Bank of America Rebrands Mortgage Operations
Countrywide Financial -- perhaps the most recognizable name to come out of the nation's mortgage crisis -- is now officially gone. Bank of America Corp. (BAC), which acquired the mammoth lender and servicer last July, is replacing the brand with its own; the company said Monday it had retired the Countrywide name, replacing it with the eponymous Bank of America Home Loans to represent the company's combined mortgage operations. The new branding push includes an effort to simplify mortgage disclosures to consumers, as well as a new mortgage product available via the company's retail origination channel. The new disclosure, which the bank is calling the Clarity Commitment, is a single, one-page loan summary that presents interest rate, terms and other details of a loan, including a "worst-case scenario" for any adjustable-rate mortgages; the new disclosure is made available to consumers both at application and closing of their mortgage, the bank said in a press statement. The disclosure goes above current disclosure regulations required during the origination process. "We met with thousands of customers and created tools that reflect the transparency they want in the home-buying process," said Barbara Desoer, president at Bank of America Home Loans. In addition, apparently product innovation isn't dead just yet in the mortgage space -- with the bank saying it would roll out a flat fee mortgage called Flat Fee Mortgage Plus via its 6,100 branch locations. The new product has no application fee and a single closing fee that the bank says represents the lender and other fees required for third-party services, such as an appraisal. BofA's Desoer said the product will be made available via other origination channels in the near future. The flat-fee mortgage is a follow-up offering to a much-publicized "no fee" mortgage the bank offered at the tail end of the nation's housing boom; according to a story at Bloomberg Monday, the bank stopped offering the product this year, after skeptical consumers felt the offer of a "no fee" mortgage was too good to be true. The re-branding effort comes as Desoer has spent the past nine months managing the Herculean task of integrating Countrywide's systems and operations with North Carolina-based BofA's own infrastructure; while the Countrywide brand has been replaced, the integration effort is yet ongoing. "As the new brand becomes more visible through rebranded locations, account statements, marketing materials and advertising, customers should continue to use current methods for managing their accounts and contacting customer service until the full systems conversion later this year," the company said. Desoer shared details of the conversion and integration plans with HousingWire, in an exclusive interview to be published in the May issue of HousingWire Magazine. Click here to get HW in print, if you don't already subscribe. While the Countrywide name is now gone, other businesses gained through the Countrywide acquisition will retain their brands, including Balboa Insurance Services, one of the leading providers of lender-placed property insurance, and LandSafe, a supplier of pre- and post-closing services. Bank of America is clearly anxious to get beyond the Countrywide brand name, which carries a high degree of recognition but also has become a target for consumer advocates, who say the lender's aggressive practices during the housing boom recklessly endangered consumers. Both Desoer and chief executive Ken Lewis have been adamant that BofA operates differently, and is committed to responsible lending practices. "Purchasing a home is one of the biggest decisions an individual makes, and we take seriously our responsibility to educate customers and arm them with the information they need to make smart decisions," Desoer said. BofA has seen mortgage production soar to $85bn in Q1 2009, up from $22bn one year earlier, helping drive the bank to a $4.25bn first quarter profit. The mortgage unit at BofA contributed $1.6bn to the bank's bottom line, helping to offset mounting provisioning expenses for bad loans. Both BofA and Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC), which origination more than $100bn in the first quarter, have quickly become the dominant players in a vastly reshaped mortgage banking industry. Write to Paul Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Disclosure: The author held no relevant investment positions when this story was published. Indirect holdings may exist via mutual fund investments.