Bank compliance officers say the new fair-lending examinations, which have focused on mortgage lending, now cover subprime and automobile lending.
Speaking Monday at a conference sponsored by the Consumer Bankers Association, bankers said examiners are trying to assess fair lending by comparing data on rejected applicants against demographics of the overall marketplace. They are also looking at rejected applicants' first names and surnames in at attempt to identify their sex and ethnicity.
"The old approach" focused on information collected under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, which requires the collection of race and gender data, said Ronald A. Carrozza, vice president and director of fair-lending compliance at the lead subsidiary of Chase Manhattan Corp. in New York.
Now regulators are "really trying to identify what are our risk areas," Mr. Carrozza said. "They will really try to narrow it down to a subset of products."
Examiners from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York looked at Chase's unscored and unsecured loans, he said. In discussing the company's subprime loans, or those made to people with credit histories that ostensibly warrant higher interest rates, they asked whether applicants are told that they could qualify for a lower interest rate.
The examiners are also asking a lot of questions about why bankers override mediocre credit scores and extend loans and how scripts are written for employees to respond to customers trying to negotiate credit card rates.
Examiners are also pushing past senior executives and compliance officers to interview loan officers directly, the bankers said. And they are reviewing how lenders communicate their regulatory requirements to loan brokers and auto dealers. Portland, Maine-based Peoples Heritage Financial Group showed examiners the annual letter it sends to automobile dealers, said Lane F. Brown, vice president of corporate compliance at Peoples.
The four bank and thrift regulatory agencies instituted new fair-lending exams in January, but McLean, Va.-based Chevy Chase Bank got a preview in 1997 under a trial conducted by the Officer of Thrift Supervision, vice president and compliance officer Richard H. Harvey said.
When he said examiners wanted to see not 100, or 200 loan files, but as many as 800, the audience gasped. "This is pretty labor-intensive," Mr. Harvey said. "They looked at loan-to-value, debt-to-income, credit risk, credit scores, race, and gender."
However, Raymond L. Coons, an OTS compliance exam manager, said well-prepared institutions are now receiving more-streamlined exams.