In July 2018, the reverse mortgage industry received exciting news when the acquisition of San Diego-based mortgage company Synergy One Lending and its reverse mortgage subsidiary, Retirement Funding Solutions, by Mutual of Omaha Bank was finalized by federal regulators.
Having the iconic Mutual of Omaha brand name involved in the reverse mortgage space was welcome news, because it further legitimized reverse mortgages as a retirement planning solution for America’s aging population.
Synergy One co-founders Torrey Larsen and his brother Tyler have continued to be instrumental in the operation of the company, now re-named Mutual of Omaha Mortgage. Just recently, Terry Connealy was named president of Mutual of Omaha Mortgage, allowing Torrey Larsen to focus on strategy and business development for the company. Under Connealy’s leadership, Mutual of Omaha Mortgage has remained a dominant force in the business, ranking fourth among HECM producers in fiscal year 2020.
Connealy has also become an important thought leader through his participation on NRMLA’s Board of Directors. Reverse Mortgage Magazine sat down with Connealy to learn more about his background, Mutual of Omaha’s recent restructuring and his plans for the future.
Reverse Mortgage: Terry, help our readers get to know you a little bit better. Where did you grow up? What did your parents do for a living? How have they influenced your life and professional career?
Terry Connealy: I grew up on a cattle ranch in western Nebraska. I was the youngest of seven children. Growing up, all of us helped the folks on the ranch. The ranch is still in the family and there are four generations currently involved in the ranching operation. It may have been somewhat of a unique upbringing, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I was very blessed to have great parents and a great family. The experiences that I enjoyed growing up are pretty special to me.
RM: How did you choose finance as a career?
TC: I attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where I majored in Agribusiness. I always thought that maybe I would end up in the agricultural field. After graduation, I did go back to the ranch for a short time, but I chose a different career path and ended up in the mortgage world. I was at Wells Fargo for over a dozen years and with Mutual of Omaha since 2014.
RM: It has been two-and-a-half years since Mutual of Omaha acquired Synergy and RFS. What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned overseeing a reverse mortgage business?
TC: What has stuck with me the last couple of years is all the changes that have improved the product and how reverse mortgages can have such a life-changing effect on so many seniors. I get to hear stories firsthand from our loan officers and from the borrowers themselves and to me that hits home. The other thing that has become so evident to me is how under penetrated this market is. The sky’s the limit. There’s a lot of work to be done to educate the general public, to knock down the misperceptions and the bad press that persist and to really work to get this to be much more of a mainstream product.
RM: What were the motivating factors for Mutual of Omaha to offer reverse mortgages?
TC: From the time I joined Mutual of Omaha in 2014, there was always this interest in the reverse mortgage product, simply because of the demographic that the insurance company served, the senior-aged customer. There was always this intrigue about the product and how it could fit into a broader financial plan or a broader offering to that demographic of the customer base. Beginning in 2014, we started having conversations about how this product was different from the one that existed prior to 2008 and what the risks were getting into the business. We were very fortunate to eventually cross paths with Torrey and Tyler Larson, who managed Synergy One. It was a cultural fit. We loved the leadership team. That side of our business has really taken off. We’re very proud to offer reverse mortgages. It’s a life-changing product to many Americans.
RM: 2020 was a year of transition. Mutual of Omaha Bank was sold to CIT and the mortgage division, which includes reverse mortgages, was placed under Mutual of Omaha Insurance. You were also promoted to president of the mortgage company. What led to the restructuring? How has it worked out so far?
TC: The restructuring where Mutual of Omaha Mortgage shifted and become a subsidiary underneath the insurance company was obviously brought on by the sale of Mutual of Omaha Bank to CIT. At that time, the insurance company looked at the mortgage company and thought it was an asset and a business line they wanted to hold onto to serve their customers. The support of Mutual of Omaha Insurance has been tremendous. There are millions of customers of the insurance company who could benefit from either a traditional forward mortgage or a reverse mortgage. We want to be able to offer either product to our existing customers. On the flip side, we’re acquiring a lot of customers each month who we think could probably benefit from product offerings that the insurance company offers. It’s really been a nice fit. It has only been nine months, so there’s a lot of work to do, but we’re starting to have some success. The transition of me moving to be president was the other part of that question. And really, it’s been a non-event. Torrey is still actively involved doing many of the things he was doing before. I’m just able to take a little bit of the day-to-day operations off his plate, so he can focus on strategy and business development.
