearly every day to make sure we are responding promptly to any negative press as well as finding opportunities to spread the story from our point of view. Since we engaged the Rasky team and assumed a “war room” approach to press more than a year ago, there seems to be a noticeable shift in the overall attitude toward our product and our industry.

Coincidently, I grew up on Long Island like Peter and spent most of my adult life in Manhattan, working as an editor and reporter at Sport magazine and New Times before I got derailed for 25 years and produced shows on Broadway. Politics was always my third passion, and when Peter offered me the chance to begin Act III of my career, I relocated to this tree-filled park of a city. In addition to managing the public affairs campaign and fielding interview and information requests from the press, my plate-load includes editing Reverse Mortgage magazine, marketing all of our conferences and any other products, writing the text for and supervising development of the new consumer website, and organizing and editing all the material for our consumer-oriented “Borrow with Confidence” campaign.

Backing all of us up with constant support is our Operations Department—or the Fabulous Four—under the guidance of Chief Financial Officer Patty Winter and including Director of Financial Services Violet Arthur, Director of Membership Services Linda Latimore and Operations Specialist Jeri Greaves, whose domains cover all financial issues including budgeting and accounting, membership matters and event registration.

As the industry’s advocate, NRMLA works with federal and

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local government officials on legislation and regulation to continually review the financial product and the methods by which it is marketed and presented. We view our responsibility as winning trust for the entire industry. But individual relationships can only go so far. One bad news story about anything that can be interpreted as financially abusive or even misleading affects all of our members.

We will continue our effort to eliminate the volume cap or obtain an extension on its current suspension.
The original 1987 statute calling for a reverse mortgage demonstration program contained a volume cap of 2,500 loans. Within two years, that was raised to 25,000 loans and then frequently raised again until it reached 275,000 in 2006. Since 2006, the cap has not increased, but has been suspended on an annual basis. When there is a cap in effect, and volume approaches the cap, it can force seniors into making a rushed decision. At our urging, elimination of the cap is now contained in the Senate’s FY 2013 Appropriations bill. Whether this bill can get through both houses in the current political climate remains to be seen.

We will seek a permanent extension of the $625,500 loan limit. Like the cap, the maximum claim amount has risen over time.
In 2006, it was attached to the Freddie Mac lending limit, then at $417,000. Then, as part of the American Relief and Recovery Act of 2009, it was raised to 150 percent of the Freddie Mac limit, or $625,500. Since then, this limit has been extended annually and is due to expire December 31, 2012. Higher loan limits are of great value to those seniors who have built up substantial equity in their homes.

We will work to eliminate the ban on seller concessions in HECM for Purchase deals.Our public affairs effort has now gone through two stages and is about to enter a third. The first stage was establishing a “war room” response effort to negative press. The second stage was reaching out to the press to place our own stories about industry developments. Stage three is a consumer-aimed messaging campaign under the banner “Borrow with Confidence” to give seniors the assurance that they can borrow safely from a NRMLA lender. At the core of the campaign is a Pledge to Reverse Mortgage Borrowers, a 19-point commitment to best practices that our board unanimously voted all members should sign.

Other current “Borrow with Confidence” tools include “Your Road Map to Reverse Mortgages,” a step-by-step guide through the loan process from first hearing about the product to the close of a loan. We view this as a valuable first step for any senior who is interested in exploring whether or not the product is right for them. “Should My Mom and Dad Get a Reverse Mortgage?” is a tri-fold brochure created to prepare seniors’ adult children for a discussion about borrowing. All of these tools—as well as a guide to member lenders—are available on our redesigned consumer website, reversemortgage.org, which was launched this past New Year’s Eve. We intend to create additional tools.Our member website, nrmlaonline.org, continues to be a source of information on all industry developments for reverse mortgage professionals.

Since the CRMP launched in 2010, 39 professionals have received the designation. The process to obtain credits and meet other eligibility requirements continues to become more convenient. Last year, we offered all 12 continuing education credits that applicants must earn before sitting for the exam at the annual meeting in Boston. In addition, the examination is now available in almost all hometowns at your local Pearson Testing Center. We continue to step up promotion and recognition of our CRMPs by listing them in Reverse Mortgage magazine and listing notice of their certification on the website.

And finally, the largest single gathering of reverse mortgage professionals each year will take place October 15-17 at the Hyatt Regency on the Riverwalk in San Antonio, Texas. We are coordinating our effort with the Texas Mortgage Bankers Association, and this year’s annual Reverse Mortgage Day in Texas will be incorporated into the larger NRMLA event.

Time to climb back onto the stagecoach. There actually hasn’t been a gunshot in the last week or… Oops. There’s the phone. See you.