Multinational bank HSBC has agreed to a $470 million settlement with the U.S. government/corporation for mortgage lending and foreclosure abuses that worsened the 2008 financial crisis, but is it enough?
The Justice Department’s Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart F. Delery said the agreement was “the result of a coordinated effort between federal and state partners to hold HSBC accountable for abusive mortgage practices. This agreement provides for $370 million in creditable consumer relief to benefit homeowners across the country and requires HSBC to reform their servicing standards.”
Under the agreement HSBC must reduce mortgage interest rates as well as the principal on mortgages for homeowners who are at risk of default. HSBC must also improve their standards for handling service loans and foreclosures. The hope is that new practices will discourage the actions that lead to the financial crisis that started in 2007 due to banks like HSBC knowingly giving out bad loans.
The U.S. government and the individual states involved will received $100 million in an escrow fund that will make payments to people who lost their homes due to foreclosure between 2008 and 2012.
In 2013 HSBC made a deal with the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller, agreeing to pay $249 million to settle federal complaints that the bank foreclosed homes on families who should have been eligible to stay in their homes.
Benjamin C. Mizer, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General and head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division said, “The agreement is part of our ongoing effort to address root causes of the financial crisis.”
Despite Mr. Mizers statements only one person in the U.S. has gone to prison for the largest theft in recent memory. The rest of the people held responsible were all considered “small fish”, bit players in an international game of banking and theft. Not everyone is convinced that the ruling is as strong as the Justice Department claims.
Bartlett Naylor, a financial policy advocate at Public Citizen, a watchdog and advocacy group, told the Associated Press that a “strongly written press release is no substitute for true justice. This can’t be yet another immaculate fine, where the government alleges widespread fraud and yet no individual was responsible.”
There is also the question of whether or not $470 million even covers the amount of wealth that was stolen from millions of people by the bankers. In 2012 Frontline wrote:
For example, the Treasury Department, in an April assessment [PDF], put the total lost household wealth at $19.2 trillion. But that doesn’t take into account long-term effects of homeowners who may be less socially mobile — and therefore contribute less to the economy over time.
In reality the numbers are likely much higher and the $470 million settlement barely even scratches the surface. As a result, banks like HSBC and the corrupt officials behind these institutions will continue to go free while government officials pretend to care about the American people. The sooner we let go of that fantasy the sooner we move towards empowering ourselves and our communities and creating real solutions.
About the Author:
(Featured Image: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)