A Message For The CFPPB

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TME-PHhallBack in February, Steve Antonakes, the deputy director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), shocked the attendees at a mortgage servicing trade conference with a speech that painted servicers as being hostile to the needs of distressed homeowners and detrimental to the recovery of the housing market.

“I remain deeply disappointed by the lack of progress the mortgage servicing industry has made,” said the CFPB’s second banana to the surprised servicers in his audience. “We mean to end a failed process in which too many struggling homeowners have been kept in the dark about where they stand. American consumers deserve better; they are entitled to be treated with respect, dignity, and fairness.”

Well, guess what? American consumers that work with mortgage servicers are being “treated with respect, dignity, and fairness.” And how do I know this? Well, the CFPB itself confirmed this in its Consumer Response Annual Report, which was released last week.

Of course, the CFPB tried to spin this report into yet another example of its tiresome squawking of how the big, bad mortgage industry is doing running amok over the lives of homeowners. The bureau highlighted that 37% of the 163,700 complaints it received last year were related to mortgage issues, mostly on the servicing side. Of course, the fact that nearly two-thirds of the complaints received by the CFPB were not related to housing would seem to confirm that the agency is spending most of its time chasing mischief makers in non-housing industries.

Even more intriguing is that the approximately 59,000 complaints leveled against mortgage companies detail a very different picture than Antonakes’ bloviating over the “lack of progress the mortgage servicing industry has made.”

The CFPB found that 85% of the complaints it received last year were related to servicing issues – modifications, collections, escrow accounts. However, 77% of the complaints received by the CFPB regarding mortgage companies turned out to be without merit, and were closed with the consumer receiving a mere explanation of what was puzzling them. Only 2% of the total mortgage-related complaints resulted with monetary compensation for the consumer.

If that’s not enough, the CFPB received 31,000 debt collection complaints last year. Credit card loans made up 14% of the complaints, medical loans took up 8%, and payday loans were the source of 6%. Mortgage loan collections, in comparison, were a mere 2% – not exactly the epidemic of reckless behavior that Antonakes insisted in his February speech. Oddly enough, we don’t know what the majority of debt collections were for 2013: the CFPB claimed 39% of complaints fell into the “Other” category while 25% were in the “I Do Not Know” category. Wow, one-quarter of debt collection complaints were from people who had no idea what they were complaining about!

Despite the data that seemed to exonerate servicers, Antonakes has yet to admit that his sneers and jeers were unjustified. Even more disgusting is the possibility that Antonakes knew he was blowing smoke when he made that speech two months ago.

“Our nation’s mortgage servicers manage a debt portfolio of nearly $10 trillion for millions of American homeowners,” he said at the servicing conferencing, adding that the performance by mortgage servicers in charge of that portfolio represented a state of “continued sloppiness is difficult to comprehend and not acceptable.”

Unacceptable behavior that cannot be comprehended? Oh? This is coming from the number two person at a federal regulatory agency that refuses to make its meetings open to the public that finances its operations? This is coming from the second-in-command at an agency where the top executives (including Antonakes) absorb annual salaries that are higher than the annual salaries paid to Vice President Joe Biden and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts?

The mortgage banking industry is being lectured on respect and dignity by the deputy director of an agency that has been charged by its own employees with racism within its personnel processes – and which refuses to explain these actions when called to testify before a hearing of the House of Representatives? And the mortgage world is being badgered on responsible behavior by the number two guy at an agency that hired the architects behind Dubai’s uber-luxurious Burj Khalifa skyscraper to redesign its headquarters?

The mortgage servicing industry was not responsible for the housing crisis that created the 2008 crash. And the men and women in the servicing world have worked long and hard to help people stay in their homes – since 2007, 6.5 million people have received loan modifications from the mortgage servicers that Antonakes badmouthed in his vile speech.

My advice to Antonakes is brief but blunt: shut up.

About The Author

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Phil Hall has been (among other things) a United Nations-based radio journalist, the president of a public relations and marketing agency, a financial magazine editor, the author of six books and a horror movie actor. Also, as you will discover, he is not shy about stating his views.