For the past 18 years, Reza Jahangiri has been the public face of American Advisors Group, the nation’s largest originator of reverse mortgages. While Jahangiri is still the CEO and still very much involved at AAG, the day-to-day operations of the company have passed to Ed Robinson, who became president and chief operating officer in August 2021.
Robinson’s resume includes more than 30 years of combined professional and military leadership experience. He served 17 years in the Army, mostly in special operations. He worked as a sniper, jumped out of planes and performed reconnaissance and surveillance work. Robinson applies many of the same principles he learned in the military to business.
Robinson kept a low profile during the first couple months at AAG, but he has taken a more active role in NRMLA. In late March, he was unanimously appointed to serve on the Board of Directors for the balance of 2022 following the retirement of AAG’s Chief Legal Officer Jules Vogel. He also serves on the Executive Committee.
Reverse Mortgage sat down with Robinson to learn more about his professional career, his first dealings with reverse mortgages over a decade ago and his priorities at AAG.
Reverse Mortgage: Ed, 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?
Ed Robinson: I come from a family of soldiers, so I lived all over the world, but I call Virginia and North Carolina my home. Dad was an engineer and mom was in law enforcement. They taught me to always strive to give my very best with everything, to give back to the community, to mentor folks so that they could achieve their dreams and, most importantly, to be a genuine leader who people can trust and respect. It starts with communicating with respect on a personal level and being transparent. My dad understood that everyone was different, and that people had different ways of communicating. He could quickly ascertain their perspectives and speaking styles, regardless of who they were. As a result, he would speak with folks in their own preferred style of communication, and he taught me that you always need to know your audience. You don’t pander to them, you don’t cater to them, but you must understand them and communicate in a manner that they can understand and appreciate. Between my folks and the military, I’ve learned throughout my life that leadership is probably the single most important aspect of my job.
RM: What attracted you to the reverse mortgage business? Did you have any prior knowledge of reverse mortgages prior to joining AAG?
ER: Simply put, I love to serve. We’re in an interesting industry where we have the opportunity, literally every day, to make a direct and positive impact on the lives of American seniors. These are folks who bought into the American dream. When I was at GE Financial and later at Genworth, we looked at reverse, because we had a real focus on seniors and creating an ecosystem of financial services solutions and products for them. Given our business model and products, the initial thought of entering the reverse mortgage industry was focused on offering mortgage insurance. We realized that we would effectively become a direct competitor to the FHA, so we performed analysis of the total value chain and realized it was more advantageous to be a lender and/or a servicer. Having made that determination we then decided to acquire the Liberty Reverse Mortgage platform.
RM: What role did you play in this effort?
ER: I worked on all the upfront economic analysis, determined the selection of the different folks we wanted to look at as far as acquisitions, and performed the due diligence and integration for the acquisition of Liberty Reverse Mortgage. I was working on other corporate growth initiatives, like building the bank for Genworth, so I didn’t join the Liberty platform. It’s cool joining AAG more than a decade later, because now I’m able to personally finish the work I started all those years ago.
RM: You joined AAG one year ago. What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned thus far?
ER: I can tell you several lessons, such as how detrimental the bond market can be to this industry, even though it should essentially be recession proof, or how different the experiences are with reverse mortgage customers versus the traditional mortgage space. Frankly, I think the biggest lesson is that we really need to double down as both a business and as an industry on adoption. The level of equity available for seniors is estimated to be around $10.6 trillion. Right now, home values are continuing to rise. I recall seeing some data from Freddie Mac recently where they anticipate even this year during a possible recessionary environment a ten percent increase in home price appreciation and probably another five percent in 2023. There seems to be a rather obvious answer to liquidity challenges and inflationary pressures. When you think about folks who are living on a fixed income, reverse mortgage solutions are a legitimate answer. I really believe it’s on us to turn that ability, if you will, for reverse mortgage solutions into customer propensity and engage them in a meaningful way that drives adoption.
RM: When they join a new company, presidents and CEOs often like to instill a part of themselves into the corporate culture. What values have you tried to instill in your employees?
