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Originally published February 23, 2013 at 8:01 PM | Page modified February 26, 2013 at 1:19 PM

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Top WaMu execs in mortgage biz again

Top execs from the failed Washington Mutual have taken on key roles at growing Vericrest Financial of Texas; also, Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz stars in a comic-book biography.

Seattle Times business staff

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From the “If at First You Don’t Succeed” Department: David
Schneider, who headed Washington Mutual’s home-loans unit during the peak of the mortgage bubble, was running another sizable mortgage company until this past Friday.

Though Schneider is now out, several other WaMu veterans, including former chief operating officer Stephen Rotella, are still involved with the company, Vericrest Financial of Irving, Texas.

Vericrest, wholly owned by private equity firm Lone Star, specializes in servicing subprime mortgages and delinquent or otherwise troubled loans, of the sort that WaMu became notorious for peddling. It services some 55,600 mortgages with total outstanding principal balances of $10.1 billion.

Schneider, who was kept on by JPMorgan Chase after it acquired WaMu’s operations from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. in 2008, became Vericrest’s CEO just over a year ago.

But after reports earlier this month in the trade press that Schneider had left, and a direct inquiry from The Seattle Times, Vericrest issued a statement late Friday that Schneider had previously announced his intention to resign and that Feb. 22 was his last day. (Confusingly, though, Vericrest still lists Schneider as CEO on its website.)

Last fall, Schneider appointed Rotella and John McMurray, WaMu’s former chief risk officer, to a newly formed advisory board. Radha Thompson, another former WaMu executive, is Vericrest’s chief information officer.

(In December 2011, Rotella agreed to pay $100,000 and Schneider $50,000 to settle a lawsuit brought against them — and former WaMu CEO Kerry Killinger — by the FDIC. The settlement did not bar the men from future involvement in the mortgage business.)

Besides servicing mortgages, Vericrest also has waded back into the mortgage-backed securities market. Since 2009 the company has floated more than $2 billion in bonds backed by nonperforming loans (NPL), most recently a $99 million issue last month.

Yield-seeking investors, in general, are showing renewed interest in securities backed by soured loans, though observers caution that much of the deals’ value depends on the servicer’s ability to work with borrowers to get the underlying loans back on track.

“The servicer must be hands-on, and experienced with NPL loans,” Eric Burner, a partner at law firm Hunton & Williams, told the trade publication International Financing Review recently. “To the extent that you can modify the loan, you want to have a servicer that can work that out and not drag their feet.”

Standard & Poor’s has rated Vericrest an “above average” servicer in its chosen niches, saying it “effectively seeks to provide a balance between optimizing investors’ interests and keeping borrowers in their homes.” Then again S&P, along with other ratings firms, played a key role in the mortgage meltdown by giving dicey mortgage securities its coveted AAA rating.

In its statement, Vericrest said it would name Schneider’s successor “in due course.” Inside Mortgage Finance, an industry publication, had reported that a leading candidate is a former executive at Countrywide Financial.

Regardless of who’s running it, Vericrest is about to get bigger: Last month it announced a merger with Caliber Funding, a mortgage lender also owned by Lone Star.

Caliber says it originates an average of $656 million in home loans each month; once the deal closes later this year, the combined company will operate in all phases of the mortgage business, from origination to securitization.

Could a new WaMu be quietly growing on the north Texas plains?

Drew DeSilver, ddesilver@seattletimes.com

Schultz gets a comic-book bio

Just in time for Emerald City Comicon next weekend, a comic-book publisher in Vancouver, Wash., has issued a comic-book biography of Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.

It’s a decent piece of nonfiction, covering the high points starting with Schultz’s high-school and college football career and touching on conflicts and public-image problems surrounding his ownership of the Seattle Sonics.

The comic book, which retails for $3.99 in print and $1.99 digitally, refreshingly does not claim Schultz founded Starbucks or that the chain’s first store is the one inside Pike Place Market.

“I read his biography and ended up getting really fascinated by him,” said Darren Davis, who owns the two-person publishing company Bluewater Productions.

“It gets old telling Justin Bieber’s and Lady Gaga’s stories,” he added.

Not that Bluewater is new to business stories. It has biographies of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, and a comic-book biography of Melinda Gates is in the works.

Davis likes that unlike entertainment celebrities, business leaders and their stories are less well known. “How many people really know the name of Starbucks’ CEO? In the Northwest, maybe. But all over, no.”

Sometimes his subjects cooperate, checking facts and suggesting a favorite nonprofit whose ads will appear in the comic books at no cost to the charity.

In the case of Starbucks, Schultz did not participate, Davis said. “We never heard back” from his public-relations team.

— Melissa Allison, mallison@seattletimes.com

Comments? Rami Grunbaum: 206-464-8541, rgrunbaum@seattletimes.
com

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