Wednesday, November 30, 2011

OCC: Fixing Deficient Foreclosure Practices

Jonathan Foxx
President & Managing Director
Lenders Compliance Group

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) issued a report on November 22, 2011 on the actions by 12 national bank and federal savings association mortgage servicers to comply with consent orders issued in April 2011 to correct deficient and unsafe or unsound foreclosure practices.

The report, entitled Interim Status Report: Foreclosure-Related Consent Orders, summarizes progress on activities related to the independent foreclosure review announced November 1, 2011, as well as other activities to enhance mortgage servicing operations, strengthen oversight of third-party service providers and activities related to Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS), improve management information systems, assess and manage risk, and ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations.

Based on information in the relevant OCC issuances, much of the work to correct identified weaknesses in policies, operating procedures, various control functions, and audit processes would be substantially complete in the first part of 2012, but other, longer term initiatives will continue through the balance of 2012.

In addition to the interim report, please note that the OCC also released engagement letters that describe how the independent consultants, retained by the servicers, will conduct their file reviews and claims processes to identify borrowers who suffered financial injury as a result of deficiencies identified in the OCC's consent orders.

For those of you who have not had to respond to and implement a consent order, I would say that the engagement letters are generally pro forma and consistent with similar terms and conditions we require in our own commitments and proposals for such audits and due diligence reviews. As a general proposition, the review process being implemented at some companies may differ from that described in the engagement letters because of subsequent coordination with the OCC to ensure a consistent process among the servicers.    

The engagement letters identify the names of the independent consultants conducting the reviews and include language stipulating that consultants would take direction from the OCC throughout the reviews. In fact, the terms of engagement specifically prohibit servicers from overseeing, directing, or supervising any of the reviews. Limited proprietary and personal information has been redacted.

Newsletter Sections
Interim Report
Engagement Letters
Correcting Foreclosure Deficiencies

Interim Report

The interim report summarizes actions taken by national banks and federal savings associations to correct deficiencies in mortgage servicing and foreclosure processing identified in consent orders issued on April 13, 2011, by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) against 12 mortgage servicers.

The OCC took action against eight national bank servicers: Bank of America, Citibank, HSBC, JPMorgan Chase, MetLife Bank, PNC, U.S. Bank, and Wells Fargo. The OTS took action against four federal savings association servicers and two holding companies: Aurora Bank, FSB; EverBank (and the thrift holding company, EverBank Financial Corp.); OneWest Bank, FSB (and its holding company IMB HoldCo LLC); and Sovereign Bank. 

The consent orders were based on examiner findings during an interagency review of major residential mortgage servicers conducted in the fourth quarter of 2010.

A summary of the findings of the interagency review is available in the "Interagency Review of Foreclosure Policies and Practices," produced by the OCC, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve Board (FRB), and OTS.

Engagement Letters

Pursuant to 12 C.F.R. § 4.12(c), the listing order of the engagement letters at the OCC's election has no precedential significance.

The engagement letters were submitted by the independent consultants that were retained by servicers regulated by the OCC. These independent consultants will be conducting foreclosure reviews pursuant to the requirements of the April 13, 2011 consent orders.  

The engagement letters describe how the independent consultants will conduct their file reviews and claims processes to identify borrowers who suffered financial injury as a result of servicer deficiencies identified in the OCC's consent orders.  

Limited proprietary and personal information has been redacted from the engagement letters.

Since the acceptance of the engagement letters in September of this year, the independent consultants have further refined and made adjustments to the processes, procedures, and methodologies outlined in the engagement letters in consultation with OCC supervision staff. 

For instance, there were a number of changes made to integrated claims processes to ensure a single, uniform process among the servicers.

Correcting Foreclosure Deficiencies

Independent Foreclosure Review

As part of those consent orders, federal regulators required servicers to engage independent firms to conduct a multi-faceted review of foreclosure actions in process in 2009 and 2010. 

Under the orders, independent consultants are charged with evaluating whether borrowers suffered financial injury through errors, misrepresentations, or other deficiencies in foreclosure practices and determining appropriate remediation for those customers. Where a borrower suffered financial injury as a result of such practices, the agencies' orders require financial remediation to be provided.

As part of that program, 14 mortgage servicers covered by the enforcement actions will begin mailings November 1, 2011 that will continue through the end of the year. The mailings are intended to provide information to potentially eligible borrowers on how to request a review of their case if they believe they suffered financial injury as a result of errors, misrepresentations, or other deficiencies in foreclosure proceedings related to their primary residence between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2010. The mailings will include a request for review form.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Loan Originator Compensation–The Regulatory Examination

Jonathan Foxx
President & Managing Director
Lenders Compliance Group

The easy part is over. Now the real fun begins.

