Forget Managing Modifications. BofA Doesn't Have the Staff for Banking

bank teller, next teller please
bank teller, next teller please

A lack of staff in the face of overwhelming volume: That's the common excuse given for banks' turning to robo-signing to speed foreclosures, and for their inability to manage the the mortgage modification process. Modification contracts get lost or aren't honored; payments aren't credited, and the bank forecloses instead. (The modification problems are so bad that Bank of America [BAC] and other major mortgage servicers face multiple lawsuits over them.)

With unemployment is so high and wages so stagnant, one would think banks would find it very easy to hire sufficient numbers of competent people to get both these jobs done, although their relatively extraordinary nature may somewhat excuse the staffing issues.

Overtime Without Pay

But what about core banking functions, such as "opening and closing the bank branch; counting money; maintaining the cashier's drawer; performing bank transactions; offering and selling financial products and services; and taking loan applications"? Surely, Bank of America has enough staff to do those sorts of things? Nope.

At least not according to a major class action, quoted above, that just survived BofA's effort to dismiss it. In the lawsuit, retail branch and call-center employees claim that understaffing has led BofA to force them to work overtime without pay, much less time-and-a-half. They allege being forced to work through break and lunch, and before and after shifts, all without pay. In allowing the employees' case to go forward, the judge noted they had made many specific factual allegations -- still to be proven, of course -- but nonetheless factual enough in nature to have the necessary goods to proceed to trial.

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Just how many staff does BofA need to hire to do its various jobs in compliance with the law, much less well? Given the class of bank employees in the wage-and-hour case could be 200,000 (and again, these are workers doing the core business of banking), the answer must be many, many thousands more. Given how taxpayers saved BofA from oblivion, the bank's stubborn refusal to hire many thousands of people to ensure that it functions competently at a time the U.S. economy desperately needs jobs seems cruel, not to mention ungrateful.

Speaking of doing its jobs competently, after I and several others questioned how BofA could have done a competent review of over 100,000 pending foreclosures in a mere couple of weeks, BofA has backtracked a bit on its blanket claims of no problems and shed some light on what its review consisted of. In short, the bank looked at 1% of the foreclosures and found problems with say, 5% of them. (That latter percentage is a guess. BofA admitted to problems in 10 to 25 of several hundred. Twenty-five of 500 would be 5%.)

Taken at face value, that's 5,000+ pending foreclosures that have problems. But the problem with taking it at face value is that we have no idea how representative a sample these foreclosures were. Perhaps the true level of problems in the mess is much higher. We have no way of knowing, and frankly, BofA (and other banks) no longer have any credibility on the topic.

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