Steven Sless is all about personal branding. From his signature beard and colorful suits to his “More with Sless” tagline, Sless has successfully leveraged social media with commonsense marketing to build a successful career for himself in the reverse mortgage business.
Three years ago, he joined Primary Residential Mortgage, Inc., a Salt Lake City-based mortgage company that had been offering reverse mortgages for several years, but needed that extra boost in leadership to take it to the next level.
He soon opened The Steven J. Sless Group in Owings Mills, MD to create a centralized location for all reverse mortgage operations. In 2021, The Sless Group opened its second branch in California and Sless was promoted to President of Reverse Mortgage Lending overseeing all reverse mortgage related activities across the entire organization.
The approach appears to be working as PRMI has cracked the Top 20 in company rankings, and he and his team have their eyes on the Top 10.
Reverse Mortgage magazine sat down with Sless to learn more PRMI and his long-term plans for the company.
Reverse Mortgage Magazine: What led to your involvement in the reverse mortgage business? How has your sales approach evolved over the past 15 years?
Steven Sless: Like a lot of mortgage professionals back during the last economic downturn in 2007-2008, I was only doing conventional loans and that business dried up. I was searching for the next big opportunity and I came across a company that was offering conventional mortgages and reverse mortgages. I saw loan officers having a lot of success with reverse mortgages. I was in my young twenties at the time, so I was turned off by the thought of getting into the reverse mortgage business and working with seniors. But I did a couple loans and I fell in love with reverse mortgages and the positive impact they were having on my clients. It was different compared to saving homeowners a few hundred bucks a month when they refinanced. It was at that point that I decided to commit myself to reverse, and I haven’t looked back since. I haven’t originated a traditional mortgage loan since 2007.
RM: Tell our readers about PRMI. How many states is the company licensed for reverse mortgages? How many employees do you have in both the forward and reverse divisions?
SS: PRMI is a national mortgage lender that was founded in 1998. It’s licensed in 49 states, and we have about 1,200 employees.
RM: How many PRMI employees originate reverse mortgages?
SS: Our philosophy at PRMI is to allow anybody who wants to originate reverse mortgages the avenue and the opportunity to do so. There are some barriers to entry. There’s a certification process that individuals must complete. There’s sales training, product training, systems training, but once they get through that training we certify them to originate reverse mortgages. About one-third of the 1,200 loan officers at PRMI are reverse mortgage certified. They can leverage the support and assistance of our reverse mortgage leadership team. We have a loan scenario desk, a pricing desk, and a marketing team. This is the direction that the reverse mortgage industry must go. We need to attract more forward mortgage companies and more forward mortgage originators and leverage them and their referral partners, their Realtor relationships, and support them with folks behind the scenes who are the foremost experts in the reverse mortgage space.
RM: I couldn’t agree more. We’re seeing this same approach being taken by an increasing number of forward mortgage companies.
SS: I think PRMI has taken it a step further. Our reverse mortgage department processes and handles all the operational execution. We all know processing is vastly different. Title is vastly different with reverse. We’ve centralized all reverse mortgage support and operations. We have our own account executives and sales managers. Our forward loan officers don’t reach out to external AEs for support and guidance. They get it internally. We process all the files, and that just makes life a lot easier for the loan officer and the manager, and a much more pleasurable, quicker experience for the client.
RM: What attracted you to PRMI?
SS: I came to PRMI in 2019. There was very little infrastructure. My colleague George Morales arrived a year prior and started to lay the building blocks and the foundation for me to come in and then build on that foundation. The reverse mortgage platform was bare bones when I arrived, so it was a daunting task, but it was a test that I was excited about. What drew me to PRMI was the executive leadership and the deep commitment to reverse. PRMI is a national, multi-billion dollar, balance-sheet organization. They don’t make investments lightly. When they get into something, they go all in. My very first meeting with the executive leadership, they brought me to Salt Lake City, where the corporate office is located, and they asked me, ‘We want to become a Top 10 lender in the space. What is that going to take?’ I gave them a monetary dollar figure and the number of years that it would take. They didn’t blink an eye. We’re still on that journey today. We’re not yet Top 10, I believe we’re 19 or 20 depending on the month, but we’re on our way. PRMI has delivered on every promise that they made to me.
RM: Is there anything else that distinguishes PRMI from its competitors?
