To meet the overwhelming demand for loans, independent mortgage bankers have quickly adapted to social distancing and remote working via work-from-home models that were previously unimaginable. Through this rapid growth in use of online and digital correspondence, today’s IMBs continue to originate more than half of all new mortgages.
These rapid changes have not been without pause for concern with regard to regulatory requirements and legal statutes as well as enforcement. Many states and regulatory jurisdictions restrict, and in some cases unilaterally prohibit, mortgage workers from conducting their activities outside of the branch office. Fortunately, a patchwork of executive orders, temporary waivers, and do-not-enforce letters have enabled the workforce to continue operating safely from their homes, albeit temporarily. In turn, IMBs have acted responsibly, putting in place policies, processes and protocols to ensure robust managerial supervision over all remote employees and security over confidential and non-public information.
We believe that the move to a remote work model is a long-term, technology-driven transformation which was well underway prior to the pandemic and will continue long after the pandemic. The Community Home Lenders Association took the lead early on this issue, with a letter to the Conference of State Bank Supervisors. Work from home safeguards our workforce as well as our customers and ensures that mortgage credit continues to be available for the housing market. We urge state and federal regulators alike to address these temporary work-from-home flexibilities and to make them formal and permanent.
Our proposal makes the case for smart regulation. Smart regulation does not require that we choose between stronger or weaker sets of rules. Flexibility is appropriate and strengthens compliance. Allow mortgage employees to work from home without requiring their home to be licensed as a branch location. Allow them to work from home without imposing an arbitrary distance requirement to and from a licensed office. Consumers need to be protected as well. Require robust corporate policies and procedures to ensure sound managerial supervision of employees. Require that consumers’ data and private information is kept confidential and secure.
Mortgage servicing requirements by non-banks are another concern. Regulation can be effective without imposing unnecessary compliance burdens or costs on IMBs and ultimately on their customers. The CSBS is in the process of soliciting comments on a proposal to create financial and management requirements for non-bank servicers (often IMBs) in all 50 states. This is in response to the strong growth in servicing by nonbanks in the 12 years since the 2008 housing crisis. It makes sense for CSBS to ensure that the largest servicers are properly regulated. It is the handful of large servicers that have grown quickly that pose the great majority of financial and systemic servicing risk. It also makes sense to close servicing regulatory gaps for non-agency mortgage loans.
However, CHLA is requesting adjustments to this proposal to protect smaller nonbank servicers from new unnecessary burdens. These changes would support the CSBS’s overall goal of closing regulatory gaps in supervision of servicers without impeding the consumers’ access to credit. Smaller IMB lender/servicers primarily originate federal agency loans — GSE, FHA, VA and RHS loans — and are already subject to robust capital, liquidity and corporate management requirements by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Ginnie Mae. The proposed requirements are largely duplicative of existing GSE and Ginnie Mae requirements. Therefore, in its comment letter to the CSBS, CHLA is asking that smaller servicers with de minimis levels of nonagency loans should be deemed in compliance with the new CSBS requirements if they are a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac servicer (or Ginnie Mae issuer) in good standing.
The letter also asks for state-by-state exemptions from the new requirements in states where a servicer has a de minimis number of loans serviced in that state. CHLA members are typical of smaller community-based lender/servicers; they originate and service loans primarily in one or only a few states, but also originate and service smaller levels of loans in a number of states in proximity to their main state(s) of operation. Without exemptions in states with de minimis servicing volumes, smaller servicers will simply abandon servicing in these states.
Without these changes, the risk is that many smaller servicers will simply exit the servicing business and the servicing industry will be more concentrated, meaning less competition and higher prices and less personalized service. The broader impact would be more concentration of nationwide mega-servicers, leading to more financial and systemic risk exposure.
The choice is not between either more or less regulation. It is how to achieve smart regulation. Smart regulation is the best way to protect consumers and reduce risk, without imposing unnecessary compliance burdens on small lenders and the consumers they serve.