You Get It, Right? Obama, Congress Are Not On Our Side.

While President Obama and the rest of our dubiously elected “representatives” in Congress shift into all-campaign, all-the-time mode, it’s getting bad out there for the average American.

“Despite the robo-signing debacle slowing down foreclosures as the processing and servicing is rapidly changing, foreclosures remain high and homes in default or scheduled for auction rose 6.5 percent in the second quarter from the first, according to RealtyTrac. In July 2011, one in every 611 homes received a foreclosure filing… ” ~agbeat

Do more than a handful of honorable legislators seem to care? No. But there are government programs that are supposed to help people keep their homes, aren’t there? Ha! What are you, stupid or something? Haven’t you been paying attention?

“With housing prices dropping sharply, and foreclosure filings against more than 1 million properties in the first half of this year, the Obama administration is scrambling for ways to help homeowners.

“One place they won’t be looking:… an estimated $30 billion from the bailout that was slated to help homeowners but is likely to remain unspent.

“Instead, Congress has mandated that the leftover money be used to pay down the debt.” ~ProPublica

Thank you Congress. That’s just what I would have told you I wanted done, if you had asked. Not. And there I was feeling a teeny bit guilty for wishing the hurricane flooding would just wash away Wall Street.

(Cool photo of Wall Street bull on empty street before the hurricane.)

But, hey, there’s an election coming up and the economy is in the toilet. Surely somebody will come up with the bright idea that it would be a great vote-getter to solve the foreclosure crisis and jump-start a little prosperity.

“Congress has the power to “re-route” these funds so that they fulfill their original purpose of helping homeowners through loan modification programs and other plans. But it’s unthinkable that Republicans will take such action, even to help struggling families stay in their homes.

“GOP lawmakers have consistently prioritized reducing the deficit over the more pressing concerns of chronically high unemployment and foreclosure. Their willingness to let billions that could be used to aid homeowners go to paying down the debt instead is perhaps the clearest illustration to date of their skewed priorities.” ~ThinkProgress

Quick, ask New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman if there’s any statutory limit to how many times the President and Congress can sell us out to the banksters. He at least seems to give a flip about helping homeowners and getting the economy back on track.

“Government officials are seeking an agreement that provides funding for writedowns on mortgage loans for borrowers and sets standards for how the banks service loans, interact with borrowers and conduct foreclosures, according to terms proposed in March.

“Several attorneys general, including Schneiderman, criticized any settlement that would protect banks from state investigations by providing the lenders with broad releases from liability. Those probes include the bundling of mortgage loans into securities.” ~Bloomberg

“So why is the Obama Administration NOT on Schneiderman’s side?” ~The Big Picture

Ooh, ooh! I know this one!! Because the Obama administration and Congress are not on the side of average American people.

Update 9/7/11:
Organizing to Fight the Plutocracy
Quite simply, corporations have stolen the political process and the rights of citizens, in much the same way they robbed people of their economic rights in times past.

@Ask_WellsFargo Hasn’t Asked

While browsing a site that provides tips on how to use social networking in business, I came across an interview of Kimarie Matthews, Wells Fargo’s VP for customer loyalty and social web programs, talking about the company’s use of Twitter to connect with its customers.

According to Matthews, WF uses social media to obtain “feedback from customers on how we’re running our business” and to offer assistance to customers. Great idea, right?

Interviewer: “What is the purpose of Twitter for Wells Fargo?”

Matthews: “Our purpose is primarily around customer support. We listened in Twitter to what customers were saying about Wells Fargo and we found that there were customers who were talking about their experience with the bank, for good or for bad, and … if we felt like we could add value, we reach out to them and we answer questions, we offer them help, we thank them if they say something nice about us.”

WF has two people working full-time during normal business hours monitoring the words “Wells Fargo” on Twitter and responding via the company’s @Ask_WellsFargo Twitter account. I follow that feed, but I’m not at my computer that much during the California-based team’s normal business hours, so I very seldom see any of these interactions.

Imagine my surprise to find out that Matthews and her team really do seem to interact with quite a number of customers, both the positive and the negative.

If a customer tweets about a good experience with a specific employee at a branch, Mathews said she and her staff will pass along the tweet to that employee. If a customer tweets about a broken ATM, they’ll contact the customer to let him know the appropriate branch has been informed so the machine can be fixed.

“And then we get customers that may have had a less-than-desirable experience and they may be expressing their feelings,” Matthews explained. “At that point we can reach out and say ‘I’m sorry you’re frustrated. Can we help?’”

Matthews comes across as positive and energetic – nice even – in the interview. And she talks a great line both there and in other places on the web. Rah, rah for building business by carefully creating strong customer relationships.

So, what am I? Chopped liver? I’ve been on Twitter more than a year now, quite often tweeting my displeasure with Wells Fargo by name. And nobody from Matthews’ team has “reached out” to me. Hmm. Does that mean I’m not considered a customer because my problem stems from a mortgage loan serviced by WF instead of a checking account? (But when I started tweeting about the bank, I did have a checking account there.)

