Shannon Robinson has been serving as vice president for the reverse mortgage division at New American Funding (NAF) for just over a year, a time that was marked by a lot of challenges across the reverse mortgage. Some of these challenges, especially in relation to historic interest rate increases, were out of the industry’s control.
But a new year brings new opportunities, and the NAF reverse mortgage division is bullish about its own prospects and the prospects of the industry as a whole in 2024. This is according to an RMD interview with Robinson.
Challenging year, with growth
When asked about her first year in the leadership role for NAF’s reverse division, Robinson did not shy away from the challenges that both the company and wider industry faced in 2023.
“It was a challenge for so many in the reverse space, but also in the mortgage space, generally,” she said. “But I have to say, perhaps selfishly, that it was also an exciting year at New American Funding and its reverse division. There was a lot of growth and a lot of opportunity that we had just in general within the company.”
Standing up the reverse division to its current posture was a highlight. Robinson said that even within the challenging market, the team was able to roughly double its headcount of dedicated reverse employees compared to when she started in January 2023.
“When this opportunity came to stand up at this scale, I was very excited,” Robinson said. “When I met with Christy Bunce, our president, to talk about the opportunity in a challenging time, you get a little shaky, [but] it really was [important for them to] stand by and believe in the product. So, this past year has been all about thriving to really grow this division.”
The confidence to invest further in reverse largely comes from NAF’s owners, Robinson said. Rick and Patty Arvielo are passionate about homeownership prospects in general, which translates to reverse.
“Patty was the one that was really wanting to step into reverse several years ago when they started to take this on,” she said. “And the more that they have grown their platform and increased their portfolio, they know there is such a large opportunity to offer this product to so many within the [existing portfolio].”
Maintaining relationships with customers who may have gotten forward mortgages as they transition into retirement seems like a natural goal to reach for, Robinson said.
“I think it’s important for all of us at New American Funding,” she said. “If you’re already a client at New American Funding, why not continue and let us help you implement what your retirement goals could be?”
The start to 2024
When asked about how business has progressed in the early days of the year, Robinson said that the company is focused on looking ahead at potential interest rate relief and any changes in Federal Reserve policy that may come.
“I think all of us are watching the rates, like everybody else, and asking when we might see a little relief on the reverse side,” she said. “Wherever we can make a move, we’re going to.”
One such move is in collaboration with NAF’s forward mortgage division and educating more of these loan officers about reverse products. This can help if they receive inquiries from a client who could potentially qualify for a reverse mortgage.
“The partnership is very strong at NAF between our forward and reverse originators,” she said. “I look at our forward side and we’re getting a lot of inquiries from them in terms of clients that meet the demographics of a reverse mortgage. So, we’re trying to really educate our forward side about the reverse product, so we can learn about how we can support these clients [from either channel].”
Collaboration with the forward side is one avenue, but NAF leaders and managers are hopeful that additional rate relief may come in the spring. Beyond that, Robinson is engaged with the company’s financing and capital markets teams to determine the best courses of action in a challenging market.
When asked about potential new business opportunities for the division, Robinson said that it’s a full team effort to identify new paths forward. The company features an estimated 1,500 forward loan officers nationwide, and everyone is keeping an eye on the potential for products or services to expand to new clients, she explained.
Educating forward loan officers about the possibilities of reverse can also come with some opportunities to explore further, she said.
“We are being welcomed,” Robinson said. “We are being embraced by our forward loan originators at NAF — and that’s an opportunity. It’s our job to get in front of our forward originators and educate them about this product, and that’s what the duty has been this past year. It’s only continuing to excel as we step into 2024, so we’re going to be putting in a lot more fuel as we grow.”
Some reverse mortgage companies and lending divisions have strong feelings about having a solid wall between forward and reverse production, while others see a necessity for comingling and collaboration between the channels.
Collaboration with forward originators
NAF generally takes the latter approach when it comes to education and collaboration, but reverse specialists are best suited for reverse loans, Robinson said.
“Reverse is a specialty team. It’s like football,” she said. “So, while we welcome forward originators to educate themselves about the reverse product, it is a different and unique product. It’s more complex and involved, and is a slower process than many of our forward originators are used to. So, the majority are referred to our specialty team here at New American Funding.”
But the reverse division is also keenly aware that, in some cases, a longstanding forward mortgage originator from NAF may be turning over a client to the reverse division who has been with the forward professional for a long time.
“We want them to trust us, because a lot of this is their self-made business from the forward division,” she said. “They’ve worked with them maybe for as long as 20 years, having helped them with, perhaps, their first home purchase and maybe a couple of refis. Now that that individual is hitting the age where they’re starting to consider a reverse mortgage, we want that forward originator to feel very comfortable. Because now they’re handing it over to us, probably for the long term.”