ER: There are a few elements of corporate culture that I take with me to every new job assignment. Leadership is paramount not only to meeting corporate objectives but also employee and customer engagement. There’s a literal open-door policy, so that I hear all our employees’ voices. There’s accountability. Customer satisfaction. Listening to folks on the front lines is paramount. Whether it’s our mortgage loan officers, our customer service representatives, fulfillment partners, or others who have first-hand contact with customers, the insights that those personnel on the front lines provide is so valuable. I’m a firm believer that we’re all in this together. If we consistently capture the voice of our customers and our employees, we will identify corporate methods to make them better and happier. Looking back early in my career, Lean Six Sigma is what built and grew GE for decades. The one thing we always talked about was the VOC, or voice of the customer, and the VOE, or voice of the employee. Unequivocally, every single project that I was personally engaged with when it came to Lean Six Sigma at GE had a crucial element of really understanding the VOC and VOE and then incorporating that into what we did.
RM: For the uninitiated, can you please remind our readers what Lean Six Sigma refers to?
ER: It’s a process improvement protocol or toolkit. There’s a debate over whether GE or Motorola created it. They are two different tools. There’s Lean and then there’s Six Sigma. Lean is about eliminating what’s called “process waste” and making sure that you look at the entire value stream or customer journey and making sure that you remove all the wasteful elements to make things easier for your employees and your customers. Six Sigma, on the other hand, is all about process discipline and control. It’s about making sure you take variability out of your process to become more efficient, productive and effective.
RM: What changes are you considering over the next 12-24 months to build AAG’s market share?
ER: The single most important program we’re incorporating right now is called Delight the Customer. We’re taking a very hard look at all our customer touch points, including process execution, technology and third-party relationships, so that we can deeply understand every single customer engagement. At the same time, we’re speaking with customers, both past and present, to understand moments of delight and moments of friction, so that we make concerted improvements in how we work. We’re making it a key priority of ensuring our customers literally have a seat at the table in making AAG decisions and priorities. We’ve identified several improvements to incorporate, and a lot of those include rather significant technology enhancements. We believe these changes will simultaneously drive organic growth within the industry and be a catalyst to increasing the adoption that I spoke about a few moments ago.
RM: You’ve had a partnership in place for several years with Finance of America Reverse to offer its product, but I am wondering if the time has come for AAG to offer its own private-label reverse mortgage?
ER: It’s a fair question and one I’ve been asked a few times since I joined AAG. Let’s be honest, as a market leader it is incumbent upon us to lead on all fronts. So, I can safely say that we are evaluating our own proprietary products and features for future release.
RM: You spent 17 years in the Army as a Long-Range Reconnaissance Team Leader. How did your time in the military shape you as a business leader?
ER: Before I answer that, do you know what a Long-Range Reconnaissance Team Leader is?
RM: I imagine that you’re deployed behind enemy lines to gather intelligence or cause mayhem?
ER: Yeah, that’s actually pretty good. It is an airborne unit, so we parachute or repel into a designated area. We have a multi-faceted mission, whether it’s gathering intel, sniper missions, etc., with very small teams, usually four to six men. You tend to work along the best of the best. Given my earlier responses, leadership is one answer. Another answer is tenacity. I’ve worked with some of the most amazing warriors in some of the most dangerous areas in the world. Resolve and intestinal fortitude can help you overcome most any obstacle or challenges you’re going to face. The last thing is I’m a firm believer of building a “high performing team” as defined in both the military or by Patrick Lencioni if you read his business manuals and books. To do that it’s absolutely critical to build rapport. You’ve got to laugh together, you have to challenge each other, and you’ve got to ensure you hold each other accountable to the team’s collective success. It’s not about the individual, it’s truly about the team. I had the real fortune of being in a high-performing team in the military during my last combat tour and then once, in the business world, prior to joining AAG. What’s cool is, and I feel very confident in saying this is, I really believe that our team at AAG is rapidly becoming a high-performing team on a comparable basis. There’s that energy, that commitment, that camaraderie, that esprit de corps that goes into a high-performing team that I learned in the military, and I aspire to have in every single team that I’ve worked with since.