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Using Education to Elevate the Reverse Mortgage Vertical and Change the Industry with Wendy Peel

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Despite not “growing up” in the mortgage industry, Wendy Peel joined the sector in 2015 from a technology and marketing perspective. However, she quickly found an interesting challenge in the lack of education regarding reverse mortgages in America. Through her work with BlackFin Consulting and the newly launched Age in Place Coalition, she’s embracing that challenge and working to make reverse mortgages more accessible. 

We talked with Wendy about:

  • The gap between financial planning and mortgages
  • The critical need for education in the reverse mortgage sector
  • Tools and resources for staying on top of reverse mortgage trends 

Featured Resources 

To learn more about our On Purpose guest, please visit Wendy’s LinkedIn page 


Full Audio Transcript

Lauren (00:00):
All right. Well, Wendy, thank you so much for joining us today. We're so glad to have you here. So I was just getting ready here, and goodness, you have such an incredible background. So just looking at some of your 20, 21 awards. You've been selected as one of the most powerful women in FinTech, which is incredible. Mortgage Woman magazine, looks like you're featured there, and you are a HousingWire Marketing Leader. The list just goes on and on. So we're excited to hear more about your background, but also dig in a little bit more into some of the changes you've been able to make in the industry. So I'll just pass it over to you. I'd love to hear a little bit more about how you got to where you are today.

Wendy (00:45):
Oh, thank you, Lauren. Thank you for having me with you today. I'm very honored to be here. And, yeah, I get a little embarrassed with the awards, I have to say, because I feel like I'm just doing what I'm passionate about. And the fact that people are noticing is really kind of icing on the cake. I go back to financial services. I am not someone who grew up in the mortgage industry where a lot of executives go back generationally. I came into the space, really in a more of a tech way; a recruiter found me and there was this company called ReverseVision that was looking to take reverse mortgages more mainstream. 

Wendy (01:41):
And I'll be honest with you. I did not know that much about them or the industry, but from my marketing and communications background and sales background, I dug into some research and I was fascinated by the demographic and I was fascinated that not more is understood. And so I found this to be a really interesting challenge. And the more I learned, the more passionate I got about honestly, retirement in America. And at this point in my career, I'm with a consulting firm called BlackFin now where I'm really out there, helping companies mainstream reverse mortgage lending, from how they think about talking to a borrower to why they should have this as another lending program within their ecosystem of technology. So it's near and dear to my heart at this point. And if somebody would've told me 10 years ago this is what I'd be doing, I don't know that I would've believed them, but I'm loving every minute of it.

Lauren (02:53):
And how were you able to level up to what's happening within the mortgage and lending sector? Just to fast forward to where you are today? 

Wendy (03:05):
Well, I was very fortunate that I had a CEO and president who really did give me the license to go learn, to do things differently. He really inspired people to think differently. So when I came into this sector, it was very siloed and it is still more siloed than it needs to be, but I had the ability to go and study what was working, what wasn't working and more importantly, the changes that have been happening inside of the mortgage industry. As we all know, 2008, the big financial crash, all of banking and mortgage had pretty much a negative connotation. So why was it in 2015 that reverse mortgages still had somewhat of a negative connotation, but the rest of mortgage and lending was starting to be seen as a little more favorable when both sides had a lot of regulatory change? And what I found was there just was no education out there. So, marketing can take the shape of many forms and education became really critical, which led us to starting to have user conferences. Part of it was for software, but another big, big part of it was just educating the people in the industry on what a reverse mortgage is, and more importantly what it isn't. So that's kind of how I got to where I am now, I guess.

Lauren (04:56):
That's fair. Half the battle sometimes is just that awareness. I feel like in working with other financial companies, part of it is not just educating internally, but externally the end client as well. So that's fair. I'd love to actually talk a little bit more about your time at ReverseVision. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and what you were able to do there within the space?

