AAG president and COO on his journey into reverse mortgages, 2022 priorities

Industry-leading reverse mortgage lender American Advisors Group (AAG) this week formally announced the installation of mortgage industry veteran Ed Robinson as the company’s new president and chief operating officer. Originally announced to serve in these roles in an acting capacity this past August, Robinson will be responsible for managing the day-to-day operations at AAG while also overseeing company income statements and optimizing the customer experience.

Robinson most recently served in the COO role for Genesis Financial Solutions, a provider of non-prime consumer financing that is based in Beaverton, Ore. Prior to his career in the mortgage business, Robinson served for 17 years in the United States Army.

His appointment is said to allow for AAG Founder and CEO Reza Jahangiri to focus on other specific aspects of running the company and working toward unspecified initiatives for its future. To gauge Robinson’s thoughts and perspectives on AAG and the broader reverse mortgage industry, RMD sat down for an interview with the executive which is presented here, edited for concision and readability. Look for the rest of the interview soon on RMD.

RMD: For those who may not know much about you, would you mind recounting your professional journey, how you became aware of the reverse mortgage product and ultimately how you came to join AAG?

Ed Robinson: I joined the military right out of high school, I’m a third-generation soldier. I was a team leader in an airborne recon sniper team and Army Long Range Reconnaissance. So I had multiple combat tours over about a 17-and-a-half year career. When I was busted up off my last tour, if you will, it was one of those things where I had the opportunity to retire a little early.

GE at that time recruited very heavily out of the community. So, after having gone through the Army’s pipeline, went through GE’s pipeline and went to the Financial Management Program and eventually joined what was GE Financial, which subsequently became Genworth Financial after an IPO in 2006. It was there that I was introduced to reverse mortgages, exploring alternate income as a new product for our customers to fit a holistic set of senior solutions around insurance and liquidity options.

What was next for you on your journey?

Edward Robinson, eid V8953, USAA employee, formal portrait, on blue, FSB
Ed Robinson

Ultimately, I was recruited by PHH, who was one of my largest customers where I went to run originations and then subsequently ran servicing operations. It just so happens that I was recruited by the head of the Consumer Bank at Fifth Third to come be the president of the mortgage business at Fifth Third Bank. He was an Army Ranger, so we ran in the same circles in the Army. He recruited me, and then he left a little less than a year later to become the president of USAA Bank. Shortly thereafter, when I went to follow him to take over mortgage as well as the brokerage.

[After] I left USAA, I went to a non-bank, non-mortgage lender, Genesis Financial Solutions. It was the largest provider of second-look credit in the country in the retail side of the house, which was a nice move for me because I got to experience leading an organization out of that banking realm. And frankly, it gave me the yearning to get back to mortgage where I really love helping Americans live out the dream of homeownership.

As I was having a good time at Genesis, I was actually contacted about a mortgage president job, and I told the recruiter “I’m not interested, but give me a call because I know a couple of people, depending on what you’re looking for, who may be.” When they called me back, they said they wanted to talk to me about AAG.

Was that intriguing to you?

I wasn’t looking to leave Genesis, but the recruiter – an acquaintance of both Reza [Jahangiri] and I – said that I really ought to call Reza. It was about a day or two later that I spent some time speaking with Reza, and I will tell you, literally within five minutes of speaking with him and then meeting the executive leadership team. I really knew that AAG was home for me.

It comes down to the idea that integrity and taking care of customers are crucial aspects in terms of how I think about business leadership. I’ve read, of course, about the core values for AAG being “caring, driven and ethical.” [Sometimes], you’ll see core values plastered on the wall, or you’ll see 18 of them that people have in a company booklet, but they don’t really mean a lot [at those places]. In this case, I can tell you, unequivocally from the moment that I met Reza and then met the executive team, I knew that those weren’t words just posted on the wall, but that they’re a mantra.

They’re a true belief system here at AAG. I’m personally driven to uphold those values and really do amazing things for our customers, our industry, and our business. So, it was very clear that this was the right fit and would be home for me.

Now that you are in a prime leadership position at the company, what can you tell our industry audience about the company’s priorities and what you will hope to accomplish in your new role?

I will tell you, the single most important goal for 2022 – it’s our number one goal – is what I call “delighting the customer.” We do a really good job, top to bottom in the organization, living out our core values every day. But what I want to do is leverage those values and focus on the customer to take AAG, and frankly the industry, to the next level. We’re currently taking a very methodical approach to review our processes, our customer experiences, and our technology because we want to make sure we reduce friction. We want to enhance what I refer to as the “moments of truth,” and treat every single one of those moments as though it’s precious, because it is.

I believe we all have had experiences with banks and financial services companies that have frankly left something to be desired. So, when it comes to dealing with seniors and their adult children about a complex financial product, and you mix in a home which, in America especially, is a cherished asset, you’re dealing with a very complicated and very emotional transaction. So, expertise matters, but I believe that empathy and delightful service and experiences matter just as much.

How does that coalesce with 2022 priorities for AAG?

When you think about those interactions with customers, that empathy leads to asking customers the next series of questions, to even further position the customer for the best possible outcomes. To be brutally honest, I of course want to help AAG grow significantly over the coming years. The company and Reza personally have painstakingly strived to offer really good solutions to both consumers and to this industry. But as an industry, I really believe we’re still nipping around the edges of the huge opportunity.

I saw as recently as this week, where senior home equity in America now exceeds $10 trillion. So as we continue to invest in better experiences, better outcomes, as we look for new business development opportunities and to partner with others outside of our industry, we will in turn not only help a team to grow but ultimately the entire industry. We work alongside some really amazing peers in this business. The more we all look to grow the industry pie, the more opportunities we will all have to grow and help more senior consumers to meet their needs and their dreams.

Are there any other major 2022 priorties?

I would say that it goes without saying in this space, but there has to be an abject focus on quality and compliance. They’re table stakes. This doesn’t mean that we sacrifice growth, and it doesn’t mean that we take the most conservative path possible in our decisions. Rather, what that means in my view is that we ensure all of our processes and experiences are designed and executed with quality in mind so that we can mutually provide great service while ensuring we’re compliant.

Look for the next part of our interview with Ed Robinson soon on RMD.

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