ASIC review of reverse mortgage lending

A review by ASIC has found that reverse mortgages are allowing older Australians to achieve their immediate financial goals – improving their lifestyles in retirement – but longer-term challenges exist.

 

For older Australians who own their home with few other assets, a reverse mortgage can allow them to draw on the wealth locked up in their homes, while they continue to live in their property.

 

Australian Securities & Investment Commission (ASIC) reviewed data on 17,000 reverse mortgages, 111 consumer loan files, lender policies, procedures, and complaints. It also commissioned in-depth interviews with 30 borrowers and consulted over 30 industry and consumer stakeholders.

 

The review found borrowers had a poor understanding of the risks and future costs of their loan, and generally failed to consider how their loan could impact their ability to afford their possible future needs.

 

Lenders have a clear role to play here and need to do more: for nearly all of the loan files that were reviewed, the borrower’s long term needs or financial objectives were not adequately documented.

 

Under legal protections in place since 2012, borrowers can never owe the bank more than the value of their property, and can remain in their home until they pass away or decide to move out.

 

However, depending on when a borrower obtains their loan, how much they borrow, and economic conditions (property prices and interest rates), they may not have enough equity remaining in the home for longer term needs (e.g. aged care).

ASIC Deputy Chair Peter Kell said “Reverse mortgage products can help many Australians achieve a better quality of life in retirement.”

 

“But our review shows that lenders and brokers need to make inquiries that would lead to a genuine conversation with customers about their possible future needs, not just a set of tick boxes on a form.”

 

ASIC’s report also found that there is an opportunity for lenders to reduce the risk of elder abuse.

 

Under the new Code of Banking Practice, recently approved by ASIC, banks will be required to take extra care with customers who may be vulnerable, including those who are experiencing elder abuse.

 

Consumers also had limited choices for finding a reverse mortgage. Several providers withdrew from the market after the global financial crisis. From 2013 to 2017, two credit licensees provided 80% of the dollar value of new loans from 2013 to 2017.

Background

Reverse mortgages are a credit product that allows older Australians to borrow using the equity in their home. The loan does not need to be repaid until a later time, typically when the borrower has vacated the property or died.

 

They are a more expensive form of credit compared to standard variable owner occupier home loans; the interest rates are typically 2% higher and, as there are no repayments required, interest compounds.

 

Consumer demand for reverse mortgages has grown gradually since the global financial crisis, with the total exposure of ADIs to reverse mortgages increasing from $1.3 billion in March 2008 to $2.5 billion by December 2017.

 

The current ASIC review examined five brands, which collectively lent 99% of the dollar value of approved reverse mortgage loans in 2013-17. These brands were: Bankwest, Commonwealth Bank, Heartland Seniors Finance, Macquarie Bank and Westpac (comprising St George Bank, the Bank of Melbourne and BankSA). As of late 2017, Macquarie Bank and Westpac are no longer providing new reverse mortgages.

 

This project forms part of ASIC's broader work for older Australians to help bring about positive changes for these consumers in credit and financial services: see REP 537 Building seniors’ financial capability report 2017 and REP 550 ASIC’s work for older Australians.

 

ASIC’s MoneySmart website has information for consumers about reverse mortgages. Consumers can also use MoneySmart's reverse mortgage calculator to see how a reverse mortgage can impact the equity in their home.

 

See "Review of reverse mortgage lending in Australia", at https://asic.gov.au/regulatory-resources/find-a-document/reports/rep-586-review-of-reverse-mortgage-lending-in-australia/

 

See the reverse mortgage Infographic at https://asic.gov.au/regulatory-resources/find-a-document/reports/rep-586-review-of-reverse-mortgage-lending-in-australia/

 

28 August 2018.