CFPB Director Rohit Chopra on who’s going to benefit from mortgage automation

Sarah Wheeler: Let’s talk about technology’s role in making these things easier for even smaller lenders. To that point, let’s talk about the new CFPB rule around AVMs.

Rohit Chopra: I think appraisals are such a big issue. We want to make sure, and we saw this, you know, 15, 20 years ago — the problems with overvaluation. And then we’ve also seen issues when it comes to appraisal bias and other issues of undervaluation. We really need accurate appraisals. And that’s really how the CFPB thinks about it. And of course, human appraisals and machine-driven appraisals are going to be part of the market.

So one of the things we’ve done is try to make sure that those algorithmic-based appraisals, particularly as there’s going to be advances in artificial intelligence, really have some checks on them when it comes to conflicts of interests, when it comes to bias. And I think we’ve put forward something pretty common sense to make sure that artificial intelligence and algorithms don’t just favor some people over others.

SW: I think that AVMs are one of those issues that we can really understand, common sense-wise. If you think about all of the properties that were valued during the refi boom — so many properties went through that process and we now have a lot of information on them. How does that figure into what you want to do with AVMs?

RC: I think our work on AVMs is really just about accuracy, but I think you’re asking more broadly about the role of technology and how automation is really going to be even more part of the plumbing of the mortgage system.

I think we heard a lot of concern around some of the big vendor and software technology mergers and consolidation. We always are hearing from mortgage lenders about ICE. I think there is a growing power of a lot of these big technology providers and that’s not unique to mortgage. We’re seeing that with small banks, who are very dependent on a couple of big software platforms. We see it with auto dealers. We see it in all corners of the economy.

And I think the big question is: who’s really going to benefit from automation? Are those benefits going to be broadly shared with consumers and lenders? Or is it just going to create a couple more gatekeepers who can levy a tax on every single mortgage in the country?

SW: What do you think the CFPB’s role in that is, as you see it? The ICE merger, for instance, was approved with some changes that they made — rolling out some different parts of the Black Knight universe to other companies. So what do you think the CFPB’s role in that is?

RC: Well, understanding mortgage tech is really key. And one thing I’m hoping that more in the mortgage industry can help us think through is: what is the digital future of the mortgage market? And as many of you know, the CFPB has been putting into place more rules to promote what’s known as open banking.

Open banking is the possibility of having a more frictionless and more competitive banking system for financial products. We have started that process by giving consumers the right to permission their bank account data, their transaction account data, to permission it to various types of lenders. But we’re trying to think about ways to make the mortgage system benefit from open technologies.

One of the ways we might address the issue of the price gouging on credit reports and credit scores is maybe thinking about how consumers may be able to permission their credit reporting information directly to lenders or to be able to provide their cash flow in new ways to lenders to provide for different ways of underwriting.

There’s so much of this already going on in the industry today and I think we want to make sure we’re supporting all the efforts that are helping consumers and lenders, but not just concentrating power in a couple of big technology companies.

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