Bankers’ Hours column: Banks become less interested in mortgages

Pat Dalrymple

We hear that the TBTF (Too Big to Fail) banks are getting out of the mortgage business. Can this really be true? Weren’t they reputed to be the culprits in the recent Great Recession that was reportedly triggered by all of the toxic mortgages they originated?

Well, they haven’t left the building entirely, but they’re not in residence like they once were. Here are some fairly dramatic stats:

Wells-Fargo, the nation’s No. 1 mortgage originator, funded $125 billion in mortgage loans during the fourth quarter of 2012. During the same period in 2015, that number was down to $47 billion.

Chase, the second ranking lender, did $51 billion in the last three months of 2012. In 2015, that number had shrunk to just under $23 billion. These are dramatic swings in banking, and show major ramp down of what was once a core business.

And it’s not just the big guys that are backing away from the iconic American Dream of financing home ownership. In 2007 banks made 74 percent of home loans in the country. By 2014, their share had dropped to 52 percent. At the same time, the share of nonbanks, which includes online lenders like Quicken Loans, had increased from 23 percent to 43 percent.

What’s happened? Just business; mortgage lending isn’t as profitable for banks as it once was. Interest margins on home loans held in portfolio are thinner than other lending lines. Since the Great Meltdown, the private bond market has virtually dried up for mortgage-backed securities. The cost of originating mortgages has skyrocketed, and regulatory risk has become, in the eyes of some former mortgage lenders, intolerable.

The increased cost of doing business is graphically demonstrated by the fourth quarter of 2015: Net gain on mortgages originated was down 60 percent, from $1,238 per loan to just $493. This is because lenders spent billions on re-tooling for the new RESPA-Truth in Lending disclosure protocol mandated by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that came online in October of last year.

As for regulatory risk, we’ve all heard of the multi-billion-dollar fines levied against the big banks for their role in originating and packaging the famous rotten mortgages that were at the root of the financial crisis. But the risk for banks is ongoing.

For example, PHH — a nonbank mortgage originator, seventh largest in the country last year at $37.57 billion — was just hit with a $109 million fine, which is certainly an attention getter. But the way it happened has lenders shaking in their Guccis. It was alleged that PHH had illegally taken kickbacks from mortgage insurers through customer referrals. The case went to an administrative law judge, who suggested a fine of $6 million.

To appreciate this story, we need to understand what an administrative law judge is. This person is trained in the law, but isn’t a real judge, as in a courtroom. Rather, he or she is employed by the agency bringing the charge. People who have been subjected to this process have likened it to walking into the Godfather’s study, who says, “Don’t worry about a thing, Joey, my consigliere here will give you a fair and impartial hearing.”

In the PHH case, the capo of the CFPB interpreted the law differently than it had been heretofore applied, so he must have said, “Geno, you were too soft on them.” He decided that the violations went back much further than the tame judge deemed, way back even before the CFPB was created, and increased the fine up to the $109 million.

Think the Mob has a long memory?

All of these factors are making big lenders think twice about being in the business. It may be the slack will be picked up by small banks, credit unions and online lenders. The jury’s out on that question.

Pat Dalrymple is a western Colorado native and has spent almost 50 years in mortgage lending and banking in the Roaring Fork Valley. He’ll be happy to answer your questions or hear your comments. His e-mail is

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