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Using Tech To Connect

July – August 2020 Volume  13, No. 4

TECH-SAVVY LOAN officers had little difficulty navigating the crisis prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. And some of them found ways to better handle workflows after stay-at-home orders were issued, giving them tools that they say they can use well after the crisis ends. 

“I am finding more seniors are more inclined to use email and texting,” says Timothy M. Kennedy, a CRMP and director of business development with US Mortgage Corp. in Melville, NY. “Because of the virus, I am finding myself doing more three-way conference calls with the borrower and their ‘confidant,’ i.e., children, financial planner or CPA.” 

In addition to conference calls, teleconferencing with technologies, such as Zoom, allowed businesses nationwide to meet face-to-face in real time with clients or colleagues while working from home. “Conducting business as we once knew it has changed forever,” Kennedy says. “Video conferencing, e-signing and virtual notaries, just to name a few, are trends that, as we become more proficient with them, will become more the norm.” 

Timothy Kennedy -Reverse Mortgage Magazine July-August 2020
Timothy Kennedy

Kennedy has been using video conferencing to stay in contact with referral partners, rather than clients. Various app developers were working on security concerns pertaining to reverse mortgages, so Kennedy refrained from using video conferencing with clients. “I think it could be an advantage in the very near future, but they need to address the cybersecurity issue,” he explains.

“Right now, I can see it being used for general introductions or ‘get-to-know-you’ meetings, but I wouldn’t recommend it just yet for the actual loan application process. But I am confident that the security concern is being addressed.” 

He adds that he is “100 percent” convinced that videoconferencing or other tools will be used after the crisis ends. 

Steven J Sless - Reverse Mortgage Magazine July-August 2020
Steven J. Sless, CLTC®

Steven J. Sless, reverse mortgage division manager at Primary Residential Mortgage Inc. in Owings Mills, MD, has been a panel member on national forums on sales and social media hosted by NRMLA.

He says he has been using familiar technologies in new ways. “We’re no strangers to technology,” Sless says. “We’ve just been forced to use these tools more often than we otherwise would in normal circumstances.” 

As an example, Sless says, video conferencing has freed up a lot of time. “We are using video conferencing quite a bit—not as much with borrowers but more so with our strategic and referral partners,” he says. “I do quite a bit of networking, which is normally done over lunch or coffee.

Virtual coffee meetings have become the new normal. I’ve actually found it to be a great timesaver. I love meeting with all of my partners but have always struggled to balance time working in the business and time working on the business. I’ve been able to complete more tasks over the past few weeks because I’ve been in the office more.” 

Sless says the crisis led him to adapt some workflows. “We’ve always conducted the majority of our business by phone, so for us, how we communicate with clients hasn’t changed,” he says. “How we facilitate application signings has changed quite a bit, however.” 

Before the virus, most applications were signed in person or with a mobile notary present. “Today, the large majority of our signings are being done using DocuSign,” Sless adds. “We’ve found borrowers to be understanding and surprisingly comfortable e-signing.

Using DocuSign has increased our turn times and has turned out to be something I feel we will use more often when things normalize. 


Using Social Media 

Sless and Kennedy say social media is a great way to communicate at any time as an education tool, but Sless adds that people should be careful at times of high stress.

“I’m always mindful about the messaging we put out on social media,” Sless says. “I’ve been extremely careful about what I post and how often. People are stressed, scared and overwhelmed right now. I’ve tried to be respectful of that.” 

He shares articles about how people can leverage the wealth in their home with a reverse mortgage in times of uncertainty. “I’ve posted nothing that can be perceived as a sales pitch, rather my focus has been on making sure seniors have relevant information needed to navigate these times,” Sless says. 

Kennedy says Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter have always been great ways to promote the benefits of reverse mortgages, using the platforms to discuss how the mortgages are a tax-efficient retirement planning tool and dispelling the myths around the products. 


