Reverse mortgage pros talk marketing, reputation and customer care

Professionals from four companies talk about the effects of advertising on the reputation of reverse mortgages and how to best treat customers

Reverse mortgage information and advertising might be generally pretty visible in the here and now, but it could have room for improvement in terms of getting people more familiarized with the product category as well as in spurring connections with professionals and clients.

This was a perspective shared by a panel of reverse mortgage professionals — Open Mortgage Director of Reverse Mortgage Sales Patty Wills, HomeChex President Mark Browning, Longbridge Financial Senior Account Executive Ken Sawan and Atlantic Coast Mortgage Reverse Division Manager Neil Sweren — at the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association (NRMLA) Eastern Regional Meeting in Baltimore, Md. this month, following up on a thread of discussion about customer experience.

The state of reverse mortgage advertising

Wills opened up the discussion about the state of reverse mortgage advertising, with the panel acknowledging the ways in which such ads have changed over the past several years. That doesn’t mean they should be finished changing, according to Sawan.

“I think the ads have come a long way since the early days,” he says. “They’re more customer-centric, touching on hot buttons that reach out to the borrower. Maybe the ad has something to do with how we can help them to afford to pay taxes or utilities or to live a better life, [the ads offer] ways to use the reverse mortgage as opposed to saying we offer reverse mortgages without really explaining what that is, or how they work.”

Having more robust information presented in ads that offer potential use cases is helpful, but there is still ground to cover when it comes to empathy for the demographic, he says.

“I think we have a long way to go,” he explains. I think we need to [have ads] which are more sympathetic to the plight of the senior, especially with the financial end of things. But that’s a tough question. We have a lot of work to do there.”

For Browning, the advertising put out by companies like American Advisors Group (AAG) was singled out as “quality stuff,” but there are other segments of industry advertising he could do without, he says.

“I tell you, ever since I turned to the eligible age, I get more junk [mail] regarding reverse mortgages [than anything else],” he explains. “It sets a perception instantly. “[I feel] that lead generators have cheapened the product tremendously. Customers come in, and their families or financial advisors have [immediate] perceptions.”

‘Double-edged sword’

For Sweren, there is clearly a benefit to the current posture of reverse mortgage advertising, but he also acknowledges what he sees as issues.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” he says. “It does bring in business, but it also sort of cheapens what we do if you compare how we advertise reverse mortgage products with traditional mortgage products. [I do get calls] because a client saw somebody else’s ad. I don’t know that there’s a better way to do it. We do a lot of lunch-and-learn presentations and those kinds of things, but the [ads] work.”

Browning also suggests that sometimes reverse mortgage advertising can stumble at times, particularly if there’s an intent to merge the topics of reverse and traditional mortgages into a single piece, he says. Wills also acknowledges the double-edged sword mentality.

“I think it’s kind of a problem and I’m not really sure that we know the solution, or even if there is a solution because it does drive business and it’s hard to knock from a sales perspective,” Wills says. “It could be that once the product becomes more mainstream, that kind of marketing will no longer be necessary.”

Streamlining the customer experience, she says, could help get the industry to a point where its current advertising practices may be able to evolve, which is why it remains very important to prioritize the treatment and care of customers.

‘Like family’

On the point of enhancing customer experience, Sawan explains that he coaches loan officers to always treat their clients like they’re members of the person’s own family. Walking through how an originator takes a client through the reverse mortgage process is illustrative for front lines professionals, he says.

“When I train my loan officers, I always tell them to treat [clients like family],” he says. “And if you wouldn’t do this for them, why would you do it for this client? You’ve got to educate them, this is not a hard sell. It’s got to be very calm in order to build the rapport and understand what we’re even talking about.”

That’s been an approach that Sawan has found personally and organizationally successful, he says. Browning agreed with Sawan’s sentiment, describing how now might be a good time to be in financial services since there is so much conversation taking place around financial stability due to the state of the economy. Beyond that, he put a finer point on a running theme throughout the entire panel discussion.

“[An attendee I spoke to] has two rules: do the right thing for the client, that’s number one,” he says. “Number two is don’t break rule number one. And that’s what has to be the driver.”

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