A community group has filed a protest against Conseco Inc.'s application for a thrift charter.
In a document filed March 10 with the Office of Thrift Supervision, New York City-based Inner City Press/Community on the Move accused Conseco's consumer loan subsidiary, Green Tree Financial Corp., of "activities that gouge and destabilize many low-income communities of color."
The group also accused Green Tree of disproportionately rejecting loan applications by minority group members.
Conseco denied the charges in a written statement: "Green Tree has an exemplary record in serving low- and moderate-income borrowers. The objecting group, which has no ties to the communities, routinely files comment letters opposing thrift applications. The comment letter contains myriad misstatements, including a reference to a case which has since been reversed by the Texas appeals court."
Several finance companies have applied for thrift charters in recent years, in an attempt to secure a lower cost of funds.
Travelers Inc. was the first nonbank to get approval, in 1997, for Commercial Credit, its subprime subsidiary. General Motors Acceptance Corp. and Associates First Capital Corp. also have applications pending.
Inner City Press has protested each of these applications, and Matthew Lee, the community group's director, said that finance companies should be examined closely by the OTS.
"In a wiser world, giving this type of questionable lending the veneer of FDIC insurance and bank lending is a mistake," Mr. Lee said. "If they are to do it, now is the time to scrutinize these companies." The terms of the Travelers approval should be used as an example for other applicants, Mr. Lee said. As a condition of getting a thrift charter, Travelers acknowledged that it had nationwide CRA responsibility.
"We look at it as a precedent," Mr. Lee said.
Inner City Press is also criticizing Green Tree because the company asserts it need satisfy Community Reinvestment Act covenants only in Las Vegas, where its thrift would be located, though the company makes loans nationwide.
The OTS must send a message to finance companies about "what cuts the mustard and what doesn't," Mr. Lee said, "or they will be barraged by these applications."