Regulations Should Change 

Sless and Kennedy note that the crisis has revealed outdated guidelines and requirements, such as how Massachusetts requires face-to-face counseling. The state temporarily lifted that requirement in April so that loans could proceed during the crisis. 

“This generation of older Americans is more than capable of using technology to ultimately help provide them with a better client experience. … Those who find the right balance between old and new school will be positioned to thrive moving forward.” —Steven J. Sless, Primary Residential Mortgage Inc. 

“I am a huge proponent of mandated counseling, and I use it to my advantage,” Kennedy says, adding that education doesn’t need to be done in-person. “Faceto-face counseling is an unnecessary burden to put our seniors through with or without a global pandemic.

They are more than capable of making a well-informed decision via the phone if the counselor takes their time to answer their questions and concerns in a clear and precise manner.” 

Sless thinks that the pandemic has shown that other requirements are overly burdensome, such as requirements for second appraisals. “We have multiple loans that require a second appraisal,” he says. “Both borrowers have completed substantial upgrades to the interior of their homes. Neither are comfortable having an appraiser in their home, yet they do not want a drive-by appraisal because the upgrades at that point won’t be considered in the value.

[The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] should immediately suspend all second appraisal requirements.” In New York, where the pandemic hit the hardest, the crisis coincided with new guidelines that took effect on March 5 and that put a damper on loans, Kennedy says. 

“We have an entire population of senior homeowners that cannot entertain the use of home equity during a historic unprecedented global pandemic,” he says. “These seniors may have lost their jobs, watched their portfolios erode and diminished their savings accounts.

They are being denied access to an alternative financial tool that could assist them in creating another source of cash flow during unprecedented times.” 

He suggests that New York should have delayed the new guidelines until the market stabilized. Kennedy also points out that interest in the loans has been high because of what reverse mortgages have to offer. “Senior homeowners and financial planners are coming out of the woodwork because of their concerns regarding sequence of return risk,” Kennedy says. “They are more open to listening about alternative financial tools to help mitigate portfolio loss and create tax-free cash flow.”


Lessons for the Future 

Sless thinks that borrowers are ready to explore new options using the technologies that people learned to cope with the crisis. “This generation of older Americans is more than capable of using technology to ultimately help provide them with a better client experience,” he says.

“It’s still important to understand, though, that this is a loan that requires a lot of education and hand-holding. Those who find the right balance between old and new school will be positioned to thrive moving forward.” 

Companies keep adapting, as well, several observers note. Brad Olena, director of marketing and business development for Summit Technology Group near Harrisburg, PA, says his company normally helps businesses—particularly banks, lending institutions and other financial services companies—transition to cloud computing.

During the pandemic, the company provided members of the American Bankers Association with complimentary cloud desktops for six months. 

The company also has been assisting with e-signing processes, as well as helping clients properly use video conferencing or other tools being used to work from home. “We are all human beings, not machines, and the need for interaction and collaboration is essential,” Olena says.

“Video conferencing platforms are a great tool to keep positive momentum with clients and colleagues while working remotely.” 

He cautioned that companies need to be careful when making the transition to working at home. “When you shift from a controlled office environment to a mix of locations, including home-based users, there are a variety of hurdles that can present themselves,” Olena says.

“The support and training definitely increased during this crisis, as entire teams are now remote for long periods of time, whereas previously it was smaller numbers and less prevalent.” 

He encourages clients and partners to “not think of this crisis as a start and end date.” 

“Our recent experiences have shown the importance of being flexible and willing to adapt quickly to external pressures and changes in our economy,” Olena says. “A new norm has been created, and organizations need to think strategically for the long-term on how they can structure their organizations to maintain operations and productivity in any environment. 

“Cloud infrastructure and technologies have been around for some time now, but it is an essential part of any business in order to adapt quickly and thrive during times of crisis—but also innovate,” he adds.

This article featuring Steven J. Sless, CLTC® was originally published in Reverse Mortgage Magazine.

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