SS: PRMI is very methodical. We’re long-term visionary thinkers. At our planning meetings and strategy sessions, nobody is thinking about rising interest rates and the immediate impact on business. We’re planning five, six, seven years out and the foundation that we’re still laying today is that foundation to thrive and be that Top 10, or Top 5, lender in the space many, many years out. That’s what I love that about this company. It’s just so unique, most of the time at least. Again, through my experience in the mortgage industry, the discussions tend to be focused on ‘what have you done for me lately?’ and ‘we need immediate ROI (return on investment) and immediate results. PRMI is a company that just doesn’t think that way.
RM: I see you frequently on social media, especially LinkedIn, promoting reverse mortgages. Which platforms do you find most effective? If you could offer one piece of advice on how to properly use social media, what would that be?
SS: Linkedin has been amazing. I could not have built my personal brand or PRMI’s reverse mortgage presence without leveraging all the resources at our fingertips. We’ve made connections across the country. We get referrals every day. A lot of referrals come from folks who I’ve never met personally, but they see us on LinkedIn and they appreciate the content. We’re very laser focused on words. The way that you lay out your content matters and having a very professional, polished presence. It’s important, especially in a leadership role within an industry that is often misunderstood, to have that professional presence and be able to tell a story through words and video. I’ve had the privilege of being a guest on many podcasts, Internet TV shows and radio shows, that have been shared on Linkedin, Facebook and Instagram. We leverage them all, but LinkedIn is my top source for brand building. As far as tips for using social media, be consistent, be genuine, be yourself. You should come off as a professional. These days, it’s pretty easy for somebody to go on any social media platform and unveil the skeletons in your closet that go back many years. Anything you put on social media, it’s there to stay. It can always be found, and so be purposeful, be intentional, and be consistent, would be my three points of advice.
RM: I know you’re especially proud to have earned the CLTC® or Certified Long-Term Care designation. What motivated you to pursue the CLTC® and how has it made you a better reverse mortgage professional?
SS: The designation itself has been empowering and enlightening. I don’t sell insurance products. I don’t have a license to sell insurance products. But I was passionate about discovering more about long-term care. We’ve all seen the statistics about how few people are insured or protected against an extended care incident, and the astronomical costs associated with paying for long-term care. I wanted to learn more. I ended up taking the last CLTC® course in Washington, DC, prior to COVID. I still have great, long-standing relationships with all of the folks I met. I was the only reverse mortgage professional in a room of about 40 financial planners. They allowed me to get up and give an impromptu reverse mortgage presentation. At that time, there was only one paragraph about reverse mortgages in the CLTC® curriculum. I was invited to rewrite the curriculum and to offer an entire chapter about reverse mortgages that has been added to the 2023-2024 workbook. Six pages instead of one paragraph. We create new content for CLTC®. We do webinars. I speak at all their conferences. We have immersed ourselves in that community. It’s now possible to have more informative conversations with our clients about long-term care, should the topic come up, and long-term care professionals better understand reverse mortgages. That’s the perfect marriage.
RM: Who sponsors the CLTC®?
SS: It’s called the Certified Long-Term Care Organization. The parent corporation is the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts, or IDFA. The IDFA also has the CDFA, or Certified Divorce Financial Analysts, professional designation. These are financial advisors who specialize in “silver” or senior divorce. They’re forensic accountants. They take care of the financial aspects of divorce.
RM: The past few months have been challenging for many companies given the rise in rates. What changes have you implemented, or may be contemplating, to continue growing?
SS: We’re doubling and tripling down on supporting our PRMI branch partners by providing them an avenue to diversify their product offerings and to do so with confidence through leveraging the resources of the reverse mortgage leadership team and ultimately helping them to produce and to originate more reverse mortgages. We’re creating more content. We’re enhancing our sales training. I’m committed to getting out and visiting with all of our branch partners, getting into their branch, hearing them out, listening to their struggles, and then again providing them with an avenue to diversify and increase their business and supplement their loan production with more reverse mortgage production. Like any company, we’re cutting costs. We’re looking at everything holistically from the top down. We’re using this opportunity to ensure that we are well-positioned to achieve the goals set forth three years ago when I joined PRMI and that is, we’re steadfast in our commitment to be a Top 10 or Top 5 reverse mortgage lender. We’re making all the appropriate cost-cutting measures and doubling down on our efforts to support our branch partners to help us achieve those goals.