Written by Lance R. Canada, as originally published in The Reverse Review.

As an attendee at November’s NRMLA conference in New Orleans, I found myself asking one question of everyone I had the opportunity to speak with, from a Utah-based HECM advisor in the taxi to the reception at the National World War II Museum, to two local ladies who worked at a small bank in town: “Why do you do what you do?”

Although last year’s changes to the HECM program made this question particularly poignant, I have been presenting this inquiry to my colleagues in the industry since 2003.

At that time

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I was doing forward mortgages and selling long-term care insurance. I was constantly confronted with seniors who waited too long to get long-term care and were at a point in their lives when they realized the benefit of taking such protection.

I found long-term care insurance was one of the easiest sales to make. Clients knew they needed and wanted it, and I was there to sell it to them. There was only one persistent problem: They often did not have the money in their budget for an additional $300 to $500 per month for the insurance. This led me on a search for a product that could help seniors purchase what they felt they needed, especially in regard to health and long-term care.

While engaged in this research, I stumbled upon the reverse mortgage product. NRMLA was having an educational forum at the National Hotel in Miami that April, and I made plans to attend. I was interested in the product’s potential but I was also skeptical and wary of its negative reputation. I planned to learn more at the conference, and perhaps glean insight from experienced reverse professionals by asking, “Why do you do what you do?” My plan was to get to know some of the attendees over drinks. I wanted to connect with them and try to uncover the downside of this reverse mortgage business. But instead, I came away from Miami a little dumbfounded.

Everyone I spoke with at the conference was excited to be part of the reverse mortgage business. The people I spoke with relayed stories about how this program had helped so many seniors and how they hoped it could be used to help more in the future. Not long after that, I left behind the forward market and entered the reverse mortgage business.

Now fast-forward to NRMLA’s 2013 convention in New Orleans. There have been many changes to the program in just 10 years, but the same question seemed to apply more than ever. At the conference, I asked everyone I spoke with, “Why do you do what you do?” It seems to me that many people have been asking themselves this exact question lately. Recent changes threaten to make it harder for those in the business to make a living, but despite this, there remains a very real need to provide seniors with access to this useful financial tool. The challenges facing the industry these days have forced many of us to evaluate why we do what we do, so that we can ultimately decide if the answer to this question is pressing and motivating enough to stick with it despite the tough road ahead.

For some of us, our love of the program and our desire to help seniors is just not enough. We also love our families and the lifestyle that we have come to enjoy, and perhaps we struggle with the idea that our lifestyle may be adversely impacted, at least in the short term, by the recent changes. For others, the changes have simply been too much. Good, hardworking reverse mortgage professionals have exited the business because they’ve decided they no longer have the desire to keep up. For those of us left, we’re faced with the dilemma of whether to hit the brakes or the gas. Some businesses and individuals will embrace these changes and make the necessary adjustments to thrive in this business, while others will choose to move on.

There is a saying, “You can’t change the direction of the wind, but you can adjust your sails to reach your destination.” We must certainly admit that this has been a stormy year for the HECM program, and the winds of change are still blowing steadily. The manner in which we adjust our sails in this tempestuous climate is crucial to our ability to remain in this business.

How does one decide what is best for them? You start by asking yourself why you do what you do. You may find that your answer is not compelling enough, that it’s time to jump ship. Or, you may discover that your conviction to help seniors is as strong as ever, and that motivation is enough to convince you to weather the storm. In the end, the reverse mortgage industry may be better off, as those who remain in the space will have shown their unwavering commitment to the product and its potential, and these people will be the best advocates for their senior clients.

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