Twenty-One Unanswered Questions About the OneWest and CIT Group Merger

Why No Questions at OneWest Hearing

In February, the Federal Reserve and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency held a public hearing about the proposed merger of CIT Group and OneWest Bank. Public hearings are not held on every proposed bank merger, and some thought the hearing was held both in response to the record-breaking opposition to it, and in response to the many unique issues raised by this merger.

While advocates appreciated the regulators holding the hearing, they were also surprised that the regulators at the hearing didn’t ask the Bank CEOs, the supporters, or the opponents, any questions.

CT Financial News wrote “Yet, despite the size of the deal and the controversial issues it raises, regulators asked no questions of any of the public speakers, not even of Thain or Otting.”

It wasn’t for a lack of questions about the proposed merger.

CRC and other organizations have raised questions about the merger since October, but unfortunately the banks have declined to be transparent with the community.

While there is a long list of unanswered questions about this merger, we are including some of the more significant ones that have been raised since October when CRC initially announced our opposition to this merger.  For more information, see CRC’s Merger Resource Page where you can read the in-depth letters we have sent to the regulators.

Foreclosures

At the hearing, Joseph Otting, CEO of OneWest Bank, shared figures on the number of modifications OneWest has provided, but he didn’t share any numbers about foreclosures, improper foreclosures, or how many more people are facing foreclosure.

Mr. Otting’s testimony at the hearing:

Joseph Otting Testimony at Public Hearing

1) Is there a contradiction between the statement above and the outside indicators below about OneWest foreclosure practices?

They include:

2) How many families has OneWest Bank foreclosed on, both nationally and in California since buying the failed IndyMac Bank in 2009?

3) Has OneWest ever submitted a reimbursement claim to the FDIC for a wrongful foreclosure, such as this one?

OneWest Mortgage Fraud Case

4)  How many widowed, widower surviving spouses and other heirs, like these two sisters below, has OneWest’s reverse mortgage servicer subsidiary, Financial Freedom, foreclosed on since buying IndyMac in 2009?

Foreclosing on Heirs

5) How many homeowners, surviving spouses, and other heirs are in OneWest’s foreclosure pipeline right now?

6) Does OneWest Bank (and do regulators) believe that OneWest Bank is exempt from the California Homeowner Bill of Rights?

From the East Bay Express article: Saving the Homeowner Bill of Rights

Danny Barak, an attorney in Foondos’ law office, is currently appealing the decision before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in hopes of reversing the lower court’s decision, and clarifying once and for all that federal savings banks like OneWest can’t claim preemption over California’s foreclosure protection laws. “I think that a Ninth Circuit ruling that the Homeowner Bill of Rights is not preempted by HOLA would end this problem once and for all,” said a hopeful Barak.

Attorneys representing OneWest Bank and representatives of the bank’s public relations firm, Sard Verbinnen & Company, did not respond to requests for comment for this report.

7) Homeowners are wondering-  Are there any contradictions between the statements like Mr. Thain’s (below) vs. the actions of the investors who bought this bank, knowing they would be foreclosing on tens of thousands of people and getting reimbursed by the FDIC for these foreclosure costs (to the tune of $2.4 billion)?

At the hearing, Mr. Thain, CEO of CIT Group, commented to the WSJ:

“I think the stories you’ve just heard [on the panels] are terrible.” He then referenced one example of people being thrown out of their house but blamed a federal rule he said needed to be changed.

8) If Mr. Thain is concerned about these foreclosures, is he willing to work with OneWest Bank, and/or with the regulators to reduce the number of preventable foreclosures and to ensure that surviving spouses aren’t being foreclosed and evicted from their homes?

Community Reinvestment

A day before the hearing, the two banks announced that they were switching plans for where CIT Bank, which collects deposits from around the US, would reinvest those deposits.  Instead of reinvesting the deposits in the communities where the money is collected, or even the top ten or twenty metropolitan areas where the deposits are collected, the banks announced that all of CIT Bank’s deposits would be reinvested in its LA Assessment area.  Here’s what one CRC member had to say about CRC and its members taking a principled stand that CIT Bank should reinvest its deposits in the communities from which it receives them:

“While we’d love the $$$ for southern California, I’m reminded of how Dorothy Richardson and her neighbors in Pittsburgh first staged a series of “sit-ins” at local banks because of the redlining in their neighborhood. Every neighborhood matters. Every family matters. Out of the strength of her convictions, Dorothy succeeded and the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation and NeighborWorks Network were formed. We must stand for what is right on behalf of all of our neighbors to ensure justice for everyone. Seems fitting during Black History Month.”

9) Why are CIT and OneWest only planning on reinvesting in LA, whereas the Community Reinvestment Act calls on banks to reinvest their deposits in the communities where they receive them?

10) If CIT Bank knows where the deposits are coming from, why doesn’t CIT Bank reinvest deposits in those communities?

11) Why did the bank CEOs change course on where the deposits would be invested?  Originally they were going to continue to only reinvest the deposits in Salt Lake City, UT.

12) Why did OneWest try to keep its CRA Strategic Plan confidential?

13) Since OneWest didn’t meet the reinvestment goals it set for itself in its CRA Strategic plan, what steps (if any) will OneWest take to improve?

Systemic Risk

Community advocates, who saw the damage caused by IndyMac Bank’s reckless lending and $13 billion failure, and who witnessed the $2.3 billion bailout provided to CIT Group, are still trying to understand:

 14) How is a larger, $70 billion bank is less risky than two smaller banks?

15) How is CIT Group less interconnected today than it was in 2008, when it received its bailout from taxpayers?  (ostensibly for small business owners, though as CNN pointed out, CIT Group actually made about 1,000 fewer small business loans)

CIT Group Small Biz Lending after TARP Bailout (CNN)

16)  How can taxpayers and regulators be assured that this new bank wouldn’t try to pressure taxpayers or regulators into another bailout, as CIT Group did in 2009 (for a 2nd bailout), before filing bankruptcy?

CIT Group Tries to Pressure FDIC

17)  If CIT Group isn’t concerned about systemic risk, why has it spent more than $6,500 a day during the past two years, lobbying on things like systemic risk?  From Opensecrets.org 

CIT Group Lobbying

Meeting Community Credit Needs

18)  Why does OneWest Bank only have two branches in low income communities?

OneWest Bank Branches

19)  Outside of  mobile banking, do the bank CEOs have plans to serve low-income consumers, especially given new research by the FDIC, which found:

 “Although mobile banking would appear to be an appealing substitute for bank office visits, and is a fast-growing option, it remains one of the least common ways for consumers to access their accounts.”  

20)  Is there a reason OneWest bank’s lending record to Asian borrowers is lower than the industry as a whole?

21)  Why is most of OneWest’s small business lending to businesses with greater than $1 million in gross revenue?

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