Former academy resumes role as Funding Longevity Task Force

Mutual of Omaha’s Shelley Giordano explained the reasons behind the move in an interview with RMD

The Academy for Home Equity in Financial Planning housed at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) will return to being known as the Funding Longevity Task Force, and it will “mobilize as needed if there are any regulatory changes or major changes within the reverse mortgage industry,” according to a representative for Mutual of Omaha Mortgage.

To get a better understanding of the transition, RMD spoke with Shelley Giordano, director of enterprise integration at Mutual of Omaha and co-founder of the task force, who offered an overview of the move and what the group will aim to accomplish going forward.

Return to a ‘task force’

The original task force was co-founded in 2012 by Giordano and Security One Lending’s Torrey Larsen. Its mission statement included a desire to “champion groundbreaking research focused on reverse mortgages.”

When it first became a part of the American College of Financial Services in 2016, the organization stated its goal to cultivate “an exploration of a rational and objective understanding of the role that housing wealth can play in prudent planning for retirement income,” Giordano explained at the time.

Shelley Giordano, director of enterprise integration at Mutual of Omaha Mortgage.
Shelley Giordano

In 2019, the group exited the American College and reformed as the Academy for Home Equity in Financial Planning at the UIUC. It continued to contribute data and academic information about the reverse mortgage product and its potential use as a retirement planning tool.

“We had an opportunity to collaborate with other lenders and fund the academy with Dr. Craig Lemoine,” Giordano said. “That funding support has come and gone, but Mutual of Omaha is steadfast in its commitment to supporting the concept that housing is a real asset to secure retirement for many Americans.”

The group will continue under the auspices of Mutual of Omaha, which currently stands as the second-largest lender in the reverse mortgage industry behind Finance of America Reverse (FAR). The lender will work to keep bringing academic experts together to continue compiling and sharing data about the use — and potential use cases — of home equity in retirement.

“The research is irrefutable at this point that the house can truly be an asset for people in retirement,” Giordano said. “So, we just want to continue that, but it will be something that we are doing at Mutual of Omaha solely.”

The group’s work, however, will continue to be shared with other industry participants. Different issues that could arise in the future will determine when the group mobilizes, she explained.

“If there’s an issue that comes up that we feel that we need to come together and have a discussion about, then we will do so,” she said. “But by definition, a task force comes together for a specific goal, and then could lay low for a while until needed again. That’s what we want to continue to do.”

Work in Illinois

Lemoine, who serves as the director of UIUC’s financial planning program, remains interested in the deployment of home equity, Giordano said.

“He’s been a great partner and, in fact, we’d like to publicly thank him for his leadership over the last few years,” Giordano said. “He did some great work and we did some great work together.”

Giordano cited a survey demonstrating how certified financial planners (CFPs) had some positive attitudes about reverse mortgages as a planning tool, as well as the creation of model guidance language for broker-dealers and investment advisory firms to use in governing a planner’s interactions with reverse mortgage products.

“Those are two of the things that the academy was very pleased to have been part of, and we really appreciate Dr. Lemoine,” Giordano said.

RMD reached out to Lemoine for comment about potential future collaborations but did not immediately receive a response.

Looking ahead

As for what the future holds, financial planners remain a critical constituency for the reverse mortgage industry to establish referral partnerships with. And the task force remains focused on clearing up misconceptions they may have about the product category, Giordano said.

“We are all still disappointed that financial advisers as a whole have not moved forward with reverse mortgages,” she said. “We have to be honest; that’s the reality. I think the message is becoming more powerful and convincing. But as we’ve said from the very beginning, it takes loan officers sitting [face-to-face with advisers] to really get the message across.”

In August 2023, Mutual of Omaha released the findings of a survey of roughly 400 respondents, which found that 74% had either never heard of the phrase “reverse mortgage,” knew the phrase but nothing about the product, or categorized themselves as having “a little” knowledge. Lingering product concerns, including those about the “bank owning the home,” continue to persist in large numbers.

But Giordano remains confident in the data that the group has found over the years, she explained.

“We’ve got all the ammunition. Loan officers have to get out there and make it relevant to the financial advisers in their communities,” she said. “It’s not easy, as we’ve seen. Just because we can demonstrate that using a reverse mortgage line of credit mitigates sequence-of-returns risk doesn’t mean that financial advisers are going to put all their clients into the line of credit.

“Unfortunately, the HECM line of credit is a great shock absorber, particularly for a long-term care event, and how that can preserve wealth for people. The data is there.”

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