Activist investors critique Zillow, Trulia deal

Activist investors critique Zillow, Trulia deal

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Is Benjamin Lawsky only going to get more aggressive?

Ballard Spahr says industry hasn’t seen anything yet

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In a note to clients, Ballard Spahr warns that the head of the New York State Department of Financial Services is only going to get more aggressive in his crusade against perceived wrong-doers.

“(Benjamin) Lawsky decried the ‘accountability gap’ on Wall Street,” the Mortgage Banking Update from Keith Fisher reads. “That gap fuels public outrage, he said, even as a proliferation of post-crisis scandals—money laundering, LIBOR, tax evasion, and currency manipulation—suggest that lessons from the crisis have not adequately been learned.“

Lawsky told guests at the Exchequer Club in Washington last week that a “culture on Wall Street” and only penalizing the institutions themselves plays into an “everyone was doing it” defense for individuals who engage in misconduct.

Lawsky says that real deterrence cannot be accomplished solely by corporate accountability, regardless of the size of the fines and penalties, and can only succeed if regulators and prosecutors change that focus to individual accountability.

Lawsky also turned his sights on the mortgage servicing business, where banks have been fleeing the MSR business in favor of nonbanks, arising from an unintended consequence of Basel III.

Lawsky is worried that nonbank servicers have become so large so fast that he apprehends harm to consumers, particularly in the foreclosure context. He indicated that DFS is cooperating closely with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on this and other matters.

Lawsky, notably, is the “zealous” regulator who put the brakes on Ocwen Financial Corp.(OCN) and Wells Fargo (WFC) in their $2.7 billion MSR deal.

“It is appropriate for regulators, where warranted, to halt the explosive growth in the nonbank mortgage servicing industry before more homeowners get hurt,” Lawskey told the New York Bankers Association Annual Meeting and Economic Forum in February.

Lawsky said companies like Nationstar Mortgage Holdings (NSM) and Walter Investment Management (WAC) are in his sights and drawing his scrutiny.

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