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What is Mortgage Securitisation anyway, and does it matter? It did to Northern Rock

Posted by Mark Harrison on November 26, 2007

One of the industry buzzwords being thrown around at the moment is “mortgage securitisation”. This is, it would appear, being blamed for everything from the collapse of Northern Rock to the decline of the NHS.

So, what is Mortgage Securitisation anyway?

Time for another history lesson.

Once upon a time, there were things called Building Societies. Building societies took in money from those who had it (called depositors) and loaned money to those who 1: needed it and 2: could convince the building society that they’d be able to pay it back (called borrowers.)

They would pay interest (at a low rate) to depositors, and charge interest (at a higher rate) to borrowers. The difference was used for three things:

  • To pay the running costs of the building society (rent, heating, wages and salaries)
  • To take into account the fact that some people wouldn’t pay the money back
  • To pay out even more to the depositors, because it was they who owned the building society

There were other places from which it was possible to borrow money, including family, banks, and mob bosses.

The Building Societies, however, had some huge advantages over these:

  • They had a lot more money than most families. While you might borrow a few quid from your mum to nip down the shops, most mothers didn’t have enough cash to lend each of their children enough to buy a house. The building societies did have enough money to do this, and hence far more people were, through borrowing, able to buy their own homes rather than rent.
  • They had rather less aggressive collection policies than mob bosses. At the worst, they’d take your furniture and your house back, and 99 times out of 100, they’d bother to ask permission from the courts to do so.
  • They charged lower interest rates for mortgages than banks did.

Then, about 10 years ago, this all changed. Most of largest building societies, and many of the smaller ones, decided that they’d be better off as banks. As banks, they’d have shareholders, and a bunch of owners who were different from the depositors. They managed to raise a lot of money by selling shares (and “gave away” some shares to the depositors as a sweetener.)

Once they were banks, there were more things they could choose to do (the laws are tighter in some respects for building societies), and they started getting “creative”.

The first thing they could do was borrow money (from people who weren’t depositors) in order to issue more loans. So, a bank wants to lend you £150,000 for your new Buy To Let, they don’t need to worry about getting 100 new customers, each with £1,500 on deposit, in order to cover that.

What some of them started doing was lending out at a Buy To Let rate, say, 6.5%, and assume that they’d be able to borrow the money on the open markets at a lower rate, say, 5.5%… and that the 1% difference would be enough to cover their costs and make a profit. There’s a rate called LIBOR, which is broadly the rate at which banks will lend money to each other.

This approach worked fine with customers who wanted floating rate mortgages – indeed, lenders tried to get customers to accept mortgages tied to LIBOR, so if the rate THEY had to pay went up, customers would pay them more. It wasn’t perfect, because LIBOR changes all the time, but mortgage customers ended up having their interest calculated monthly, so if the rate went up at the start of the month, the bank might have to carry the extra cost until the end of the month. (Of course, if the rate went down, the bank got the benefit straight away, but customers didn’t see the reduction.)

There was a problem with this, though – many customers wanted fixed-rate mortgages… so the banks got more creative. Some took the risk, and hoped that they could forecast the changes in interest rates well enough over a medium-term period (2-3 years) that they could peg their fixed rates at a level that would make them money.

Others decided to “hedge” that risk, basically by buying what was effectively an insurance policy. This insurance policy (called a swaption) was a deal in which they would pay a small amount, and if interest rates moved heavily in a certain period, they’d get a bigger amount back.

However, even this still left one big risk – what if customers didn’t pay their mortgages. Now, up to a certain point, the cost of this is already build in – you and I pay slightly higher rates, effectively to cover the bank against the possibility that our neighbours won’t pay up. (And, of course, the bank has the aforementioned right to ask the courts to take our houses off us if we don’t pay up.)

What the banks then worked out was that the skills of “selling people mortgages”, “processing mortgages” and “taking the risk that some people won’t pay” were fundamentally quite different.

Some decided to outsource the sales process, and offered commissions to “independent financial advisers” would would sell their products. Others kept sales in-house. Many did both.

Some decided to outsource their processing departments, either to India, or to “packaging companies” who’d do all the paperwork handling (many of whom also ended up in India.)

Some decided to outsource the “taking the risk”, and this is what securitisation does:

Say a lender has 1,000 mortgages owed to it. Each of these mortgages is for (on average) £150,000. Some are less, some are more – but the bottom line is that overall, the customers owe the mortgage company £150 million quid.

