There’s been plenty of recent media attention to the prospect of investor lawsuits over fraudulent mortgages and mortgage securities. But investor lawsuits against mortgage servicers could be even more damaging than these other lines of legal inquiry. The four largest banks hold nearly half a trillion dollars worth of second-lien mortgages on their books—loans that could be decimated if investors successfully target improper mortgage servicing operations. The result would be major trouble for the financial system. The result would be major trouble for too-big-to-fail behemoths.
Mortgage servicers are the banking industry’s debt collectors. They accept payments and forward them along to investors who own mortgage securities– servicers themselves don’t actually own the mortgages they handle. This is a recipe for trouble for a variety of reasons, but one of the biggest problems is the fact that the nation’s four largest banks also operate the four largest mortgage servicers. Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup service about half of all mortgages in the United States. They also have multi-trillion-dollar businesses whose interests often conflict with those of mortgage security investors.