Mortgage servicers recently held one of their signature conferences in Orlando, Fla., and while the mood was largely upbeat about the state of their industry it was dampened somewhat by a sobering speech from a top official at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In his speech, Deputy Director Steven Antonakes criticized servicers for not modifying more underwater or delinquent mortgages and for being too slow in adapting to new rules that require them to improve communication with borrowers who have fallen behind on their payments.
"Too many customers continue to receive erratic and unacceptable treatment," Antonakes told the audience.
I was part of a panel at the Mortgage Bankers Association Servicing conference that looked at what the industry needs to do to connect with and be more responsive to homeowners facing foreclosure. There are many tools for servicers to better communicate with their customers mobile apps, letters, websites, social media and advertising yet many borrowers still feel that they are not getting the assistance that they need and deserve when they contact their servicer about a loan modification or other assistance.
Consumers also appear to be misinformed about where foreclosure help comes from and it's the servicer's job to set things straight.
According to a recent NeighborWorks survey, most consumers are willing to pay for help with their foreclosure even though the evidence suggests that many so-called foreclosure assistance programs are outright scams.
According to data from our partner in the effort to fight loan modification scams, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights under Law, more than $90 million has been lost by homeowners since 2010 because of paying for help that never came. On average, a consumer caught in one of these scams pays $3,500 and sometimes in excess of $10,000.
They're willing to pay because they are bombarded with messages from the fee-for-service companies that leave the impression that working with their current servicer is waste of time. These companies often give the impression to consumers that "you get what you pay for."
Our housing attitude survey underscores this. Seventy-one percent of people in our poll believe that they know where to find free advice to help prevent foreclosure, yet one-third of people don't think that the free advice is as good as the kind that costs money.
Servicerscould do more to clear up this misperception. They are obviously in the best position to help a borrower avoid foreclosure -- and they don't charge a penny for doing so but servicers must do more to distinguish themselves from the fee-for-service companies.
One key way for servicers to better communicate their assistance programs is on the Web. Our survey found that 58% of people looking for foreclosure prevention information go straight to the Internet where they are subsequently bombarded with ads from fee-for-service companies. Servicers need to make crystal clear on their own web sites that they, too, are available to assist and will do so at no charge. Indeed, a simple, well-placed notification on a web site is likely to be even more effective than posts on Twitter or Facebook; only 15% of respondents to our survey said that they would use social media websites to obtain foreclosure prevention information.
Still, the best communication is human communication, and, frankly, servicers have more to do here . Some fee-for-service companies may be unscrupulous, but a big reason they are able to win borrowers' business is because they do a lot of hand-holding up front. The CFPB's new single-point-of-contact rule is designed to improve communication between the servicer and borrowers seeking assistance.
The foreclosure crisis was a big wake-up call for the servicing industry. Consumers facing mortgage trouble want help and are looking everywhere for it. Paying close attention to where and how homeowners seek information is how the servicing industry will put itself on the fast track to a better reputation.
Marietta Rodriguez is vice president, homeownership and lending programs, NeighborWorks America.