As the only woman leading a top 10 reverse mortgage lender, Finance of America Reverse’s President Kristen Sieffert is a dynamic trailblazer in the HECM space.
The 2017 HW Woman of Influence has guided FAR to become a major innovator in reverse lending, expanding its proprietary reverse mortgage offering from one product to four in just one year’s time.
Sieffert also pioneered a program designed to educate forward loan officers about reverse mortgages – making headway on an industry-wide push to teach traditional mortgage lenders the benefit of incorporating HECMs into their product offering.
As a working mother, Sieffert is a vocal advocate for a healthy work-life balance, which she says is essential for more women to assume leadership roles in the mortgage space.
Sieffert has spent her entire career in reverse mortgages. After graduating from UCLA, she pushed her law school dreams aside and joined the lender support team at Financial Freedom upon the urging of a close friend.
She worked in almost every aspect of the HECM loan process, from underwriting to management to sales, before landing her role at FAR.
Recently, she led the company’s rebrand as it moved away from a reverse mortgage lender to become a provider of retirement solutions. The strategy is one that aligns with Sieffert’s belief that reverse mortgage lenders need to think more broadly about the solutions it can offer America’s retirees.
We sat down with Sieffert to learn her thoughts about the burgeoning proprietary market and why she believes the industry needs to adopt a more holistic view when helping seniors prepare for retirement.
Q: It has been a tough time in the HECM space with volume hitting lows the industry hasn’t seen in 14 years. What do you think it will take for the industry to rebound?
A: In our opinion, it’s critical to be focused on what will help Americans get to work on retirement more holistically. Historically our industry has offered a single solution to everyone, and now we are all working to really expand the conversation and broaden the product offering to better align with the very diverse needs of our demographic.
While FAR will continue to offer reverse mortgage products and to innovate, we also understand that reverse mortgages aren’t always the first tool that people reach for when planning for retirement. So, we’re thinking beyond reverse loans to other ways Boomers can thrive and potentially generate income.
Things like home sharing – our partnership with Silvernest is evidence of that – concierge services for specific needs and opportunities for social connection are all on our radar. With statistics pointing to a looming “retirement crisis,” we believe ever more strongly that we need to create a strong foundation, with as much government and public policy support as possible, to help people achieve their goals throughout retirement.
Q: Finance of America Reverse has been a major innovator of proprietary reverse mortgage products. Why are non-agency reverses an important offering?
A: We believe it’s important for people to have a variety of options when they’re choosing the right tools to help them fund retirements that are now lasting upward of 30 years. Other financial products are certainly not one-size-fits-all and people have different perspectives and needs. When we look at retirement through that holistic lens, it doesn’t make sense to ask borrowers to be dependent on just one kind of reverse mortgage product.
Q: Do you imagine a reverse mortgage market that is largely private, or do you believe the HECM will always be the dominate product?
A: There’s certainly room in the industry for both government and proprietary products, and we firmly believe that government support for the product and continued participation in the program is very important.
That said, it’s also important for borrowers to have choices and the innovation that we’re leading is ensuring that people can decide for themselves what makes the most sense, based on their own economic situation and retirement plans. I think we’ll see a healthy balance between the two.
Q: FAR has revolutionized the proprietary space, introducing a second-lien reverse mortgage and a HELOC iteration. What’s next?
A: FAR is working to develop the investor community for proprietary reverse mortgages so that we can continue to expand our suite of products. We still have a lot of states in which we need to launch the current suite of products, and we are also working on other iterations we hope to bring to market later in the year.
Q: What are FAR's goals for the year ahead?
A: FAR’s mission is to help more people get to work on retirement. In 2019, look for us to deliver on that mission by bringing on new partnerships, continuing to innovate within our product suite, and educating the financial intermediaries that influence potential borrowers.
Most importantly, FAR understands that the best way to serve more people is to empower our partners to succeed in their individual markets. Because of that, beyond constantly evaluating our processes to continue providing outstanding service, we are also investing in some exciting tools to support our partners and help them grow their businesses.