Beth Paterson, CRMP, has done a little bit of everything over her professional career. She worked as a human resources secretary for a hospital, a marketing assistant for Pillsbury and as an executive recruiter. She also owned a company that sold life settlements, also known as viaticals, which allow consumers who own life insurance policies to sell those policies for a percentage of their death benefit value to generate immediate cash.
In 1999, a friend recommended that she go into a new line of work originating reverse mortgages. Paterson had no experience selling mortgages, but she gave it a shot. She got her start with Unity Mortgage, which later merged with Financial Freedom Senior Funding Corporation, before moving on to Seattle Mortgage Company, and later forming her own company, Reverse Mortgages SIDAC.
Twenty-one years later, Paterson has originated over 1,000 reverse mortgages – no small feat considering she’s only licensed in Minnesota – and she has played a valuable role educating policymakers and consumer advocates in her state.
Reverse Mortgage Magazine sat down with Paterson to learn how she has adapted to the pandemic, what makes her successful and what her plans are for 2021.
Reverse Mortgage: What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned as a small business owner in 2020?
Beth Paterson: You must be flexible, creative and persistent. That’s how you find solutions to surprises when they happen. I learned these lessons before the pandemic and then applied them in 2020. We found ourselves in a position where we couldn’t meet face-to-face with our clients. We had to be creative and flexible in finding new ways to meet with clients and with referral sources, mostly financial planners.
RM: What resources did you rely on for finding solutions?
BP: Talking with other mortgage brokers was helpful. I was aware of the technologies that were available to meet with clients virtually but had never used them, until now.
RM: You’re one of the top producers in your state, if not the entire reverse mortgage industry. What makes you successful?
BP: I learned as much as I could about reverse mortgages early on and continue to learn and research as well as stay committed to the industry. Through the years, I have networked with others who work with seniors. The focus is on sharing stories on how reverse mortgages have made a difference in our borrower’s lives. People relate to the stories and remember them when they are working with their client who could use some improved cash flow. Keeping my name in front of the referral partners has helped them think of me when they have a referral.
RM: What changes to your business model do you anticipate making in 2021 to stay competitive?
BP: I want to increase my outreach to financial advisors. Because of COVID-19, borrowers are searching for ways to preserve their assets. Many of them are more receptive to reverse mortgages to help them achieve their retirement goals.
RM: Are you seeing more financial advisors willing to look at the strategic use of home equity as a potential solution for their clients?
BP: Yes, they are definitely recommending reverse mortgages more so than in the past. Part of the change is that the brokers they work with — the financial services companies that they use to sell insurance, mutual funds, annuities and other retirement products — are no longer telling them that they can’t recommend reverse mortgages. Wade Pfau, Jamie Hopkins and a few other retirement experts have been instrumental in educating planners and brokers that reverse mortgages really are a good option for people.
RM: How did the borrower experience change for you during COVID-19? Do you still meet clients face-to-face or do you use Zoom or other similar technologies?
BP: I still meet people face-to-face as much as possible, but I have used Zoom or mailed out packages and then walked clients through the documents over the phone. It has been a combination and adding Zoom has definitely been new.
RM: Are the people who are comfortable using Zoom younger and living in cities, or are you meeting virtually with people of all ages and locations?
BP: Throughout the years, I’ve always had people tell me that they can’t imagine going through this process without meeting face-to-face to go through the application documents, so that they understand them. With Zoom, we’re still meeting face-to-face. They have the documents in front of them. We go through each one individually and I explain what it is before they sign it. I think people are more accepting of Zoom, but there are others who only want to meet in person.
RM: Have the motivations for why consumers want a reverse mortgage changed at all? Has this led to changes in the way you market reverse mortgages?
