Commentary: Why the reverse mortgage industry needs to stop marketing to ‘seniors’

Open Mortgage’s Zeb Lowe talks about connecting with older people interested in a reverse mortgage and leaving behind an unhelpful label

Reverse mortgage sales and marketing still rely on broadly used principles. Chief among cardinal sales and marketing sins is assuming to know your customers without constant re-analysis and re-evaluation of the customer themselves, the market, and social/cultural changes at large. We have an abundance of customer data at our fingertips. Think of how much you can learn about people after reviewing their credit reports or bank statements.

I have been an LO for over a decade. If you were to hand me random customers’ credit reports, bank statements and W2s, I could probably tell you a lot about them: their education level, who they voted for, and if their next pet will be a dog, cat or fish.

With so much granular customer data surrounding us, it’s easy — and perhaps inevitable — that we only see trees and lose sight of the forest.

To reverse mortgage pros: ‘seniors’ don’t exist

The bulk of reverse mortgage sales and marketing content/strategy is geared towards “seniors,” but “seniors” don’t exist. Reverse mortgage customers are out there and are waiting to be found, but they’re also waiting to be seen.

Lumping everyone over the age of 62 under one “senior” umbrella is an oversimplification. The market for reverse mortgages should be divided, generally, between World War ll-era seniors and baby boomers (or boomers) with one group standing out as being overlooked, under-educated and untapped.

Zeb Lowe, senior director of learning and development at Open Mortgage including its reverse mortgage division.
Zeb Lowe

The reverse mortgage industry clumping 62-year-olds in with 80-year-olds makes about as much sense as lumping 42-year-olds with recent college graduates, using the logic that both are in the workforce and both used the internet and computers while getting their degrees. Stop and think about people who are currently in their 60s. What world did they grow up in versus people in their mid-70s and 80s?

The group that should rightfully be called seniors grew up in the direct aftermath of World War II. They were raised by parents who lived through both the Great War and the Great Depression. They fought a great evil that threatened Western society and culture.

Our boomers grew up during one of the most prosperous periods in the history of civilization, reaping the benefits of the sacrifices made by their parents. While many boomers may like to forget this, their generation birthed much of the counterculture movement. They gave us sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll! To lump these generations together and label them all “seniors” is to err, greatly.

I could discuss these differences extensively, and I encourage you and your team to delve into them. However, I’d like to shift our focus to a more profound topic: their relationship.

Generational rivalries

Consider this: previous to WWII and the boomer generation, virtually every generation was the same, with no new notable generation-specific values, worldviews or movements.

One generation raised another until that generation took their place, with little notable difference in a continuous cycle reaching back as far as one could recall. Then came the boomers. The WWII generation and the boomer generation were the first two generations in American history to conflict with one another in such a profound way that nearly every generation that has come after has repeated the same pattern.

These two generations mixed like oil and water. Now, it’s assumed that the younger generation will clash with, rebel against, and actively try to test (or perhaps tear down) bits of society the older generations maintained, but only because the boomers made it the norm.

Hearing reverse mortgage customers

So how does this apply to the reverse mortgage industry’s marketing and sales? It boils down to the one need that every single person shares: we all need to be seen and heard.

Socially regressing and being infantilized to the point that their voice is no longer relevant is a major fear for “seniors.” That is, unfortunately, exactly what we continue to do. While this concept applies to both groups, the boomer generation is particularly sensitive to becoming “unheard.”

As mentioned earlier, boomers were the first group to grow up in a world that catered to their interests and in which relative wealth (in a historical context) was more easily accessible and achievable compared to any other time in modern history.

Boomers relished in their youth and cherished “fun” like no generation before them, and they still do. If you ask most people what retirees look forward to the most, the No. 1 response will be something along the lines of spending time with family and friends, playing with grandchildren, etc.

What is the real answer? Traveling. Continuing to live life to the fullest. Reverse mortgage marketing must take note.

Aiming clearly with reverse mortgages

Nameless, faceless “seniors” make up the majority of our industry’s marketing and education efforts. They could be — and should be — clearly aimed at the wants and needs of the two groups currently comprising the market.

Of these two groups the boomers could, arguably, benefit the most from a reverse mortgage as a retirement planning tool and, more importantly, a lifestyle-sustaining tool.

Next time, we will discuss the best methods for engaging with the boomer generation.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Reverse Mortgage Daily and its owners.

To contact the author of this story: Zeb Lowe at [email protected] 
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Clow at [email protected]

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