The Heat Is On

SEP 26, 2013 7:05pm ET

Richard Cordray has a new tool (toy), and like it or not, he plans to share it with all of us.

Sharing may be caring, but the patronizing, paternalistic attitude with which this product upgrade was unveiled, is almost as offensive as any rule the regulator has promulgated in the name of building a kinder, gentler mortgage marketplace.

Citing a goal of improved transparency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureauís chief unveiled a web-based tool that provides heat maps and illustrative graphs that detail local mortgage market trends, automating data collected under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, and used by the Federal government to ensure compliance with regulations.

Users gain web-based access to data on mortgage loan applications and originations, and mortgage loan volume. Also, it records the volume of loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration and the Veterans Administration. The transaction types included are first-lien, owner-occupied, one-to-four family homes and manufactured homes.

The aim is to provide valuable real estate and mortgage information to the public in an accessible way, so taxpayers can understand their local mortgage markets, said Cordray, director of the CFPB.

The data, however, have been available for more than 40 years, and used more or less for the same purposes as Cordrayís new tool, though the traditional, hard-copy version lacked the ďuser friendlinessĒ that made itís usefulness to the average useróto consumers, to bankers, to you and meóless than it could be.

But, government employees have used the data to monitor and to identify wrong doers, and after all this time, should be used to its idiosyncrasies.

From Cordrayís enlightened vantage point as high priest of the CFPB, it seemed the data was often overlooked in the past because it was not easy enough to use. And now that it is user friendly, data simpletons across the country can click on a hot spot, identify wrongdoing, and presumably call their friends at the CFPB to commence an investigation.

Itís billed as an elegant, sophisticated technology mixed with straight condescension: Itís so easy to use even taxpayers and borrowers can learn to use it. Iím just not sure what would motivate a borrower to use the technology to perform meaningful, in-depth research, especially once they purchase their homes. They want to attain the American dream of homeownership, not become policy wonks, much less investigators.

Itís clear, however, that Cordray disagrees with that assessment.

He is hard at work creating a regulator we can all admire. Itís an organization that delivers data to the masses thatís easy to analyze even if they donít have an interest in using it, while it defends them from sleazy mortgage actors.

Iím sure many of us feel safer already.

The web-based offering makes it possible for taxpayers to amuse themselves for a few minutes by clicking on a county in the U.S. and seeing mortgage data. Those people, however, will likely not be the ones that are making sure that lenders comply with the law. That responsibility rests, as it always has, with the Federal government and those it employs, who presumably can make sense of its own dataóespecially when it suggests a lender is running afoul of the law.

Just how likely it is that the tool will shed new insights on HMDA data, the high priest failed to say. He merely suggests that form over function will prevail and the mortgage market will be a better, cleaner, stronger, and more compliant as a result.

Donít believe it.

Matt Strickberger is the managing partner of OnPoint PR and Consulting LLC, a public relations firm that represents lenders, servicers, technology companies and others. He was editor of Mortgage Technology magazine from 1997-2000. If you have comments or suggestions for future columns, email him at mstrickberger@onpoint-pr.com.

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