RM: Are the people who work in the insurance division aware of the reverse mortgage?
TC: Yes, that has been a major focus to educate our internal partners on reverse mortgages and how they could benefit some of their customers. We’re partnering with other business units to seek opportunities to take care of their customers and also to refer some of our customers to them for other financial and insurance products that they might need. But it doesn’t happen overnight. You’d like to think that you can send out an email and say, ‘Hey, here’s what we have to offer’ but it’s not that easy.
RM: Besides reverse mortgages, what other loan products does the mortgage division offer? How large is your staff? How many states are you licensed? Do you keep the forward and reverse mortgage businesses separated?
TC: In addition to reverse mortgages, we have a fairly large forward division. Most of our forward business is direct-to-consumer and includes a full suite of mortgage products, including conventional conforming, government and jumbo. The entire staff of Mutual of Omaha Mortgage, forward and reverse, is somewhere between 1,100 and 1,200 employees. We are licensed in 48 states. Your question about whether we keep the forward and reverse sides separate, the simple answer is yes. Our forward loan officers originate forward loans that are processed, underwritten and closed by a dedicated team that only handles forward business. The reverse business is the same. But, we do refer clients back and forth. When we are working with borrowers, we’re very aware that a customer could be served better by being on the forward side of the business or vice versa.
RM: I grew up with Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and its host Marlin Perkins. I’m curious how that brand recognition has resonated with older homeowners who may be considering a reverse mortgage in the markets you serve.
TC: The Wild Kingdom and Marlin Perkins resonates with a lot of Americans our age and older Darryl, so it’s been a great success. We haven’t been rebranded as Mutual of Omaha Mortgage for very long. But in that time, we’ve certainly seen an uptick in acceptance. We have one of the strongest consumer brands in the space. I really think it helps with the trust factor and allows us to educate customers and their advisors about reverse mortgages and to address the misperceptions.
RM: From a volume standpoint, how does 2020 compare with 2019? What are your projections for 2021?
TC: We’re seeing year-over-year growth. It amazes me how the team is doing a great job of handling the increased volume, especially with all the disruptions and working from home and not being together. But yeah, we’re seeing a nice increase from 2019 to 2020. We think 2021 is going to be an even stronger year. We still have a couple of tailwinds, such as a low interest rate environment, which a lot of people think will continue through 2021. I also think that we are seeing some progress in the acceptance of reverses. The stock market has mostly rebounded, but in March when the pandemic was hitting us hard, equity values declined and it woke up a lot of senior borrowers and financial advisors that it sure would be nice to have a different asset to tap into. I think that there’s been a bit of awareness that has grown out of this pandemic that this product is really a nice compliment to a retirement plan in many cases. So, we’re pretty optimistic about what 2021 is going to bring to us.
RM: What changes are you considering for 2021 to build market share for your reverse mortgage business?
TC: We are going to continue to expand our marketing campaigns. We are launching a few different things to capture more business, both online and direct mail. We have a large customer base within the insurance company that we are working to see if we can leverage. So, we’ve got a lot of things going right now that we think will reap rewards. We’re also excited about some new technology that we’re going to be rolling out at the end of this year (2020) that will be a real win for our customers and make our process even more customer-friendly and efficient.
RM: Thank you very much for your time. Do you have any parting words for our readers?
TC: We always remind ourselves how life changing this product can be. Despite the distractions of a pandemic, social injustice, and an election year, we never lose track of why we do what we do. And that’s because we truly make a difference in the lives of these senior homeowners and sometimes you have to take a deep breath, step back and remind yourself that it really does make everything worthwhile.