WaPo: Why BofA Lags on Mortgage Redos

The Washington Post asks why Bank of America is so far behind everyone else on its mortgage-modification program.

It’s only modified 11 percent of its eligible mortgages, one-third what Citigroup’s done, and less than half the 27 percent JPMorganChase has modified.

The story really shows the magnitude of the still-worsening mortgage problem from a different angle. BofA is far behind its peers in modifying mortgages, but it now has 11,000 employees working in the area. Wells Fargo has 5,800 workers, while Citigroup has 4,000. By way of comparison, that’s probably not much less than the number of newspaper reporters left in the country.

As to why the bank can’t get its act together, the Post portrays BofA’s as a bungling bureaucratic behemoth, unsurprising given it’s too-big-to-fail heft and questions about whether anybody but Ken Lewis (!) can actually run the thing:

Especially now, Bank of America is “like a big oil tanker, and it takes time for them to shift focus,” said Guy Cecala, publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance…

Executives say frequent changes in the program required nearly constant retraining of employees. “It is a challenge to find folks and get them up to speed as quickly as we’re moving,” Scheller said…

Even the fax machines have been an issue. Housing counselors and homeowners have complained that they are often forced to resubmit documents multiple times after being told the paperwork has been misplaced or never received.

But the Post does well to point out up high that there may have been less-logistical impediments to implementation:

Even as the administration urges lenders to do more to help homeowners, some Bank of America employees continue to express skepticism about whether all of those seeking assistance really need it. “There’s a difference between hardship and entitlement,” said Jerry Durham, Bank of America’s vice president of home retention.

Think that may have had something to do with this?

Adding to borrowers’ difficulties was a letter sent this summer by Bank of America that mistakenly informed some of them that they did not qualify for the administration’s foreclosure-prevention program because their loans were not backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, the government-controlled mortgage giants. “Bank of America is not actively participating in this program,” the bank wrote to some borrowers, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Washington Post.

It would be good for Bank of America to remember that we kept the lights on in Charlotte and made the “America” in its name literal by modifying its mortgage on life with that $45 billion.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.