On April 23, I traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Forum on the mortgage closing process. The build-up to this event came on the heels of the open public comment period the Bureau established for consumers and industry participants to offer personal experiences, ideas, suggestions and comments about the residential mortgage closing process. The sum and substance of the open comment period was reviewed, edited and compiled into a CFPB Report entitled: “Mortgage Closings Today.”
I must say that the CFPB event was not as exciting as I hoped. The Bureau has decided, at least for now, to focus on e-signing and e-closings as a solution to complaints by consumers that they are overwhelmed with the closing experience. CFPB Director Richard Cordray stated that the Bureau believes that consumers need more time to review documents and if they receive them electronically three days before a closing, they would have the time to properly review, understand and digest the loan package and thereby be better prepared to close the single largest financial transaction of their lives. Director Cordray also discussed embedding notes and explanations in the documents as an educational component, so that consumers could get an education not otherwise provided today by most closing professionals.
There was very little talk about settlement agents other than consumer complaints about their failure to explain documents, and rushing borrowers to complete the closing with little time to ask questions. I had expected a conversation about an agent certification/education initiative for agents, who usually have no knowledge of the mortgage process, just the real estate, title and legal aspects of the closing, but there was none.
A question and answer period followed the Director’s remarks, and while most commented on how an e-closing would improve the process, not everyone was sold. I was impressed with comments made by Margot Saunders, an attorney with the National Consumer Law Center. Ms. Saunders pointed out that e-closings may possibly exclude a significant segment of consumers who do not have access to computers or have the knowledge and experience to use them in a manner that will relieve the stress of the overall experience. She also explained that it also does not really address the core issue: The complexity of these documents and the failure of the professionals who participate in closing the loan to take the time to explain them fully so that a consumer can make an informed decision whether to proceed.
I applaud the CFPB and Director Cordray for the work they are doing to improve the overall mortgage experience for consumers, as well as the closing table experience in particular. And while I believe that the e-closing initiative is an interesting first step towards a more efficient and consumer-friendly experience, I believe that the time has come for uniform standards, cross-discipline best practices and mandatory education. Measures such as these will ensure that anyone acting in such an important role in a major consumer financial transaction has the minimum knowledge, experience and ability to properly advise a consumer regarding the mortgage closing.
Andrew Liput is president and CEO of Secure Settlements Inc., a company he founded after nearly 10 years studying the problem of escrow and closing fraud and the uninsured risks associated with mortgage closing professionals. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.