It's not often that one has the opportunity to chronologize the unfolding of the near dissolution of our banking system from a boots-on-the-ground prospective, and then to retrospectively report the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
As a mortgage operations consultant who got called back to the frontlines by default -- because as a former 1 percent member who got his backside kicked in the real estate "boom and bust" over the last decade, and is now officially a 99 percent member (misery loves company), it's with unique privilege that I can report stories from the frontline. The following is the first in a four-part series in one of the many ways the banking industry is coping (and sometimes beautifully succeeding) in putting things back together for this country.
While much is said of the robo signer, we do not hear a lot about in what I like to refer to as the "silent enemy." This sleuth group of mortgage professionals hired by banks (small and large, by the way), constitutes what are known as loan modification specialists. Other names they go by: forensic underwriters, due diligence underwriters and loss mitigation specialists. These were and are the bank employees responsible for disseminating the alphabet soup of acronyms borne from the Home Affordable Act, known as HAMP, HARP, HAFA, etc.
Although most of this corps of mortgage professional are likely well-intentioned, sometimes you have to call a "spade a spade." At a micro level, the individual loss mitigation units within a banks' infrastructure are largely responsible for the sometimes poisoned culture that festers within its ivy towers -- or industrial parks where most operation centers exist. (My apologies for the melodramatic prose).
And while it's impossible to hire the perfect employee, it should become a concern to the public when not doing so in droves poses a threat to America's own economic health. Anecdotally, the Glass-Steagall Act (which was repealed by Congress in 1999, with the help of President Bill Clinton) was to the American public what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was and is in protecting the public health.
The realization that banks have a fiduciary responsibility to the American public, and that fiduciary responsibility has brutally breached -- almost violently violated, and without compunction or guilt, has fortunately given raise to uniquely divergent subsets of the political spectrum; that it spawned and manifested itself into the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements.
Wherein these two parties/movements can trace their genesis to the epic dissatisfaction with amoral, anti-Christian, and what some describe as deviant criminality as consciously perpetrated by the wingtip-, cuff link-wearing banking elite in this country, it can be concluded that if one were really to wave the red, white and blue, this elite class might be described as an affront to God, Country and the flag. Capitalism gone wild is not a license to procreate with anything that moves. (To put it in G-rated language).
The question now becomes: Where have all the good men gone? It reminds me of the adage stated by Thomas Jefferson, "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country." My dad dropped that line on me and my two brothers as kids.
One such man I had the happenstance of working with was former U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher. A college student at the time, I held a job at the law firm that Secretary Warren worked at in Los Angeles, wherein I was literally about 30 paces from his office door. Although at the end of the day, Secretary Warren put his leg in his pants just like the rest of us -- one leg at a time, you did sense the mystic and realized that this man walked with Kings and didn't even blink. Most importantly, he did the right thing when it may have not seemed so popular.
Hence, speed it up to present day, 2012 -- at a time when this country thirsts for greatness. In times like these, some men percolate up to the top, which any barista would be pleased about. As an example, and although not of the same exact pedigree as Secretary Warren, you have guys like Bruce Marks, CEO of NACA (Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America). Marks was a former Federal Reserve of New York official turned consumer advocate for those exploited by the gluttony of Wall Street. The ultimate insider. He actually got hulled out, neck first, from a Senate committee hearing in 2010, with C-SPAN cameras rolling. The man has such testicular fortitude, I'm not certain how he walks upright. He must stumble in and out of meetings all day long.
Next up at bat to the testicular weigh-in scale is Greg Smith, veteran Goldman Sachs executive and whistle blower, who made the unusual announcement last month of announcing his resignation via the New York Times. Beautiful. Talk about the definitive "take this job and shove it" moment. Most country music fans would be proud, even though most are Republicans, and let's not forget the good ole' Dixiecrats, which incidentally have a special place in my heart.
It might be argued -- although maybe too poetically, that the silent enemy is the last line of defense in ensuring the "continuing" dream of home ownership for millions of Americans who currently own their homes. While the public is already aware of the criminal conduct perpetuated by robo signers (i.e., the hundred-million-dollar-plus settlements signed off or in the pipeline), this is proof positive of the banks flagrant disregard for not only its customers, for whom it technical works for, but for the sanctity and sovereignty of America's economic world superiority.
Thus, the silent enemy could almost be described as a non-conspirator mercenary army with obsolete autonomy. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. A mercenary army that inflicts terminal damage to individual home owners without repercussions. A mercenary army of miscreants that not only gets paid for its willful destruction of economic prosperity, but its disproportionate havoc into the non-white communities of this land. It is conducted without moral infliction. The banking industry is like a barrel of apples. It only takes one rotten apple to spoil the bunch.
To be fair, it is not a large pool of employees within the banking confederacy that causes this harm. That is, of course, irrelevant when the actions permeate a wide swath of the banking industry. The silent enemy has not made headlines because they are a difficult group to pin down. They are often an unlicensed group. They are a transitory group. Often floating from one lender to another, from city to city. A line from a song performed by the 1970s group the Temptations says it best: "Wherever he laid his hat was his home..."
At the very least, this Great Recession has created a cottage industry of mortgage operations consultants who have benefitted financially. Some of whom wear the hat of loan modification specialists. The largeness of banks has been exemplary. They fly in mortgage talent from all over the country, set them up in extended stay hotels (hot continental breakfast included seven days a week), free car rental, and in some cases, paid for air travel to and from one's hometown every three weeks.
And although there is an extensive background and drug testing for this professional corps of "pay-to-play" contractors, there is no background check that checks for cultural-socioeconomic bias. But in their defense, culture is typically top-down within most banking units.
As a re-activated erstwhile mortgage operations consultant who has worked in over a dozen states and nearly three dozen cities over the years, and most recently assisting in the clean-up of this toxic mess of real estate goop and pink slime -- it has become in a Shakespearian way, a best of times and worst if times. America just wants to get paid in full. The first check bounced -- and paradoxically, from a bank.
Next The Huffington Post segment: "Stories From the Frontline: Why Is Mortgage-Aid, Hater-Aid?"