What the mortgage company would then typically do was register a NEW company. This new company would be sold to external investors… and would BUY the mortgages from the original lender. Typically, that meant that the lender would carry on doing the administration (and, of course, charging the new company a fee for doing so), but the income each month from the different customers would belong to the NEW company, not the original lender.

How much did the new company pay for these mortgages? Typically a bit more than what was owed.

The original lender got several benefits from doing this:

  • They made a small (relatively) profit up-front
  • They got an ongoing contract to do the processing
  • They got someone else to take on the risk of borrowers not paying
  • Oh, and as a more technical matter, because the mortgages weren’t on THEIR books, they needed to keep less cash around to comply with the “capital adequacy” rules for lenders.

The new investors got some benefits too – they got to be mortgage lenders without all the administrative overhead of setting up processing departments, and sales departments, and so on… and historically, most people ended up paying their mortgages, so it was fairly easy to predict how much money they’d make… (And some people, say pension funds who know how much they’re going to have to pay out each year, like PREDICTABILITY in their income very much indeed.)

The new investors also had a “liquid” asset – they could sell their shares in this new company rather more quickly than they could ask for repayment of a mortgage if they needed to get their cash back out.

Why is this called “securitisation” – because “securities” are (in the US) another name for “shares”… and the investors were buying shares in the new companies.

OK, that’s what securitisation is – so, what does it mean for us property investors?

By 2000, about 6% of UK mortgages were “securitised” in this way… and the numbers kept on going up.

However, all is not well… last week, Bradford and Bingley sold off a bunch of mortgages in this way – approximately £4 billion pounds worth – but rather than making “a small profit”, they made a loss of somewhere between £15m and £40m in the process (depending on who you ask, and how you count.) So far this year, B&B have securitised about £9 billion.

Northern Rock, on the other hand, have securitised almost £70 billion of mortgages so far this year.

At the next level down, we have Abbey and HBOS, who have done about £50 billion each… but in the context of MUCH bigger financial groups.

In fourth place, though, there’s a massive drop to GMAC at about £15 billion.

What’s changed is that the mortgage lenders (lke B&B) are finding it much harder to do this – so there’s bound to be a “credit squeeze”.

On the bright side, though, Northern Rock was “the big one” – there isn’t another such mortgage lender about to have the same problems (or rather, about to have problems on anything like the same scale.) Even if Abbey or HBOS had problems, they’d be a smaller drop in their overall accounts… and let’s be honest, if, for example, Clydesdale (who have done about £2bn this year) had problems, that wouldn’t have the same     impact as NR.


59 Responses to “What is Mortgage Securitisation anyway, and does it matter? It did to Northern Rock”

  1. WizardMan said

    Awesome Awesome Awesome article. Man this is a brilliantly put together article and so so well explained. I will most definatlely reference this article on the history of bankS 🙂 Loved it man.

    Hey if you’re intersted sometime pop past my BLOG. Maybe we could even exchange BLOGROLLS sometime.

  2. Why thank you 🙂

    Please bear in mind that I’m writing for the UK, so some of the “history comments” will look odd in the context of South African (let alone US) securitisation.

  3. WizardMan said

    Not a problem still thought it was darn good article.

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  6. Joanna K. said

    I have been trying to figure out if an open end/1 month Libor, is the best way to refinance my mortgage of $620,000.00
    If it is, how do I go about it please?

    Thank you,

  7. Joanna,

    From the fact that you’re looking for a mortgage in $, I’m guessing you’re not here in the UK.

    If you were in the UK, I’d suggest that you find an independent broker, who could help you. In the UK, such people have to be registered with our Financial Services Authority.

    I assume that the best path in the States is almost certainly to do the same, though I seem to remember that each State has its own body for regulating such rather than there being a Federal one???



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  9. Ali said

    tats sum cool shit bruv 🙂 thnx a lot i realy understand it now 😀

  10. yngyani said

    Great explanation, I just wonder that how can this liquidity-squeeze be felt so late & suddenly.
    Banks i know spend a lot on IT especially for gathering Business intelligence & other analytical dashboards. These tools are useful both for prediction & detection.

    Governments also have their watch-dog agencies,nothing escapes them….then why is it such a big catastrophy?

