Flotter

Nimbler.

Also, more agile, speedy, swift, brisk, deft, lissome, slippy, nippy and “fly.”

Non-bank-owned “mortgage servicing” companies have been buying up mortgage servicing rights from large banks in the U.S.A., controlling 3% of the mortgage servicing market in 2010 and 17% in 2014 said NYTimes.com. Homeowners in trouble seeking help with their mortgage found themselves being asked to supply the same documentation over and over as their mortgage servicing was sold on from group to group.

Initially, some U.S. regulators thought that moving banks’ mortgage management responsibilities from mortgage servicers the banks owned to private companies the banks didn’t own would benefit consumers because the private companies would be “nimbler.”

One of the largest of these companies, Ocwen, has now been found to have been cutting numerous corners. It was also affiliated with companies that profit from foreclosures. The chair of Ocwen was chair of a company that bought foreclosed properties and turned them into rentals, but Ocwen told regulators that it maintained an “arms-length relationship” from his foreclosure company.

Though it’s been said the private mortgage servicers are unregulated in the U.S., there may instead be a bit of a patchwork of too-light regulation because in December 2013 the U.S.’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and 49 state attorneys general negotiated a $2.1 billion settlement with Ocwen for “mortgage servicing violations.” The C.F.P.B. commented that Ocwen “took advantage of borrowers at every stage of the process.”

Cut corners attributed to the private mortgage servicers have included:

  • Robosigning fake paperwork
  • Other missing paperwork that wasn’t counterfeited
  • Demanding wrongful fees
  • Wrongful evictions
  • Not updating technology and procedures and not hiring sufficient employees to handle the huge influx of mortgages despite assurances to the contrary and despite the overloaded software’s apparently accidental triggering of wrongful foreclosures
  • Profit-motivated rushing of processing
  • Possible hosing of the housing-derivatives investors who bought mortgage-based financial securities

The head of the state of New York’s Department of Financial Services, Benjamin Lawsky, installed an independent monitor at Ocwen who reported on the inadequate bookkeeping, as a result of which Mr. Lawsky stopped Wells Fargo’s sale or transfer of mortgage servicing rights for 184,000 mortgages, worth $39 billion, to Ocwen in February 2014.

Ocwen was headquartered in Atlanta, with staffing centers in India and Uruguay, an affiliate incorporated in the tax haven of Luxembourg and an affiliate based in the tax haven of the Cayman Islands.

The structure of the companies and possibly of the hedge funds investing in them during their recent rapid growth begs the question of whether mutual stock price embetterment has been an objective and, if so, how that was done. It looks as if moving profits and losses around the world for tax benefit could also have been envisioned. You have to note the big banks’ balls in selling off their buggy business as “rights” rather than paying people to take it as a favor. The ways innovated to make money off such a venture might be instructive. They might include gaming of a U.S. system in which state regulators have to do the job of federal regulators while families lose their homes.

Ocwen itself said that servicing mortgages has a limited lifespan and it has been seeking to diversify. FT.com reported the company was planning to sell up to $1 billion in a new type of debt this year: mortgage-servicing-rights-backed bonds.

(FLAW tah.)

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