Yvonne Ziomecki from HomeEquity Bank explains why the bank decided to shake things up after 32 years

by HomEquity Bank

Yvonne Ziomecki from HomeEquity Bank explains why the bank decided to shake things up after 32 years

While continuing to enjoy a period of strong and sustained growth, HomeEquity Bank decided it was time to make a change. In operation for 32 years, the Canadian bank, which is the only lender in the market to solely offer a reverse mortgage, decided to rebrand itself and launch a new marketing campaign with the help of a leading Toronto creative agency.

Since its inception in 1986, HomeEquity’s primary marketing focus has been product advertising; building awareness around the reverse mortgage product, explaining its mechanics, and dispelling some of the myths and misunderstandings that still exist.

It’s a strategy that has worked well. The company has been exceeding sales expectations for the past five years and originations are growing at a solid rate in 2018. Even with their recent success, HomeEquity Bank decided it was time to move forward and solidify its place in the Canadian marketplace.

“For a long time our advertising strategy was to send out a single, precise message, which helped to educate people on a reverse mortgage and how it works,” explains Yvonne Ziomecki, Chief Marketing Officer, EVP Marketing and Sales. “However, the strategy does not build an emotional connection for the end consumer or create conversations. That’s why we decided it was time to rebrand.”

Another driver behind the bank’s rebrand was to enter the reverse mortgage product firmly into the mainstream. It has many benefits and Ziomecki and her team thought that more people needed to know about them. There are no payments with a reverse mortgage – once a client is advanced the money, they will never be asked for a penny until the home is sold – it cannot be called, and at no point will the client ever have to requalify for the product.

“Even if doesn’t end up being suitable for everyone, I don’t see why this product should not be something every Canadian knows about and considers as part of their retirement plan,” Ziomecki says. “A house is the biggest asset most people will have heading into retirement and, other than a reverse mortgage, there is really no easy way to release its value other than borrowing money against the equity of the home, which is not a great option.”

HomeEquity was keen to change the conversation and what Ziomecki describes as the “energy” around reverse mortgages. For some years, the product has been viewed by some as a loan of last resort, which is an inaccurate viewpoint. As Ziomecki explains, a reverse mortgage is not simply a tool for paying down debt – many clients use the money they receive to buy more property, do major renovations, travel, or to remain in the family home without the need to downsize.

“With our new ad spots and rebrand, we are trying to open up the product to all Canadians,” Ziomecki says. “We attempted to show how older people are living in Canada, day in day out, and create some funny and insightful stories; humour is very important. We had some focus groups with people in the older age range and everyone is saying we have hit the nail on the head. Older people don’t want to be patronized. They are not weak or stupid, they just want to enjoy their retirement with dignity and on their own terms.”

The decision to rebrand was made in the middle of last year. The next step was to look for a creative agency to partner with, and finding how other people in the advertising world perceived the company was an interesting experience for Ziomecki and her team. After a brief search, HomeEquity decided to enlist the services of Zulu Alpha Kilo, a Toronto-based creative agency that has worked with Bell, Interac, Harley Davidson and recently helped the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) with its own rebrand.

“When we first engaged with Zulu we did some quantitative and qualitative consumer research to find out what older Canadians think about retirement, and especially their financial situations,” Ziomecki says. “We got a lot of good insights about how they approach retirement and what they want in retirement. We found that older Canadians want security as well as the freedom to do what they want, which could be a small thing like going out for food with their friends once a week or something big like taking a trip around the world. The findings kept coming back to being in control and having freedom.”

HomeEquity also conducted a research study through Ipsos, a global market research and consulting firm. The research backed up what HomeEquity already knew about Canadians and their attitudes toward retirement. The Ipsos study found that 93% of Canadians aged 65 and over feel it to be either somewhat important or very important to stay in their current home throughout their retirement. 69% of those in the over 65 demographic said that maintaining independence is the number one reason why it is important to stay in their home during retirement.

“As the only financial institution in Canada that works exclusively with Canadians fifty-five plus, we are real advocates for this older generation,” says Ziomecki. “We have been working with older people for over 30 years and we know more about this demographic than anybody else. We know how they make plans, spend money and make decisions.”

Ziomecki also expects the rebrand to benefit mortgage brokers who partner with HomeEquity. Raising awareness of reverse mortgages and boosting the credibility of the product is likely to drive more business to brokers who are eager to grow their books of business with a growing demographic of Canadian’s 55+. HomeEquity already has a group of engaged brokers who understand the product well, but Ziomecki recognizes another group of brokers who are familiar with the product but need to learn more.

“This rebrand will put the reverse mortgage into the mainstream and help brokers get more clients,” Ziomecki says. “It means more money in brokers’ pockets because this category is not going anywhere. The number of Canadians over age 60 will grow by 19% between 2016 and 2022 and we are growing at an unprecedented rate. It’s a real transformational time. Over the past five years, brokers have been an integral part of our success and they really have embraced the product. This rebrand is only going to accelerate the growth.”