Open Mortgage CEO on new reverse mortgage leadership and business prospects

Open Mortgage recently announced a new head for its HECM division, so RMD sat down with Scott Gordon to discuss the change and the state of the business at-large

Multi-channel lender Open Mortgage announced this week that it has appointed industry professional Mike Hicks to serve as its new national director of reverse sales, a move made as longtime industry professional and former national director Patty Wills retires after a 30-year career.

The last time RMD checked in with Open Mortgage CEO Scott Gordon was in November 2022, just prior to a torrent of transformative industry news including the bankruptcy of Reverse Mortgage Funding (RMF), and two major acquisitions: the first of American Advisors Group (AAG) by Finance of America Companies (FOA), and the second of Cherry Creek Mortgage by Guild Mortgage.

RMD sat down with Gordon to talk about Open Mortgage’s plans for reverse, as well as industry-wide trends.

Taking a ‘long view’

When asked about how he and his company are feeling about the reverse mortgage space at the moment in light of so many recent, high-profile events impacting other lenders, Gordon said that the company’s commitment to reverse is essential to its identity.

“I think I have a long view of reverse,” he said. “Volume is down across the industry, and it’s something we all have to live with. I’m trying not to be reactionary in the short term. It has made me think about the fact that we are more focused on big fish in little ponds. Referral partners, trusted advisors, that kind of way of doing business and not [focusing on] people who want to be fed leads.”

Scott Gordon, founder and CEO of Open Mortgage
Scott Gordon

This is one of the reasons why he feels that Hicks is in a position to excel as head of the company’s reverse mortgage division, Gordon said.

“That’s why Mike is such a great fit. He’s been in the industry a while,” he said. “He has deep experience and has really helped bring more originators into reverse, something we need to do as an industry, as well as help people grow their own production, which really fits with us.”

When specifically asked about Open Mortgage’s view of its place in the industry in light of a prominent lender failure and wider industry consolidation, Gordon said that the company’s overall focus has not diminished and that reverse remains key going forward.

“I think the industry has to live through the short term — which we will,” he said. “[In terms of] our place in it, I guess I’m very bullish about just because to me, reverse is so integral to Open Mortgage.”

One of the reasons he is generally optimistic has to do with making sure the company finds professionals who have the ability and willingness to put in the work necessary to forge fruitful referral sources.

“As we grow a referral network [on our forward side], it just helps our reverse loan originators,” he said. “But also, the fact that we have reverse originators and expertise makes it easier to grow that referral network. So to me, reverse is just part of who we are and it helps us in the bigger sense.”

Bringing a new leader aboard, finding who works best

One key element that indicated that Hicks was the right person to lead the division going forward was his determination to bring new people into the reverse mortgage business, Gordon said.

“He’s been more focused on [asking] how we get more people into the industry. We can all fight over the same handful of existing originators, and the age of our originators keeps going up,” Gordon said. “So, we love that idea of being able to just help grow the whole industry by bringing more people into it. That’s something he has remained focused on.”

Mike Hicks

On top of the recruitment priorities, Hicks is well-positioned to help the company’s existing branches expand their existing reach, Gordon said. The company also added additional people in the midst of a lot of industry change, which Gordon described as “mixed” while also emphasizing the kinds of things that work most effectively for the company’s model.

“What we’ve found is people who fit our model have done well, and the people who don’t fit it haven’t done as well,” he said. “Our thing is referrals and relationships. So, for people who thrive on a flow of leads, it’s been harder, but I think that’s both here and industry-wide just because of the time we went through.”

The work to build a referral network is just harder, but it pays off for both the individual employee and the company, Gordon said. He said that harder work benefitting all involved is a part of the culture that Gordon has previously described as so critical to the company’s identity.

Getting through rough times

When compared to 2021 and early 2022, the reverse mortgage business has seen a precipitous decline in volume as higher interest rates set in. Despite the current reality, Gordon remains generally optimistic about what lies ahead.

“At this moment, I feel like people just need to remember that their work will pay off,” he said. “That interest rates won’t stay here forever, and that there continue to be people who need help. Somebody like Mike does help people get through this tough time. We get so used to whatever moment we’re in. In 2021, we probably thought the world was going to be sunshine forever. And right now, especially on the reverse side, it’s really hard to get a loan closed with enough value for the borrower at these rates. But that won’t be this way forever.”

Tough times now can also make better times in the future more efficient, he said.

“The tough times will just help them be more productive when times get better,” he said. “It’s just easy to forget that right now.”

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