  11. yes ofcourse, Mortgage Securitisation does matter a lot

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  14. frankmann said

    Mark may you correct me if I wrong.
    if the bank sells my mortgage to a third party after completion
    that means that the original mortgage contract is void and in breach by the lender
    the selling of the mortgage means the mortgage has been paid off and settled without the borrowers consent or participation in the new contract
    this means the original mortgage note is not with the original lending bank therefore there is no contract with the lender
    this means the bank cannot reposes your house if they are not holders in due course of the debt as they may not be able to produce the original note as it is with the securitised company
    the bank will use an affidavit to give the courts imppression that they own the debt which is fraud and deception against the unwitting borrower
    is this the same reason a judge named Boyko has ruled that some banks were not able to prove that they own an interest in a property after they could not produce the original note

    is this right and if so why isnt this process from happening in the uk all one ahs to do is get a loan/mortgage audit and your solicitors will find the information that the mortgage was sold in another contract excluding the borrower and that may in court as fraud and deprivation of the borrowers property

    please correct me here with some info you may not agree, but mainly because i am thinking out of the box
    kind regards

    • bipolar lola said

      I am very interested in what you say here as i tend to agree with you. I am searching in vain to find out if this is a legitimate argument. Any further information welcome.

  15. VirginOne said


    A mortgage is a bundle of rights over someone’s land, granted as security for a loan. By granting these rights, the borrower encourages the lender to advance more than he otherwise would, or at a more favourable rate of interest, because the lender knows that the risk of default on the loan is much lower. However, the borrower needs to know that the rights he is granting to the lender are real, not notional, rights over his land, and the lender may well be able to enforce them. In everyday speech people tend to talk of a mortgage as if it were a loan (`I bought my house with a mortgage’), but a mortgage is merely the security for a loan. When banks use the term `mortgage’, `secured loan’, or `loan secured on property’, they are talking arrangements which are legally more-or-less equivalent. Although it is common to think of a lender `giving a mortgage’, legally it is the borrower who grants the mortgagor, and is thus called the Mortgagor. The lender is the Mortgagee.

    The Mortgagee of a mortgaged property is entitled to take possession of it. This entitlement does not follow from a particular statutory right, but is a logical consequence of the way that mortgages work in English law. A mortgage is created by granting a lease to the mortgagee, or is deemed to be equivalent to so doing (s.87 Lpa1925). By definition, a lease creates a right of possession in favour of its owner.

    Although possession is a right, the mortgagee does not have a right to effect possession by force. Unless the property is standing empty, the mortgagee will need to apply to the court for a possession order. Such an order will only rarely be refused unless the property is a dwelling house. In this case, s.36 the Administration of Justice Act (1970) gives the court a power to postpone possession where there is a realistic possibility that the mortgagor will be able to meet the sums due under the loan. According to s.8 of the Administration of Justice Act (1973), the `sums due’ to not include any sums that arise by virtue of the mortgagor’s failure to meet repayments of an installment mortgage. For example, it is usual for a mortgage agreement to contain a term to the effect that the whole balance becomes due if even one repayment is missed. The effect of s.8 is that the courts can grant relief to the mortgagor without requiring him to raise the entire amount of the loan.

    Strictly speaking, a mortgagee does not have to seek possession — with a court order or without — to be able to exercise a power of sale. However, it is unlikely that a mortgagee will be able to sell the property while the mortgagor is still occupying it. Even if he does, he may be liable to the mortgagor for failing to realise a good price (CuckmereBrickVMutualFinance1971)

    If a Mortgagor is in default of repayments, the Mortgagee may seek to sell the mortgaged property to realize his security. This power to sell is implied into every mortgage made by deed by s.101 of the Lpa1925, which goes on to say that the power of sale arises when the loan repayment becomes due. However, the power only becomes exercisable (s.103) by the mortgagee if

    (i) he has served notice on the defaulting mortgagor and not received payment three months after service; or

    (ii) mortgage interest repayments are in arrears by more than two months; or

    (iii) the mortgagor is in breach of some other covenant in the mortgage agreement.

    The distinction between when a power of sale arises and when it becomes exercisable is important. This is because it is the responsibility of the purchaser from the mortgagor to ensure that the power of sale has arisen. If it has not, the sale is not valid. However, the purchaser does not have to satisfy himself that the power is exercisable. If the mortgagee sells the property before the power has become exercisable, he may be in breach of his obligations to the mortgagor, but it is still a good sale.

    The effect of sale is to vest the estate in land in the purchaser, free of the mortgage and any other mortgages of lower priority.

    In practice, unless the mortgaged property is standing empty, the mortgagee will need to seek an order for possession before sale. He is not obliged by law to do so, but he cannot evict the mortgagor by force, and the property will probably not be saleable unless the mortgagee can give vacant possession.

