On November 22, 2011, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) issued a report on the actions by 12 national bank and federal savings association mortgage servicers to comply with consent orders issued in April 2011. These consent orders are intended to correct deficient and unsafe or unsound foreclosure practices by the servicers. The OCC also posted the twelve engagement letters between the consultants and the servicers on the OCC website.
These disclosures were a result of pressure brought to bear by Congresswoman Maxine Waters and several other congressional members who sent a letter to the OCC and the Fed on October 28. This letter expressed the legislators’ displeasure with the way the OCC and the Federal Reserve Bank had so far run the “independent” foreclosure review process that is intended to overhaul mortgage-servicing processes and controls and to compensate borrowers harmed financially by wrongdoing or negligence.
Congresswoman Waters cited my October 6 column for American Banker in this letter to the OCC and Fed when demanding that the regulators manage conflicts of interest in the foreclosure review process as well as make a full disclosure of vendors and their engagement letters with the banks.
On December 6, I wrote again in American Banker after I reviewed the engagement letters that were posted by the OCC. I had several concerns. Congresswoman Waters did, too.
“[The OCC] issued a report on the actions of a dozen national bank and federal savings association mortgage servicers aimed at complying with the consent orders issued in April 2011 to correct deficient and unsafe or unsound foreclosure practices. (The two remaining consent order recipients — GMAC/Ally and SunTrust — have not yet finalized their terms with vendors and as a result their overseers, Fed Chairman Bernanke and the Federal Reserve Bank, have not yet responded to the request for full disclosure, according to the Water’s office.)
Waters was less than impressed with what she saw and so am I. She told me, “My letters specifically asked for information on conflicts of interest between the banks and the consultants — which is precisely what the OCC redacted in the information they released last week. A cursory look into the banks and their consultants indicates that in some cases, there are substantial pre-existing relationships between the firms.”
Redacted is an understatement.
Here’s what was redacted, according to OCC spokesman Bryan Hubbard:
Limited proprietary and personal information has been redacted from the engagement letters including, but not limited to:
- Names,titles and biographies of individuals;
- Proprietary systems information;
- References to specific bank policy;
- Fees and costs associated with the engagement;
- Specific descriptions of past work performed by the independent consultants.
So what’s left? It’s interesting enough, as a start, to look at which consultants and law firms were selected by which servicers. It’s also interesting to look at the scope of services to be performed and the time and volume estimates for project activities where they were not redacted.
From my December 6 American Banker column:
The disclosure of the consultant engagement letters for each servicer has already had a huge impact. The Financial Times reports that the New York Attorney General “launched an investigation into possibly unlawful foreclosureson the mortgages of active-duty members of the US military.” The foreclosure review engagement letters posted by the OCC included estimates prepared by the banks and their consultants suggesting, according to the Financial Times, that 10 leading lenders may have seized the homes of about 5,000 service members in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which restricts foreclosures on the homes of active duty members of the U.S. armed forces.
There’s also the issue of attorney-client privilege:
Some of the engagement letters invoke attorney-client privilege and attorney work product privilege over the whole process and confidential treatment of engagement letter itself. It appears all the servicers used their general counsel’s office to engage the consultants and outside counsel and some name their general counsel as project lead. Some servicers engaged additional outside legal counsel for the review directly rather than through the primary consultant.
OCC spokesperson Hubbard says, “although some of the engagement letters make claims of attorney-client privilege, these claims are by statute inapplicable to the OCC and FRB, which have complete access to all documents produced by the independent consultants and servicers as part of the independent foreclosure reviews required by the Consent Orders.
I certainly hope so.
I was the first to report on December 6 the irony of Deloitte having been selected by, of all banks, JP Morgan Chase. The high likelihood of a conflict between the bank and the audit firm, and possibly the individual Deloitte partners assigned to the JP Morgan Chase review, should have been obvious to anyone at the OCC. I said on December 6 that it would be great if we could see the names of the partners and staff assigned to the engagements and check their credentials and prior client work for conflicts.
It would be enlightening, for example, to see whether any of the Deloitte partners proposed as consultants as part of the foreclosure solution at JP Morgan/EMC, were previously part of the mortgage origination/securitization problems as auditors at Bear Stearns or Washington Mutual.
Bear and Washington Mutual, both former Deloitte audit clients, are now part of JP Morgan Chase, and Deloitte is defending lawsuits over alleged audit failures at those firms.
