Mortgage brokers are "held accountable individually for our actions," says Irene Amato. Loan officers "can blame the larger lender if something goes wrong."
Mortgage brokers are "held accountable individually for our actions," says Irene Amato. Loan officers "can blame the larger lender if something goes wrong."

Some regional banks happily stuck with the brokered-mortgage business abandoned by the largest financial institutions, saying they have the control over loan quality the big players found lacking.

"We've never lost interest," says Art Saitta, an assistant vice president and residential business development officer at Ridgewood Savings Bank in Queens, New York. Ridgewood knows its brokers and the neighborhoods they operate in well enough to feel confident it has enough control over loan quality in this channel, Saitta says.

"We don't lend everywhere," he says. "We know our community and our lending areas, and all our brokers are doing business in those areas." The bank and its brokers work hard to reach first-time and underserved homebuyers, Saitta says, but Ridgewood is very careful not to stretch underwriting too far.

Wholesale nationally has been far smaller than retail as a percentage of the market, statistics from National Mortgage News' Quarterly Data Report show. Big players like Bank of America and Chase quit the channel. At one point some even predicted wholesale's demise. It survived, though. And over the course of 2013, it gained about a percentage point of market share.

At the recent New York Association of Mortgage Professionals conference and elsewhere there has been buzz about brokered wholesale and closed-loan sales rebounding a bit, but primarily on the part of non-depositories.

"The bulk of our competitors in the wholesale market are not financial institutions, they are mortgage bankers," Saitta says. "I don't mind [the banks] not being in the business, it's more of an opportunity for us."

Banks could be doing a better job of serving borrowers and selling mortgages, he says, though wholesale may not be the answer for all of them if they lack strong local controls. He pointed to TD Bank survey data showing that almost half of borrowers did not get their loan from an institution they have their deposit account with.

"I see a shift from retail in terms of the walk-in banks, Bank of America, the Chases, individuals that go to them for loans," said Lou Borsellino, the president of the New York Association of Mortgage Professionals, during a roundtable discussion with Origination News. "I see a shift in more people going to bankers and mortgage brokers because they're basically more regionalized."

Larger banks remain wary of mortgage volume in general given legacy liabilities from too-loose underwriting in all loan channels between 2005 and 2007.

"They are not crying over lost market share," says David Lykken, managing partner of the consulting firm Mortgage Banking Solutions in Austin, Texas.

However, wholesale is a little more attractive right now in some respects. One of its traditional advantages is heightened by the shift toward purchase mortgages, which cost more to originate, and a more competitive market where lenders are more willing to lower loan prices to compete, Lykken says.

"Costs are going up, and when looking at reducing your costs, the wholesale channel is the most efficient channel. It has been for decades, and we're starting to see a return," he says.

Wholesale is an option for mortgage banks that want to cost-effectively expand volume and increase cross-selling opportunities by adding more mortgages or mortgage servicing rights, says Matt Maurer, a managing director at MountainView Servicing Group in Denver.

"Depending on market volume and comparative pricing in all the channels in which they retain servicing, they will bounce back and forth from participating in the MSR bulk and flow market to participating more in wholesale and correspondent," he says, noting that depositories have different considerations.

Below is an excerpt of the roundtable discussion, which was moderated by Bonnie Sinnock, capital markets editor of SourceMedia's mortgage publications. The panelists are Borsellino; Irene Amato, the association's vice president; Bonnie Nachamie, its treasurer; Deborah Robertson, director; and Gene Tricozzi, also a director.

SINNOCK: There has been talk over the years of wholesale may not survive. Certainly, that doesn't seem to be true. What do you see in wholesale today?

BORSELLINO: I see a shift from retail in terms of the walk-in banks, Bank of America, the Chases, individuals that go to them for loans. I see a shift in more people going to bankers and mortgage brokers and their shelves because they're basically more regionalized than local institutions, mom-and-pop shops, and they provide a different service.

We're educated a lot more. We have more education requirements. We have testing requirements that the major banks do not have. And that translates into, I believe, better service and better overall products that we can give our customers— individuals that are looking for mortgages.