Wendy (05:28):
Yes. So one of the things I'm most proud of is our user conference. We did three years of those and the first year was as anything new, we learned a lot and the content was king. Everything was, the content was gonna be king. And honestly, my marketing director at that time, Kelly Callier, I couldn't have done it without her. The two of us rolled up our sleeves and put this on. And people were very, very happy to have a space where they could talk openly and still learn. By the second year we were sold out and in the third year, we were sold out. So it was exciting to start thinking differently and getting feedback from loan officers and executives on how do we move the needle in retirement? So we have this financial tool that is in the mortgage market, but it really does tie to retirement or even insurance products.

Wendy (06:39):
It’s a bigger financial bubble. I would call it a financial bubble where you wanna leverage your mortgage. Maybe if it makes sense to you, how would you go about doing that? And there's what's called sequence of returns risk, which is one of the ways that you could leverage your equity. Financial planners talk about that all the time, but there's still a gap between financial planning and mortgage. So it's an education both directions, for referrals, for the loan officers. And now I'm gonna go to the tech part of all this, the very cool thing was technology was changing in leaps and bounds every year. Gone are the days of paper. We have digital mortgages. And what I found was everybody had a different definition for what the digital mortgage is, which is exciting. Point of sale solutions, what’s gonna happen to loan officers?

Wendy (07:45):
There was just a lot of change and anytime there's a lot of change, it can be scary, but there's always opportunity. And so what I really got to focus on with our product team was how do we take a reverse mortgage and mainstream it, and it has to happen at truly the tech level, because the way loan officers work, they work with pricing engines. They work with loan origination systems. So how do we go from taking a reverse mortgage origination system and making it aligned within a traditional mortgage system? So there's only a couple of key differences. The document sets are different, but the way the tech works to generate the document set isn't necessarily different. The calculations are different, but it's public data math. So why is it being siloed over?

Wendy (08:47):
And so going through, I would say a solid year and a half of really investigating this, what I came to see is the tech is there. And there's a couple of companies now that have built out the tech. And one of the reasons I shifted from a tech company to consulting is because at this point, it's how do we get this into lenders or the financial institutions to be able to mainstream it from an operational perspective? We've got all the building blocks there, but you need to have some expert help. You put those building blocks to just have a reverse mortgage show up like any other mortgage if some is 62 or older, and they're trying to refinance a home. Why isn't that being offered? I know that when I purchased my home, I had several different types of loans.

Wendy (09:49):
So the technology is now there, but what isn't there is the training and the actual internal, I would say, consulting of the different stakeholders to just understand how to do it, and then train the loan officers. It's an FHA loan. How come it’s an FHA loan? There's FHA guidelines. You do other FHA guidelines. It's not as unusual as people thought it would be. And the regulations have changed so much to where it's so safe for the borrowers and so safe for the lenders from a reputational risk. I mean, it used to be okay, what is this, right? It's where the bank owns your home or you're gonna take the house away once they pass away or the heirs don’t get the property. All of that is myths. It's very much a loan on your home, but you still own the home. You can make a payment or not make a payment. It's been around since the ‘80s, the Reagan administration. It's safe. It's a way that a lot of people could have a better quality of life and retirement, and most people really do wanna age in place. So I don't even know if I answered your question on that. I just kept going, cause I get very passionate.

Lauren (11:11):
No, it's good. You can see the passion too, and you've hit it at so many angles, right? It's the foundational level of just what it is, but then how is technology gonna keep up with what's happening today and what does that actually mean? And how does that actually hit the end user for how they would interface with that offering too? So, where are we now? What do you feel like the status is of things now? What's kind of the pulse on being able to dial up the education within the industry, and outside, and then what's sort of the status on the SaaS side of things. 

Wendy (11:52):
Well, there's a several pronged approach right now that I'm putting forth. I'm working on a state of reverse mortgage report that I'll be putting out in the next three to four weeks. It gives financial institutions a deeper dive of what we just talked about at every end. Secondarily, like I said, there are tech companies now who have put the technology in place to where, with the right guidance, we can actually mainstream this from a loan origination standpoint. And then from the public relations and education endpoint I'm launching with the BlackFin Group what's called the Age In Place Coalition. And you'll appreciate this, Lauren, with your background. The most relevant campaign that I have seen over my years, as far as people coming together for education would be Got Milk?

