The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. is developing a computer program that could make it easier for examiners to detect lending bias.
The program selects a random sample of borrowers from a bank's Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data. Examiners then input details from these loan files, which the computer analyzes for signs of discrimination.
"The idea is to help examiners be able to quickly feed in data and decide what areas need a better look," said Bobbie Jean Norris, the FDIC's national coordinator for community affairs programs.
The agency unveiled the program to examiners this week. With two field tests in North Carolina community banks completed, the FDIC is planning a third test now and hopes to roll the program out nationwide in the third quarter.
Consultants said bankers should welcome the new technique, which will reduce the amount of time examiners spend pouring over loan files.
"I'm impressed," said JoAnn S. Barefoot, an industry consultant at KPMG Barefoot Marrinan. "It sounds like a potential breakthrough. This methodology would reduce the amount of examiner latitude and discretion to pick files for review."
But she cautioned that the system might reveal violations that examiners currently miss.
The program was developed by David Horne, an FDIC economist known for his criticism of a fair-lending study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
After examiners input the loan data, the program produces a report that identifies pairs of borrowers. Examiners may specify whether they want to review the pairs by race, age, or gender.
Examiners can sort the data two ways. For each denied applicant, they can look for similarly qualified or less-qualified applicants who received loans.
They also can narrow the search to the reason for the denial. For example, they can isolate loans made to customers who had higher loan-to- value ratios than a rejected applicant.
The program also allows examiners to review whether minorities, women, or the elderly paid higher rates than other borrowers.
If examiners are unsure of the findings, they may E-mail the results to the FDIC's headquarters here, where economists can review the data and troubleshoot any problems.
The agency does not plan to release the methodology to the public.
Ms. Barefoot said that is a mistake. "It makes everyone's life easier if the bank can check itself," she said.