BP: As I alluded to earlier, more customers want to preserve their assets. This was happening even before COVID-19. They want a reverse mortgage line of credit to access in the future. They are looking at a reverse mortgage to plan for their future. In a lot of cases, there still seems to be an immediate need. In terms of marketing, I get most of my business through referrals from financial advisors and attorneys and from my web site. We haven’t done paid advertising for many years.
RM: Interesting. How do they find your web site?
BP: When consumers do a google search for reverse mortgages in Minnesota, we appear high on the opening page. We are contacted by people from all over the country, even though we’re licensed just in Minnesota. They tell us, ‘Your web site has so much good information. I have a question. Can you help?’ I’ve been getting a lot of servicing questions lately. I wrote an article years ago called “What Happens When Your Reverse Mortgage Becomes Due and Payable?” that people find and then contact me. The questions come from people who say, ‘Mom died and I am getting this letter from the servicer who’s saying I have to do this or that.’ Someone asked me how they could purchase the home after it had gone into foreclosure. I never worked with this person’s parents, but they found me online. It’s challenging because I am not a servicing expert. I normally contact NRMLA to help put me, the borrower or the heirs in touch with the servicer to get the best possible advice.
RM: Some people have said they enjoy using Zoom so much that they will continue meeting virtually even after a vaccine is distributed. What do you think about that?
BP: Many of us are craving contact with people. I think we’re going to go back to meeting face-to-face as much as we can. I think Zoom will always be there as an option, but I am an extrovert, so I need that contact with people. I miss giving hugs to my clients.
RM: You’ve done a lot over the years to educate state policymakers in Minnesota about reverse mortgages. Why is this important?
BP: Sometimes lawmakers don’t understand reverse mortgages. They come up with an idea that they think protects the senior but in reality it hurts them and our industry. It’s important to keep them educated, so that if they do pass a law it’s beneficial. Earlier this year, a bill was introduced in Minnesota that would have required the reverse mortgage counselor to inform the borrower of his or her rights to name a “third-party designee” to receive communications regarding delinquencies, defaults, and unfulfilled obligations under the loan agreement. The lawmakers didn’t think that through at all. From a privacy standpoint, the borrower doesn’t want that type of sensitive information shared with anyone. I still have a lot of clients who don’t want their kids to know that they are even getting a reverse mortgage. When I met with the bill’s authors, I was told, ‘Well, we thought it was a good idea.’ Nobody contested it, but we did as soon as we found out about it. I reached out to state representatives who are involved in senior issues and we convinced several of them that it was not a good idea. Then things changed anyway with COVID-19 and the bill didn’t go anywhere. We’re hoping it doesn’t come back. At least the legislators are aware of the industries and my concerns if it does.
RM: What advice would you give to someone who may be intimidated to meet with their elected representatives?
BP: Just do it. They are people just like we are. There’s no way that they can fully understand all of the issues that come up before them. Generally, they are willing to listen or receive a letter that explains the issues and concerns. In talking with the legislators, educate them as if they are your client.
RM: Do you meet directly with the lawmaker, or his or her staff?
BP: Both. I have served on an advisory committee called Own Your Future. I was appointed by the lieutenant governor in 2012. It was formed by the Department of Human Services to help consumers plan for their future long-term care needs. Not necessarily long-term care insurance, but long-term care services. The reverse mortgage plays an important part in helping pay for these services. It has been very helpful in educating people in state government about reverse mortgages.
RM: You continue to specialize in originating only reverse mortgages while many other brokers sell forward mortgages to stay afloat. How have you succeeded at this approach?
BP: By making sure that I am as educated as possible about reverse mortgages, so that I am known as an expert and focusing just on this niche. I don’t want to spread myself thin by having to learn about other mortgage products. Since I don’t have a mortgage or banking background, it would be a whole new learning process for me.
RM: Thank you for your time. Is there any last message you have for your fellow reverse mortgage professionals as we approach year-end?
BP: I’ve seen a lot of changes in the 21 years I’ve been originating reverse mortgages. I’ve always found ways to survive. I will never give up on this product.