Bringing awareness to potential opportunities in the reverse mortgage space can be a challenge, but Kristen Sieffert, president of Finance of America Companies (FOA), says it’s a task she’s more than willing to take on.
After being promoted to the role of president following the FOA acquisition of former industry-leading lender American Advisors Group (AAG), Sieffert sat down with HousingWire President Diego Sanchez for a “Ten Minute Talk” to go deeper into her new role.
She also discussed the challenges of appealing to the broader mortgage business about the potential opportunities on the reverse side, offering perspective ahead of her speaking engagement at HousingWire’s “The Gathering” event in April.
New role as president
When asked about her new role as FOA president in light of broader industry challenges, Sieffert is frank about her business assessment of 2023.
“2023 was a rough year; I’m happy that it’s in the rearview mirror,” she said. “I think that sentiment is probably echoed by a lot of people. I think what I’m most excited about is the opportunity that we have with so many different, talented people that have come together now focused on one singular mission.”
Finance of America Reverse (FAR) has had some challenges incorporating the AAG corporate infrastructure into the existing FOA framework, according to recent earnings reports. But Sieffert also express bullishness on multiple levels about the strength that combined forces have in meeting reverse mortgage challenges and opportunities alike.
“Between the AAG team, the FAR team, and then this really highly talented group of people in our corporate team that were built to support a much larger enterprise doing very big and strategic projects, all of those people are now focused on the singular mission and vision of helping people live better in their retirement years,” she explained.
Creating a united culture
This vision leads to a feeling of excitement about what everyone can do as part of the same team, she said. There is still some “rebuilding” to accomplish, but this also means Sieffert will get to establish a new and united company culture, which she is looking forward to.
“After all of these different and unique cultures came together, now we’ve got to create what the new culture looks like,” she said. “And that’s my biggest passion, around culture, so I’m very excited about getting to tackle that and work with the team to build a company that everybody’s proud to work for.”
In 2024, Sieffert says she’s most looking forward to going back on “offense” once the immediate priorities of the integration are fully settled.
“Whether that be really making sure the products that we have in the market are the best they can be, and in addition to that, I think there’s going to be a really heavy look at what we can do differently from a technology and customer experience standpoint,” she said. “I think our industry has lagged behind the forward mortgage industry in general — and definitely in financial services in general.”
Expanded reverse mortgage discussion
When it comes to her role as president of FOA, Sieffert said that much of her perspective is shaped by the current realities of the market and how to best respond to them. Last year was a tough one for the reverse mortgage industry as a whole, but the potential of the demographic the industry serves has not diminished, she said.
“It’s an interesting time,” she explained. “We’ve got such a unique opportunity. When you look at the $13 trillion of home equity held by the 55- to 60-plus demographic, you’ve got […] a $4 trillion retirement savings gap. You have a ton of data that says people want to age in place. And so, I think there’s just this really big opportunity.”
Sieffert offered thoughts on the ongoing challenges that come with positioning reverse mortgages in the minds of both the public and other mortgage professionals. She said it’s possible that the product category has been contorted too far beyond the conceptions people have about other, more mainstream mortgage products.
“I think as an industry, we’ve always been very niche and [have] almost made [things too hard]. Things are hard in reverse [mortgages, because] they’re different. But I think we maybe made them harder or more different than they need to be.
“And so, we really want to ask ourselves as a company, how can we continue to break down the barriers and continue to invest in education, and show people that it really isn’t that different?”
Product potential illustrated
Doing so would help communicate the potential of unlocking home equity in retirement, Sieffert explained.
“[We want] the broader folks that are out there talking to the larger numbers of customers, [and to] always think of home equity as an option, as a part of the product suite that they can offer,” she said
The use cases of reverse mortgages have helped to emphasize the product’s versatility, she said. Whether it’s reverse loan originators enlisting referral partners such as real estate agents, or borrowers who have used their loan proceeds for a variety of different pursuits, this versatility has a place in the wider affordability conversation that many people in housing finance are having right now, she said.
“The housing affordability issue is real,” Sieffert said. “Getting into the real estate market is hard. And the data shows the sooner you can get into the real estate market, the better off you’re going to be financially through the course of your life.
“So, with people living as long as they are, how can we help shift that wealth over a little bit earlier? Those are the types of questions that we’re always wrestling with and asking ourselves.”