UBS, a Swiss bank, has agreed to pay a total of $1.4 billion in civil penalties to settle allegations of fraud and misconduct in its offering of residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) dating back to the global financial crisis. The settlement was announced by federal prosecutors, while UBS described it as a resolution to a “legacy matter” from 2006 to 2007. This settlement marks the conclusion of the final case brought by the U.S. Department of Justice against major financial institutions regarding misleading statements made to purchasers of mortgage-backed securities. With this settlement, the cumulative recoveries in these cases now amount to $36 billion.
Leading up to the financial crisis, investment banks like UBS packaged, securitized, and sold bundles of mortgages to institutional buyers. These securities were rated and graded based on their quality, with different tranches of mortgages designed to mitigate the risk of complete default. However, the buyers were unaware that these mortgages did not actually meet the high quality standards indicated by their ratings. UBS, along with other banks involved in settlements with the Justice Department, knew that the underlying mortgages did not comply with proper underwriting standards.
UBS’ Role and Due Diligence
Prosecutors alleged that UBS conducted extensive due diligence on the underlying loans before creating and selling the securities to its clients. Despite being aware of significant issues with the products, UBS continued to sell them and achieved financial success. The bank had previously claimed to have fulfilled its obligations to its clients, who were described as highly sophisticated investors and some of the largest financial institutions in the world.
Interestingly, UBS’ settlement amount of $1.4 billion is nearly equivalent to the value of the residential mortgages it originated between 2005 and 2007, the period when it stopped issuing residential mortgage-backed securities. In a statement from 2018, the bank disputed the Justice Department’s allegations, stating that the vast majority of loans underlying the RMBS in question were actually originated by other financial institutions. UBS mentioned that it originated $1.5 billion in residential mortgages during those three years.
The settlements reached by the Justice Department extend beyond UBS and encompass 18 other financial institutions, including well-known names like Bank of America, Citigroup, General Electric, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, and Wells Fargo. This indicates the extensive scope of the issues related to mortgage-backed securities and the culpability of multiple banks in the events leading up to the financial crisis. Credit Suisse, a Swiss bank now owned by UBS, also settled with the Justice Department over misconduct related to RMBS offerings.
UBS’s agreement to pay $1.4 billion in civil penalties for its involvement in mortgage fraud and misconduct is a significant development in the long-running aftermath of the global financial crisis. The settlement highlights the shortcomings in the securitization and rating processes of mortgage-backed securities, as well as the disregard for underwriting standards by multiple financial institutions. While UBS maintains that it fulfilled its obligations to its clients, the settlement serves as a reminder of the consequences faced by banks that engaged in fraudulent practices during that period. The Justice Department’s successful pursuit of these settlements reinforces the importance of accountability and integrity in the financial industry.