Since the collapse of the world financial system, plenty of politicians and industry insiders have engaged energetically in the endless pursuit of deciding whom to blame. Whose fault is it, really, that so many subprime mortgages were made based on so little documentation and then securitized and sold so many times under more and more complicated structures?
In Washington, some partisan battles have erupted. On more than one occasion, claims that the government-sponsored enterprises or the Community Reinvestment Act caused it all flew through the House Financial Services Committee room like spaghetti in a middle-school cafeteria. But the lawmakers are twice removed. They weren´t the ones making loans or trading mortgage-backed securities, after all.
So what do the bankers, those on the frontlines of the crisis, think? Grant Thornton LLP says in a survey of bank executives it did with Bank Director magazine that more than anything else they blame "lax underwriting standards."
That´s right, Congress: While you bickered about which party hobbled GSE reform efforts, bankers were owning up to their mistakes. Executives responding to the survey could select up to three potential causes from a list of 11 options. Most often they chose to fault underwriting standards.
Blaming the government, however, did come in a close second. The next two most popularly choices: an overemphasis on homeownership and lack of oversight of the mortgage industry. The GSEs came in fifth as a cause for the meltdown.
But lawmakers aren´t the only group that could learn something from the survey results. Though the American Bankers Association and other industry groups have vociferously criticized mark-to-market accounting, banking executives indicated that they did not see the practice as a major cause of the crisis. "I think bankers understand that fair value accounting affects only a portion of the balance sheet and by itself it did not cause the current crisis," Dorsey Baskin, a partner in Grant Thornton´s National Professional Standards Group, said in a press release announcing the survey results.
The full survey results are due in April. They express the opinions of 339 bank executives surveyed in November.