Warner Presses Wells Fargo for Answers Following Report of Racial Disparities in Approval of Refinancing Applications
Mar 18 2022
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) pressed Wells Fargo for answers after a Bloomberg News investigation revealed that the financial services company approved only 47 percent of Black homeowners’ refinancing applications in 2020 – an approval rate significantly below other lenders, who approved about 70 percent of Black homeowners’ refinancing applications.
“I am writing regarding a recent Bloomberg News investigation, which reported that Wells Fargo approved only 47 percent of Black homeowners’ refinancing applications in 2020, an approval rate significantly below other lenders, who approved about 70 percent of Black homeowners’ refinancing applications,” wrote Sen. Warner in a letter to Wells Fargo CEO and President, Charles Scharf. “I am concerned with the significant differences between Wells Fargo and other lenders and that Wells Fargo was reportedly the only major lender to approve a smaller share of Black homeowners’ refinance applications in 2020 than it did in 2010.”
He continued, “It is clear that disparities in refinance approvals are system-wide and likely reflect a historic and systematic imbalance that has driven the racial homeownership and wealth gaps, where the average Black and Hispanic or Latino household owns just 15 to 20% as much net wealth as the average white household. Wells Fargo is quoted in the article as saying that its lending decisions were ‘consistent across racial and ethnic groups’ and I understand that the imbalance may in part be an outgrowth of historic and longstanding barriers – including greater shares of applicants with lower credit scores and higher loan-to-value (LTV) ratios, which result from longstanding legal, social, and economic inequalities. However, the key question for Wells Fargo, and other lenders, is how lenders can find ways to support communities that have historically been held back from fully participating in the mainstream economy rather than continuing to perpetuate existing disparities, particularly during times of economic crisis.”
In the letter, Sen. Warner highlighted a Federal Reserve analysis that showed borrowers saved significant amounts of money by refinancing their mortgages during the pandemic by taking advantage of record low interest rates. According to this analysis, the typical refinance reduced a borrower’s monthly payments by over $250. The total amount of borrowers who refinanced are expected to see $5 billion in savings per year. However, less than 4 percent ($198 million) of those savings went to Black households, which make up over 9 percent of all homeowners.
Seeking answers on the reported disparities, Sen. Warner asked Wells Fargo to explain in detail why the racial gaps in its refinance approval rates were significantly larger than other lenders, and why its approval rate for refinances for Black homeowners fell in 2020 compared to 2010. He also pressed for answers as to whether the financial services company is considering changes to its evaluations process to ensure equitable outcomes for all homeowners.
Sen. Warner also joined a number of his colleagues in a separate letter today, urging the Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to request a review of Wells Fargo’s mortgage loan refinance processes, following the Bloomberg News Investigation.
In Congress, Sen. Warner has been a champion for addressing the racial wealth gap by way of homeownership and entrepreneurship. He is the author of the Low-Income First Time Homebuyers (LIFT) Act – legislation to help first-time, first-generation homebuyers – predominately Americans of color – build wealth much more rapidly. In December of 2020, Sen. Warner successfully negotiated a record $12 billion investment to open the flow of emergency capital to community-based lenders in minority and low- and moderate-income communities.