Or is it that for those of us on the mortgage mod merry-go-round, WF has no desire to “add value?” Anyone who has dealt with Wells on mortgage mods and foreclosure issues probably doesn’t feel like a valued customer. I sure don’t. So, if we’re not customers, what are we? They’re making billions of dollars from originating and servicing our mortgage loans;  it seems reasonable to expect we should be extended the courtesy of being treated like valued customers.

Instead this taxpayer-bailed-out corporation seems to have constructed some other, less-desirable category for those of us who are struggling to make ends meet after the disastrous economic conditions of the past few years. (Now, what industry was it that tanked the economy? Oh yeah, financial services. Banks. Wall Street. Mortgage lenders.)

We’re the people it’s okay to lie to, blow off and generally jerk around because, for the time being, we’re stuck with WF because our houses’ values are under water and we can’t tell the big banks to take a hike and refi with a nice local bank or credit union that won’t treat us like crap.

In the interview, Matthews says the most rewarding interactions are those that allow her to “turn around” an angry client. She told the interviewer that changing a customer’s sentiment from negative to positive often just requires engaging with the customer who is angry and asking, “How can I help?”

“When they hear that we actually want to help them … we can turn it around and save that customer,” Matthews said.

Well, I’ve got some ideas how Wells Fargo can help me. Too bad nobody’s @Asking.

Meet My Wells Fargo “Single Point of Contact”


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Back in April 2010, just as I was initiating my first request for modification of my mortgage loan, Wells Fargo Home Mortgage’s soon-to-be-solo president, Mike Heid, told a subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee that the bank was a couple months into a policy of “assigning one person to manage one loan modification from beginning to end.

Then, in mid-November 2010, Alan Jones, operations manager of WFHM servicing, told another subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee that “this year we introduced a 1:1 customer service model to enable at-risk customers to work with one person from beginning to end on their home preservation options.”

In between those two pronouncements, I had spent three months dealing with a never-repeating series of customer service phone queue people. Finally, on June 14, 2010, I finally got connected with a person who actually gave me her direct phone line. She said she would be working with me until the review was completed. But that was not to be. Instead, my case was passed along to five more people – all of whom told me they’d be with me ‘til the end – before that review ended.

I made a second mod attempt starting just before Christmas 2010. This time I had three different contact people, two in the WFHM office of the president and one on the Congressional Support team (thanks to staff at Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ Tucson office.)

Yet, on February 18, 2011, HousingWire reported that Jones, speaking on a panel, said that since June 2010 WFHM had “established a single-point of contact strategy where troubled borrowers are assigned to one loss mitigation representative.”

“The single-point of contact does work. It has helped to avoid foreclosures when the borrower has one person to call will filling out their documentation,” Jones said. I can imagine that’s quite true. I just don’t think it was happening anywhere but in the prepared statements of these executives.

You see, three days after Jones’ statement, I was informed the second review of my loan had ended. By that time, I had been assigned a total of nine different people as my “single point of contact.” Despite the fact that WFHM execs were testifying to Congress that they had been matching borrowers with a single contact person for the past year.

In April 2011, in response to a bit of largely impotent pressure from regulators, Wells Fargo and the other big banks vowed to fix the failing loan mod/foreclosure process. One of the key points was, you guessed it, agreeing to provide customers with a single point of contact.

Single Point Of Contact: Why Won’t Banks Pay More Attention To Homeowners?

A full year after Jones said WFHM’s “single point of contact” strategy was in place and a full 14 months after Heid’s testimony to Congress, I initiated a third mortgage mod review. Surely, by now, WFHM will have perfected this system to match up customers with a single contact person.

Or not.

In just six weeks, between June 15, 2011 and July 26, 2011, I had four (4)!! different people inform me and my legal counsel that they were the “single point of contact” for my case. Four! Here’s the list:

  1.  On June 15, 2011, the day the paperwork to initiate the third round of mod requests was faxed to WFHM, I got a phone call from Tanya Williams in the WFHM president’s office telling me that my case has been assigned to Gary Lingren, executive mortgage specialist in the president’s office, and he will be calling me in the next couple of days. He never did so and he failed to answer several voicemails from my legal counsel. He did, however, later order my case closed because I didn’t send documents in response to a letter that was never actually sent to me.
  2. On June 27, 2011, I received a letter dated June 21, 2011, from Kathleen Halifax, an underwriter in Loss Mitigation. In the letter, she designated herself as my “primary contact” on the “team dedicated to helping” me with my mod review. I never heard from her other than the letter, though another WFHM employee did manage to interrupt her in a meeting to get the list of documents Mr. Lingren needed but never bothered to actually call or write to ask for.
  3. On July 21, 2011 my legal counsel was called by Julian Long from the WFHM president’s office, who identified himself as our “single point of contact” for the ongoing review. He was the person who, just eight days later, notified my legal counsel that my request had been denied.
  4. But, in the meantime, on July 26, 2011, I received a FedEx package containing a letter dated July 21, 2011, in which Sheila Roberts, loan processor, describes herself as “your loan processor and dedicated point of contact for this program.” (Note that this letter was generated the same day Mr. Long was telling my counsel he was the point of contact.) Neither I nor my counsel has had any other contact from Ms. Roberts and I have no idea what her actual role might or might not have been in the review that supposedly ended three days after I got her overnight package.In her letter, she implied the review was just beginning and wrote that she would follow up with me at latest by Sunday, August 21, 2011, to outline the next steps in the process or request additional documents. I hope someone tells her somebody else completed the review already.