Since April 6, 2011, the mortgage industry has been required to implement the new loan originator compensation rules (Rule). The Rule applies to closed-end transactions secured by a dwelling where the creditor receives a loan application on or after April 6, 2011.[1] The Rule placed restrictions on residential mortgage loan transactions in order to protect consumers against the unfairness, deception, and abuse that can arise with certain loan origination compensation practices, generally prohibits payments to loan originators based on loan terms and conditions, eliminates dual compensation to originators by consumers and any other person, and prohibits “steering” consumers to loans to receive greater compensation.

I have extensively explored the features of this Rule, unraveling its complexity in articles, newsletters, presentations, and panels.[2] Indeed, I have even published a compendium of analysis, called the FAQs Outline – Loan Originator Compensation, which, as of this writing, consists of over 400 FAQs and reaches to over 130 pages. [3] These are deep and narrow waters, and considerable caution is needed in order to navigate their many demanding twists and turns.

The development of these rules, from a regulatory perspective, stretches back to August 26, 2009, when the Federal Reserve Board (FRB) published a Proposed Rule in the Federal Register pertaining to closed-end credit; to July 21, 2010, when the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank) [4] enacted Title XIV into law, which amended the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) to establish certain mortgage loan origination standards; then to August 16, 2010, when the FRB published its Final Rules amending Regulation Z (TILA’s implementing regulation); on through September 24, 2010, as the FRB issued final rulemaking and official staff commentary with respect to the loan originator compensation rules and anti-steering provisions (Rule); and finally coming to a virtual full stop on January 26, 2011, when the FRB issued its “Compliance Guide for Small Entities on Loan Originator Compensation and Steering.” [5] After that, the FRB offered some conference calls, a webinar – which cleared up some confusion, while causing still other confusion – and occasional updates of the oral, rather than the written, official variety. [6]

When April 6, 2011 arrived, the mortgage industry was still scrambling to understand the Rule, how to implement it across various origination channels, and, most importantly, how to integrate it into operational, logistical, and financial components. Vendors provided considerable updates and integration features. Nevertheless, for months afterward the Rule continued to perplex and frustrate, particularly with respect to properly implementing disclosures and compensation plans. It still causes considerable consternation.

As we all know, generally there is no regulation issued – whether the statutes are at the federal or state level – that does not have a corresponding regulatory examination to assure enforcement. And so it goes: on October 6, 2011 - exactly six months to the day when the Rule became effective - the first examination guidelines for loan originator compensation were promulgated. [7]

In the "State Nondepository Examiner Guidelines for Regulation Z - Loan Originator Compensation Rule," hereinafter “Examiner Guidelines,” issued by the Multi-State Mortgage Committee (MMC), we now have a pretty good idea of the direction that federal and state regulators will be taking in their regulatory examinations for loan originator compensation. The Multi-State Mortgage Committee (MMC) is a ten-state representative body created by the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) and the American Association of Residential Mortgage Regulators (AARMR). [8]

Are these examination guidelines perfectly worked through? Not really. Not yet. After some field testing, we should expect revisions. But as a first stab at a complex issue, they are helpful in giving a sense of the kind of information and documentation that examiners will be reviewing. These are revised procedures and they supersede the Regulation Z Interagency examination procedures. The Task Force on Consumer Compliance of the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) has approved interagency examination procedures for Regulation Z - Truth in Lending, including the Rule. The Examiner Guidelines supplement the Interagency procedures and are intended to assist state regulators of nondepository mortgage loan originators and creditors in standardized and uniform reviews of the Rule.

When the aforementioned Examiner Guidelines were issued, my firm re-set our audit and due diligence reviews for the Rule to accord with them, even in the midst of actual reviews of loan originator compensation compliance that we were then conducting for our clients. 

Expect the Unexpected

As I have said many times, preparation is protection. Don’t wait for the regulator’s Document Request letter to implement any regulatory requirement. If you wait, by then it’s often too late. Remember, most examinations are look-backs, reaching to the previous examination, or a stated timeframe previous to the current examination. Most examiners have a “No Tolerance” view of firms that cannot provide supporting documents and information in a timely manner. The “record speaks for itself” is the inflexible standard! Our audit and due diligence reviews are the property of our client, and as fully confidential as if the client conducted its own review, with its internal resources – which, of course, is certainly a viable option. So, there really is no excuse for not being prepared for a regulatory examination for loan originator compensation or any other examination.

In my view, undertaking preparedness action for a loan originator compensation examination should consist of the following basics. [9] My remarks include some of my firm’s audit and due diligence practices as well as certain features of the recently issued Examiner Guidelines.

Preparation is Protection

  • It is critical to set forth the bounds of the review. Indicate a research range that utilizes an audit sequence which, in part, incorporates federal Interagency procedures and guidelines implemented prior to the effective date of the Rule, as well as federal Interagency procedures and guidelines effective after the date of the Rule, as promulgated by the Multi-State Mortgage Committee (MMC) examiner guidelines, any federal agency, and, when issued, state government agencies.