Consumer lending – year in review

March 20, 2009 by Guest Contributor

This post is a feature from my colleague and guest blogger, Barry Timm, Senior Process Architect in Advisory Services at Baker Hill, a part of Experian.

2008 has proven to be an unbelievably challenging year for the economy as a whole, let alone the financial industry.  Never before have we experienced the type and degree of turmoil that we did in 2008, even since the “Great Depression”.

These economic challenges have been quick, severe and widespread; and, from large corporations to the individual consumer, all have been impacted to some degree.  The stock market is down, unemployment up, consumer confidence down, delinquencies up ….not exactly a pleasant roller coaster ride.

And, there is no longer any projecting as to when the “bubble” is going to burst.  It happened.   Decreased real estate values have occurred not only in high impact geographic regions but throughout the country.  While home equity products have traditionally been the “golden child” of consumer loan product offerings, recent economic changes have caused a shift in that perspective.  As a result, tightened underwriting standards have limited the availability of the product as a whole.  In some markets the product offering has even been temporarily halted.

We frequently hear the terminology “bailout” being used in the news.  While we all have expectations as it relates to the bailout approach, I thought I would “Google” the word “bailout” to see what would magically appear.  Interestingly enough, the first listing was titled “Walk away from your home”, with a link to the home page for a mortgage default legal team.  This is not exactly what I was expecting to find, but is definitely reflective of the times.

And, according to the FDIC, there have been 25 failed financial instituions in the year 2008.  This single year number equates to the total number of failed financial institutions between the prior periods 2001 through 2007.

Okay … enough doom and gloom.  In spite of all that has occurred within the economy, some financial institutions continue to maintain a strong credit quality position in their consumer portfolios and have maintained profitability throughout all of the market volatility.

What are the strong survivors doing that differentiates themselves from the others?

1. They understand their portfolio.  

Advisory Services frequently assists clients with various types of portfolio management analysis and often presents those findings to senior management.  We often hear that management is surprised by the results of that analysis. The point is that high-level management reporting is not enough these days. Additional detail and depth are necessary.

More specifically, as opposed to evaluating payment performance at the portfolio level, it is important to consider the following:

  • Do you know your delinquency numbers at the product level?
  • How do delinquencies compare to your product approval rates?
  • Do you routinely compare approval/decline rates and delinquencies to scorecard results and/or credit bureau scores?
  • Do you know where pricing exceptions are being made and are you receiving sufficient return for the level of risk?

2. A focused strategy is in place.
It is important to re-emphasize the specific, strategic direction and focus of your defined market.  Now is not the time to be “pushing the envelope” and extending into untested waters.  There is something to be said about focusing on your strengths, staying within your defined footprint and meeting the needs of your core, proven line of business while following sound financial risk management.

3. The underwriting process is under control.
This does not automatically mean that a “tightening” of underwriting standards is necessary.  It does mean, however, that stronger attention to detail is warranted.  It is important that underwriting criteria is reviewed and that you are sure that defined underwriting practices are consistently applied.  As noted in item number one above, this may require digging a little deeper and reviewing current and past decisioned loans (preferably with a critical eye of an independent third party).  Assessing the underwriting process becomes increasing complex and more critical with a decentralized underwriting approach.

Focus on the positive
Now that 2008 is behind us, let’s continue to focus on the positives to come in 2009.  Reflect on the past, but strive to center your attention on ongoing portfolio monitoring, financial risk management assessments and improvements for the future.