AMATO: I think it is stability. You read all these articles that the larger lenders are laying off people any time there is a little shift—a little tiny shift in the industry. They are laying off 2,000 to 3,000 people. With a mortgage broker, we don't—I haven't done that through the whole course of this mortgage meltdown or anything. So we provide a service to them. We're held accountable individually for our actions. It affects not only our licenses, but our business as a whole.

So if Irene Amato promises something, Irene Amato delivers it, versus a lender that sends out an MLO and the MLO can blame the larger lender if something goes wrong. We have no—it's us. So I think the service level that we provide is—you can't even compare the two.

NACHAMIE: There has been a shift back. A few years ago after the economic implosion, I think that mortgage brokers were an easy target for people to point out and blame the world on. Yet mortgage brokers have always been resilient. I think that the pundits have come to realize that mortgage brokers do an excellent job in the communities in which they're located and provide the service, and they provide it at the least expensive cost to the consumer.

So I find that wholesale lenders are actually working harder to embrace their accounts, their broker accounts and providing more services and better services to the mortgage broker community, which only raises all of the levels in the lending world. So I'm actually impressed with the recent changes. I may be a cockeyed optimist, but I think that I'm impressed.

ROBERTSON: The mortgage broker, one of the things we talked about, we went to Washington, D.C., early this year as the New York Association of Mortgage Brokers. And one of the things we talked about is the mortgage broker is still the most efficient way for a borrower today to get a mortgage because they complete one application with a mortgage loan originator, and that mortgage loan originator is going to look for the best possible solution for that borrower with many different lenders, whereas if you walk into Chase or Bank of America, Wells Fargo, you get their solutions and that's it. But if you go to a mortgage broker, they have everyone's options.

There are over 50-plus lenders in the wholesale arena that they can choose from, so by taking one application, they have all this available to them. And I defer to that. Your mortgage broker is licensed. They're educated. They're fingerprinted, their criminal background checked. Their disclosures are transparent and there is nothing hidden. So it's still the best option for a borrower today to get a loan.

SINNOCK: Certainly, there has been a lot of talk about compliance today. You've got a whole host of new regulations that came down in January nationally. Has that affected you, in particular, in the broker channel in New York State in any particular way?

BORSELLINO: Well, you can say from a lender's perspective, I'm sure it's been overwhelming.

ROBERTSON: I work for Plaza Home Mortgage, and so from a lender perspective, there has just been a lot more focus on making sure that a loan is QM. So the difference between the QM loan today versus RESPA before, any other regulation, there is no cure for QM. You're either a QM loan or you're not a QM loan, whereas before let's say you made an error on your truth in lending and you discovered the error, you could correct it. You could do a re-disclosure. You could refund the money to the customer. There was always a fix.

With QM there is no fix. So there is a lot of compliance required on the front side before you even accept a loan. So that's been very challenging just in terms of getting all the pieces in place so we could still operate as efficiently and effective as possible and still comply.

But the other thing is that QM has provided some inflexibility to a broker and a consumer. So from a broker's perspective, if they're doing a borrow pay transaction and they want to reduce their compensation so that the borrower—let's say that the borrower is short to close $500, and they say, "OK, well I'll reduce my commission." But the new QM and the loan originator compensation rules, they're no longer allowed to do that. So that's one of the challenges that we're facing.

TRICOZZI: And because it just rolled out, obviously the individuals that put this in place are not individuals that are on the front line, so they just think this is great. They listen to all these consumer groups and say, "Oh, this is going to be the best fix." But in reality, we have to see how it unfolds, and then we have to go back and say, "Look, it's not working because of X, Y and Z. In the end, this rule, although it may look like it's helping the consumers, in that example that Debra just gave, it doesn’t help the consumer. It doesn't give the consumer the flexibility.

At this point, if a loan that's going to close and we're short, whatever, $500, now we can't change that to help that consumer where we could in the past. So that does hurt. That's a small example, but it is important for that to be acknowledged.

Mortgage brokers are "held accountable individually for our actions," says Irene Amato. Loan officers "can blame the larger lender if something goes wrong."
Mortgage brokers are "held accountable individually for our actions," says Irene Amato. Loan officers "can blame the larger lender if something goes wrong."

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