Wendy (12:57):
Everybody knows Got Milk? It wasn't from a specific dairy farm. It was from a dairy farm coalition and it was to educate and they had a three-point agenda on what they needed to overcome objection-wise. So I've taken that and I've modeled it into what's called an Age In Place Coalition. We will have information for the end users and we'll have information for accountants. Yes, you can put a reverse mortgage in a trust. Most people don't know this, so there's attorneys that need to be educated, financial planners and loan officers. But most importantly, the consumer really needs to be educated. In 2021, I was looking at the HMDA data and this is very disturbing to me, 46% of the denied loans. So we take that 46% and move this into another little bubble; of those, more than 70% were in the demographic who got denied of HECM. Now in originations, HECMs were less than 1% of all originations.

Wendy (14:17):
So we had people trying to refinance because they probably wanted a lower payment or they wanted to leverage their equity. Right? And they didn't qualify. And nine outta 10 times they weren't even shown another option. And so lenders, financial institutions looking for the opportunity to serve their customers for life, they have that right in front of them with interest rates rising. This isn't a rate-sensitive population. There's very different needs. A lot of times they say, think of it like a first-time homebuyer. The first-time homebuyer really needs flexibility in a different way to buy their first home. When you wanna age in place, you need flexibility in a different way. You want to be able to access your equity to use it as you see fit. And that equity actually is tax free.

Wendy (15:18):
But when you're leveraging it, it's actually worth more than if you were to take it out of some other asset, because you're not paying taxes on it. So there's so many advantages that people just don't understand. And what makes me really sad is, there were quite a number of Americans that really were looking to do something differently and they didn't even know they had an option because the only place they can get that option is from lenders who lend money on housing. And so there's this Catch-22 right now. And I think there's a huge opportunity. It's the largest cohort in America, people retiring. We're getting into the biggest wave right now with COVID and with what's happening in the world and everything else. We have to start looking at things differently as a society.

Lauren (16:18):
That's absolutely fair. And you're leaning on those trusted allies, right? Your financial planners and others that are gonna be able to help guide and be able to provide that advice. I can see the why in it, right? Like the opportunity for a better life by being able to provide that knowledge and access. 

Wendy (16:41):
I have one group of people that I work with where unfortunately there's a lot of divorce happening in this demographic right now. So what do they do? How do you split that asset? And then go and try to buy something new? This is a simple thing. My people need to understand you can actually purchase a home with a reverse mortgage. So this gives the equity to purchase a home and they both get to keep their lifestyle. So there's so many uses that again, it's the education component. At first, it was the technology component. Now it's the education component. And interestingly enough, this demographic uses technology more than any other demographic when it comes to banking and tying their assets and things together from some of the point of sale technologies that are out there. They have been studying this and this demographic will tie their assets through an online application. They're fine doing it. I mean, my mother's 77 and she banks online, she uses Venmo. She knows what she's doing. I mean, some of the myths that we think about the demographic just aren't there anymore.

Lauren (18:00):
Yep. That's absolutely fair. So I feel like we work with a number of wealth management firms. And so many of them are moving or trying to move away from paper and all of that. And so, I think just with COVID too, it's just a trend. And I think sometimes we don't give folks enough credit. So, are those conferences still happening that you had had put together before? 

Wendy (18:25):
They are not happening now. I have had some folks ask me if we would be willing to do that again. And I would do that again. It was fantastic. Right now, my sleeves are rolled up to get the Age In Place Coalition up and going, but it would be something that we would look into doing, probably in 2023, and kick those back off again. And I think we'd have a much more cross-functional group of folks that would come in, because again, the agent place is for all types, it's not just for lenders, it's for attorneys, it's for financial planners. And get more folks together and get more again—Got Milk?—get more information to the consumer. Because at the end of the day, the consumer is the one who really benefits from understanding if leveraging equity makes sense for them in retirement.