Somebody should tell Wells Fargo that “single” means “one.” And “point of contact” implies, well, contact. Communication. Exchange of information.

Instead, “single point of contact” seems to be a phrase used to placate Congress and the “regulators” and mollify the media while the loan servicers continue to play the delay and deny game with homeowners. In short, another scam.

Update 9/13/11:
Add name number 15 to my “single point of contact”

Update 6/2012:
Up to 17 “single” points of contact now. Although “contact” might be a bit of an exaggeration.

I Survived Y2K & the Debt Limit Crisis of 2011

Whew. Crisis averted. Congress rides to the rescue and passes legislation that will save the nation from the evil ratings agencies and international consternation, preventing the national debt from exceeding a limit previously set by … now who was it again? Oh yes. Congress. When it raised the limit way back in February 2010. And nine other times in the past decade.

So what’s the big deal this time. For you and me? Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. All the posturing and rhetoric over the past weeks has been nothing but a great big game of charades, more about the 2012 election than about what’s best for the U.S. economy and the people.

Wouldn’t it have been nice if, instead of playing power games, Congress had done some actual work this summer before taking itself off for summer vacation? There are certainly plenty of real problems that need solving. Record unemployment. Out-of-control bank foreclosures. Sluggish economy.

I’m guessing there are plenty of American families that won’t be taking vacations this summer because they can’t afford the gasoline for a road trip, let alone airfare, lodging and the like. Loads of small-business owners who can’t afford to close down for even a long weekend because they’re teetering on the edge of solvency. No time off, either, for the long-term unemployed whose savings is nearly depleted and the job market just shrinks and shrinks. Or the millions of people fighting to keep the predatory banks from foreclosing on their homes, sending the same paperwork over and over and having the same pointless conversations with person after person.

Congress can’t possibly take on the cash-bloated, morally bankrupt financial services industry and do some real long-term good for the economy. (And by long-term I mean decades, not just until the next election cycle.) Let’s face it: it’s way more fun to try to whip the populace into a frenzy about a fake problem than to solve real problems. That’s just dull, dull, dull. And it doesn’t get you on TV.

This whole “crisis” atmosphere was aided and abetted by the media – and not just the obviously partisan “news” organizations. Even NPR, which I count on for balanced, reasoned perspective, got in the frenzy. Imagine how different the past weeks would have been had reporters simply written one story about how Congress was going to have to work together to pass the 11th increase in the debt limit in as many years. Snore.

Reporters and editors should have treated the outcome like the foregone conclusion that it was and moved on to cover more interesting and important news. And, maybe, made fun of the legislators trying to make a big deal out of business as usual.

But no. We had to have all debt crisis, all the time and provide a platform for a whole lot of politicians whose main goal was filling their campaign coffers for the next election cycle. Seems these days as if the fourth estate has degenerated into a three-ring circus.

I don’t know a single real, non-media person who actually thought Congress would allow the country to default on its foreign debt or stop the presses from printing Social Security checks. We common folk all know the shouting and posturing was just so much theater – a not-so-well-acted melodrama we would have walked on during intermission.

But, hey, Moody’s was threatening to downgrade the U.S. from a triple-A rating. The same rating it gave Lehman Bros. just before the firm went under. I’m pretty sure the ratings agencies lost all their cred when they aided and abetted the big banks in creating a real economic crisis in the housing market. If a company can maintain a AAA rating with its books full of subprime mortgages, surely a country the size of the U.S. can maintain its status after its debt reaches the level of an artificially-created and oft-altered limit.

What a lot of nonsense. And, once again, the world looks on with a kind of horrified amusement as the U.S. appears to be a country governed by a bunch of mouthy eight-year-olds who haven’t yet mastered playground etiquette.

But let’s all congratulate ourselves that two groups of alleged grown-ups managed heroically to make a mundane decision on a largely procedural matter at the last minute, thus saving the world from somethingorother.

Gee, I haven’t been this relieved since Y2K turned out to be a non-crisis crisis.

 The one bright spot in the whole fiasco … seeing Gabrielle Giffords on the House floor. Way to go Gabby!

Update: The Wrong Conversation About Credit Ratings Agencies