Lo and behold, partner Ann Kenyon of Deloitte, who testified at a December 13th Senate hearing on the issue, said under oath that she is the engagement partner on the JP Morgan Chase foreclosure review. An internet search revealed a conference biography that suggests that amongst Kenyon’s representative clients was Washington Mutual, now owned by JP Morgan Chase and a significant part of the review. This would be a clear conflict with her role as engagement partner for the review.
Ms. Kenyon [who leads Deloitte’s Securitization Advisory practice] works with issuers, comprised of both attest and non-attest clients, who have encountered difficulties in accounting for and reporting on their securitizations.
At the 126:20 mark of the archived webcast of the Senate hearing Kenyon describes the organizational structure, level of experience and source of professionals for the Deloitte JP Morgan Chase review team. (She says it’s all Deloitte staff.) She also says that a large team of Deloitte partners who are subject matter experts report to her and are leading each team.
Someone should check their conflicts, too.
Two of the other three Big Four audit firms were selected for multiple review assignments. KPMG, auditor of Citigroup, New Century, Countrywide, Wells Fargo, and Wachovia, is conspicuously but thankfully absent from the list of consultants.
Examples of firms involved in multiple reviews include Ernst & Young (involved in three reviews as both a primary consultant and subcontractor), PricewaterhouseCoopers (involved in two reviews as a primary consultant), and Promontory Financial Group (involved in three reviews as primary consultant). Law firm Gibson Dunn is legal counsel for three reviews (retained by the consultant in two cases and by the bank directly in one).
For example, one firm could be charging different rates to different banks for what is supposed to be a consistent review across servicers. That not only indicates banks can leverage their influence with vendors to get the review they want (and the monetary exposure estimate) at the price they want to pay, but that we may not get consistent results for borrowers that were harmed by multiple servicers.
Some of the concerns I mentioned in my December 6 column were pursued by Senators at the December 13 Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs hearing: Helping Homeowners Harmed by Foreclosures: Ensuring Accountability and Transparency in Foreclosure Reviews.
Some additional interesting interchanges during the hearing:
At the 45:30 mark of the archived webcast, Senator Reed asks the OCC’s Julie Williams why the OCC and Fed could not select and contract with the consultants directly. Williams says that would have been difficult because it would have necessitated the regulators to use a “procurement process” that included consistent “standards” for selection.
That sounds to me like a Request for Proposal process and a vendor selection process that is in place – for many of these same vendors already – as a result of the financial crisis. Instead the OCC and Federal Reserve bank abdicated the vendor selection process to the servicers and, therefore, will reap the numerous potential conflicts they have sown.
At the 49:00 mark, Senator Reed asks a critical question, perhaps thinking about the Deloitte/Bear Stearns-EMC/Washington Mutual issue with regard to a JP Morgan Chase review. If a consultant runs across a set of transactions that the firm or those consultants had direct involvement in is the consultant obligated to report that conflict to the regulator? Williams says that they would expect to hear about such a conflict.
Reed presses to ask if there is an “obligation” versus an “expectation”. Williams sounds evasive in her answer, implying that this specific obligation is not explicit in the engagement letters. I sure didn’t see it.
My December 6 column, in particular the parts regarding the Deloitte conflict and the attorney-client privilege issue were mentioned in the written and oral testimony by Alys Cohen, Staff Attorney at the National Consumer Law Center.
With regard to the attorney-client privilege potential issue, the OCC and the Federal Reserve Bank should make sure all legal counsel that is intended to be part of the foreclosure review team should be retained by the consultant not the bank. Otherwise, I see an assertion of attorney-client privilege by the outside legal counsel for the reviews as inevitable.
Some additional areas where strong monitoring by Congress and the OCC/Fed might be helpful going forward include:
- Checking consistency of level of effort estimates across project plans for each consultant’s proposal. Estimated hours for each task may vary based on the size and complexity of servicer, difficulty of obtaining information, and level of cooperation in resolving issues. But consultants will bill on a “time and materials” basis and variations in length of time estimated, for example, for each initial loan review and the quality assurance process could make millions of dollars of difference in fees given the tens of thousands of documents to be reviewed.
- The complaints process, managed as a coordinated approach for all servicers by Rust Consulting, needs to be synchronized with each servicer’s plan for their reviews. Although the OCC strongly influenced the design and implementation of the “coordinated” process, Rust Consulting signed a contract each servicer, risking the possibility of some servicers skimping on the effort or being unprepared based on their lack of progress in other dependent activities.