Reverse mortgage co-leaders at major lender describe how their division will grow

Patty Wills and Charith Rodrigo are charged with overseeing a reverse mortgage expansion at Open Mortgage, and describe how they plan on implementing the lender’s goals in the space

Austin, Tex.-based multi-channel lender Open Mortgage announced last month that it will be expanding and “doubling down” on its reverse mortgage business segment, having appointed reverse mortgage industry veteran Charith Rodrigo as one of two new national directors of reverse sales, the other being longtime Open Mortgage reverse professional Patty Wills.

A company spokesperson also previously confirmed for RMD that it is planning on doubling the existing reverse mortgage staff, with an “emphasis on expanding the retail division’s footprint by adding and supporting new branches and loan originators,” the company said in a statement.

In terms of how the company actually plans on implementing these new reverse mortgage goals with greater attention being given to the division, RMD recently sat down with Wills and Rodrigo in an episode of The RMD Podcast to discuss what their collective and individual focuses will be in funneling additional resources into the company’s reverse mortgage segment.

Tightening up reverse mortgage processes

After describing some of how the team dynamic will work between them, Wills went on to discuss how conversations with Open Mortgage’s loan officer corps will be a key component of determining the greatest levels of operational efficiency in terms of origination processes. Working at that individualized level while also making use of her own experience thinking entrepreneurially could make a difference, she says.

Open Mortgage reverse mortgage director Patty Wills.
Patty Wills

“I’m a little more [focused on] figuring those things out, but working with people and [bringing] it together,” she says. “I’ve been used to working in an environment where you make use of what you have. Putting things together as an entrepreneur does, you don’t necessarily have a big legal department and you don’t necessarily have someone else to depend on, so you figure it out.”

That kind of background now being coupled with access to additional resources from the lender could be a difference-maker in terms of giving originators the tools they need to find new success in the division’s new status quo going forward.

“Having that background gives us strength, but I still like being able to then know enough about it to be able to make things work for how we do [accomplish our goals],” she says. “We can talk about it and figure out what’s going to work for an [individual] originator. Originators have a very entrepreneurial branch model where they can build their branches, so [it’s important to be] able to work with that. It’s not all a system where someone’s going to give them everything where they’re going to decide how they’re going to market.”

Divisional infrastructure

For Rodrigo’s part, he is primarily focused on helping to further build out the division’s infrastructure, he says. That will allow any new employee to hit the proverbial ground running as quickly as possible, he explains.

Charith Rodrigo, reverse mortgage co-leader at Open Mortgage.
Charith Rodrigo

“When a new branch manager comes in, we will provide them every opportunity,” he says. “The tools and the processes they need to follow to be successful. Because a reverse mortgage is, to me, a different kind of sale. We’re not trying to just put a borrower in a home, we are actually trying to keep the borrower in the home. To make this a forever home for this borrower.”

That different nature on the reverse side is key to a different overall approach, he says, and makes the tools a bit different which a professional may or may not be accustomed to, he explains.

“Providing the tools and the infrastructure that a loan officer or a branch manager needs upfront will help them to be more successful in the long run,” he says. “And also, it will help them to get the word out, to help more and more clients without having to worry about all the minutia behind it.”

A focus on hiring and a future of ‘new blood’

When asked about where the primary focus on the division’s new expansion will be, adding to the staff is front-of-mind for both Rodrigo and Wills in the immediate future, the pair says. That hiring extends to a couple of different necessary areas.

“The focus is going to be on hiring,” Rodrigo explains. “Particularly hiring new branch managers and loan officers that can get the word out to more and more clients, that’s the most important thing. Operations-wise, we have a phenomenal team. I know our operations team can handle way more than what we have today. So bringing in more loan officers and more branch managers so that we have the capacity to help those clients that they bring in, without having any hesitation, we have the capacity [to do that].”

That hiring focus is expected to persist through the next several months, Rodrigo explains.

For Wills, when asked about the idea of hiring people new to the reverse mortgage industry or prioritizing industry veterans, she leaned more toward industry veterans just because of the ease they likely come with in terms of being plugged into an existing operation at a major lender. Still, the right person will not be turned away, she explains.

“The priority is probably industry veterans, but that doesn’t mean somebody with the right experience, attitude and ability wouldn’t be a possibility,” she says. “We are really looking more for the veterans to be able to go out, and we want boots on the ground. We want to cover more geographic area, more states and cities to get people out there that are covering those areas.”

Such a priority has the potential to shift, however, as time goes on and the new realities and resources for the division begin to settle in.

“As time goes on, [we may move toward] training some forward LOs that really do want to concentrate and not just do reverses on the side,” she explains. “For those that may want to change their focus, we will work with them. And then over time, it’d be nice to get some new blood in this business, and I think that’s something we need. That will probably not be our first priority, though.”

Listen to the episode of The RMD Podcast for the full discussion.

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