Unless you’ve escaped to a remote island with no communication capability, you know about the serious issues facing banks and mortgage generators and service companies surrounding the foreclosure fiasco. For background, you might want to refer back to my October 15 blog which outlines some of the problems stemming from shortcomings in risk management and related internal control.
Well, the lawsuits have begun, with tens of billions of dollars at stake. State courts already have issued rulings, with the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, the State’s highest court, deciding that two major banks didn’t have the appropriate documentation when they foreclosed, and returned the properties to the borrowers. New York State’s chief judge, noting “it’s such an uneven playing field [where] banks wind up with the property and the homeowner winds up over the cliff [not serving] anyone’s interest, including the banks,” set forth procedures to ensure all homeowners facing foreclosure have legal representation. The impact in human terms is illustrated by recent reports of how two large banks took action against active servicemen and overcharged 4000 service personnel, reportedly failing to follow the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act that allows mortgage rate reductions and outlaws foreclosures. More lawsuits are on the way, led by a former prosecutor driving a class action.
Not only might other states become more proactive, but no less than three federal government agencies have begun investigations – the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for U.S. Trustees, the Federal Housing Administration, and the Federal Reserve. And none of this has been lost on a coalition of all 50 state attorneys general, which recently presented the five largest banks with a set of game-changing demands. Reports say these include prohibition against beginning foreclosure proceedings while a borrower is actively seeking loan modification, a requirement that a borrower making three payments under a temporary loan modification agreement be granted a permanent modification, modification turn-down subject to automatic review by an ombudsman or independent review panel, compensation programs that reward employees for pursuing loan modification rather than foreclosure, curtailing of late fees, and where banks engage in misconduct borrowers would be compensated by a pre-established fund and mortgage balances would be subject to reduction. While some analysts say these changes would drag out the foreclosure process and delay stabilization of the housing market, this attorneys general plan is reportedly supported by the newly formed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, along with the Departments of Treasury, Justice, and Housing and Urban Development, and the Federal Trade Commission.
We continue to wonder how major banks dealt with the basics of risk identification and analysis – the risk that reliable documents would be needed in the foreclosure process – and establishing control activities to ensure document processing was accurate and complete, with files intact and readily accessible when needed, and accountability in carrying out control procedures. And we can wonder about due diligence in selecting and using outsourcing firms.
Does risk management and related internal control matter? Unfortunately, learning too late may cost financial institutions billions of dollars.