It's report card season, and some big banks aren't getting high marks for keeping their promises.
As part of a $25 billion national settlement of mortgage lending complaints, five of the largest U.S. banks agreed to identify a single employee to help each borrower seeking a loan modification.
Sixteen months later, thousands of borrowers are still getting bounced around and provided with conflicting information.
Neither have all the banks halted the practice of "dual tracking" — pursuing foreclosure even after accepting a troubled borrower's application for a modification.
Those findings were reported last week by an independent monitor of the settlement negotiated by 49 state attorneys general and federal regulators.
With the real estate market heating up, home sales and rising property values are returning to the headlines, and foreclosures are fading from the public's radar. But many thousands of homeowners are still trying to modify their loans, and many more former homeowners are discovering the limits of the settlement, which is delivering as little as $300 in compensation for improper foreclosures.
Yet again, it appears that there's little if any accountability for the banks.
In Britain, Bloomberg View noted recently, a parliamentary commission recommended that, to promote accountability, banks should identify individual executives as responsible for compliance with specific rules and regulations, making those individuals subject to prosecution for any violations. That sounds like a good idea.
On this side of the pond, Mary Jo White, the new chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, says she won't be as generous as her predecessors about approving settlements that don't include an admission of wrongdoing. We hope she sticks to her word.
For now, forcing the big banks to stick to their word in the mortgage servicing case is one small line of defense against a return to the misleading lending practices that contributed to a worldwide economic crisis just five years ago.
In his report on the settlement, monitor Joseph A. Smith said four of the five banks — Bank of America, CitiMortgage, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo — failed at least one of the 11 tests measuring compliance. Only the former Ally/GMAC passed all the tests.
Smith also identified a problem that wasn't anticipated when the settlement was completed: borrowers' inability to obtain reliable statements of how much they owe in principal, interest and penalties.
Additional compliance tests are being devised to address that issue as well as the ongoing problems with identifying a single point of contact and halting dual tracking, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The big banks have learned the value of being too big to fail. We hope that doesn't include being too big to keep their promises. We'll be watching for the next report card.