Lauren (19:24):
Yeah. That makes sense. And also what's exciting to me about what you're sharing is sometimes there's conferences that are just segmented with a particular type of person or type of industry, right? Just bankers or just this and just that. But you're bringing together folks that are gonna be able to refer business and then have that shared knowledge base, which is exciting. I think about everything—this my marketer hat going on—but being so digital, right? You know that for consumers there's so many options for just communicating through various pathways, whether it's ads or video or all kinds of things, to be able to help reach them. 

Wendy (20:02):
It's an exciting time right now. I mean, technology and social media have come to a place where it's very mainstream. It's not scary. And it's not just for the young. And I think that right now, the next couple of years could be really exciting. I know that your viewers and your customers know this, Lauren, the greatest transition of wealth in the history of the world is happening over this next 10 years. So things are gonna change and you can be a leading indicator in the change or you can kind of wait for it to happen. And I like the thought of thinking differently about things; it's exciting to me. I get excited every day thinking differently and to your point, bringing different people together to solve some of these problems because there's a lot of people that need to and want to retire, but don't think they could afford to. And truthfully as an economy, we need people to retire. You need the younger groups, the millennials, to get into the higher paying jobs so that the cycle of the economy continues. So this is complex things we're talking about right now, and the more people that want to talk about 'em the better. I certainly don't think I have all the answers or anything like that. I do happen to have a little niche that a lot of people haven't really thought about before. 

Lauren (21:42):
Absolutely. So I know you had talked about some of these kinda white papers you're working on, to be able to look for those that will be rolling out. What other things or what other resources have people wanted to learn more either that are upcoming or perhaps, places that people could go to learn a little bit more either about the work you're doing either now or previously, or just in the industry at large?

Wendy (22:08):
For the industry at large, I'm a big fan of NRMLA, the National Reverse Mortgage Lending Association. They have a lot of articles that they've done with the Council on Aging and studies and things like that. My group, the Blackfin Group, definitely please come take a look there. That's where these kinds of papers are if you'd like to see them, or you can email me directly. I'm an evangelist. I will talk to anybody who wants to talk about reverse mortgages, which is just funny right now, cuz I did not expect this to be my passion in life and it just so much is my passion in life. And most of the lenders out there that offer a reverse mortgage that are reverse-centric only have really good information as well.

Wendy (23:04):
I definitely challenge people to look at some of the articles out there because there's more and more. And when I started in this vertical, a little interesting fact is more than 70 to 80% of the ads or stories or anything written about this industry were pretty negative. And these days, if you go look and you were to measure it between being agnostic or positive, it's about 80 to 90%, either agnostic or positive and agnostic is fine with me. Cause that means it's just fact based. There's still some fringe misinformation out there, but there's gonna be that with anything. So the tide has turned; I will say the tide has turned.

Lauren (23:59):
Yeah, well you know, all things take time, right? And sometimes it comes down to education, or there's a bad headline or this and that, you know? And so you're right, it all shifts. So, anything else we should be on the lookout for as far as trends or resources or anything else you'd like to share too?

Wendy (24:20):
Age In Place Coalition. Definitely look for that. There'll be a launch like I said in the next three to four weeks. And again I think that's gonna be the big thing over the next year, that education component and we will be out and about everywhere we can be talking about it. And thank you Lauren so much for letting me have a platform with you and the work you're doing. Thank you so much.

Lauren (24:51):
Oh no, absolutely. Thank you for sharing your passion with us and also helping to educate folks that are tuning in to learn a little bit more about the work that you do and providing some resources to stay on top of the trends and also have some context for where it's been, where it's going, and all the important work that that's being done. So we appreciate all that you do. And thank you for your time today.

Wendy (25:13):
Thank you.

Lauren (25:15):
Thanks again.

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