    The power of sale must be exercised in good faith, that is, in order to obtain the best price reasonably achievable. The mortgagee may find himself liable to the mortgagor if he fails to so so. Consequently, many mortgage lenders prefer to appoint a receiver to handle the sale; the receiver is the agent of the mortgagor, not the mortgagee, so the mortgagee cannot be liable for the negligence of the receiver (unless, perhaps, he is negligent in appointing the receiver).

    Particular problems arise for the mortgagee if his charge is over only over a share in the property. This may happen if, for example, the mortgage cannot be enforced against all the equitable co-owners of the property (as, for example, in williams and glynns bank vboland 1981; but note that if the mortgage advance is paid to two or more legal co-owners, the equitable co-owners will be overreached — city of london building society vflegg 1987). s.30 of the Lpa1925 allows a mortgagee to ask the court for an order of sale, and such an order would usually be granted unless to do so would cause exceptional hardship (LloydsBankVByrneAndByrne1993).

    However, s.30 is effectively replaced by s.14 of Tolata. s.14 gives the court a much broader discretion in deciding whether to order sale. The interest of the mortgagee is only one of the factors that must be taken into account. Consequently, in MortgageCorporationVShaire2000 it was held that pre-1997 caselaw on determining whether to order sale should be treated with caution. In that case, an application for an order of sale from a mortgagee was rejected, because — in essence — the rights of the occupier (whose signature had been forged on a mortgage application) — were more worthy of protection than those of the mortgagee.

    In many legal problems it can be quite important to determine when the Title to some property or other passess from one person to another.

    Title to interests in land Strictly speaking, a private citizen cannot have any title to land: all land belongs to the Crown. Instead, we say that there is an `interest in land’, and somebody owns that interest, or owns the title to that interest (same thing). In Unregistered conveyancing, legal title to an interest in land passes on execution of a Deed of Conveyance. In Registered conveyancing, if the interest is registerable, then title passes when the new ownership is entered on the Register. A deed (technically a Deed of transfer, not a conveyance) is still required to satisfy the Registrar, but the deed itself has no effect on title. Otherwise, if the interest is not registerable, the same rule applies as to unregistered conveyancing.

    Typically the buyer and seller contract in advance to transfer the interest and, provided neither party attempts to rescind the Contract, the transfer itself is almost formality. If the remedy of Specific performance would be available to compel one or other party to effect the transfer, then the transfer will be `effective in equity’ from the moment of execution of the contract. Thus courts will recognize that equitable ownership has been transferred from that point; the seller retains the legal title, but on Constructive trust for the seller. For most practical purposes, the buyer owns the interest from contract.

    Title to goods The Sale of goods act 1979 states that in a Contract of sale, title passes at the time the contract is made. In many cases this will be at the moment an Offer is accepted (see: Acceptance of offer). Unless the contracting parties stipulate otherwise, and in contrast to most other jurisdictions, in English law there is no automatic passage of title on delivery of the goods. However, title by deliver does apply when the transfer of title is in the form of a gift, rather than a sale.

    Title to things in action Things in action (e.g., copyrights, debts) have no tangible presence and therefore present particular problems in the passage of title. There is specific legislation to deal with the passage of many of these articles, e.g., debts (Law of property act 1925), shares in companies (Companies act 1985), patents, insurance policies, etc., and it is difficult to give general rules.

    Both the loan (the debt) and the charge (lender rights) are choses in action, rather than choses in possession. Both the debt and the lenders rights are choses in action as they are both intangiable. As such the “legal title” to the debt and the lenders rights to be “sold” the sale must comply with s.136 of the LPA 1925, in so much that a express notice of the sale must be given to the borrower.

    It is the case that within the UK, notices are not given to borrowers. Therefore, the sale does not comply with s.136 of the LPA 1925 and is classed as an equitable assignment. There are arguments I have seen on consumer forums that the use of s.136 of the LPA 1925 is fraudulent and that s.136 was never designed to be used in securitisation transactions.

    These arguments, demonstrate a clear misunderstanding of the law. S.136 was introduced was implemented to define the specific requirements for a legal assignment (transfer of absolute ownership). Therefore, to say that the use is fraudulent is obviously absurd and has absolutely no basis in law.

    Another argument, I often come across is equally absurd and has no basis in law. It is theorised that following the implementation of the LRA 2002, under s.27 the disposition of the charge must be registered and the failure to do so is again speculated to be fraudulent. This clear example of putting the cart before the horse, so to speak.

    For there to be a requirement for a disposition to be registered as per s.27, it would stand to reason that there must have first been a disposition. If there has been no disposition, there is no disposition to be registered.

    As both the debt and the lenders rights are choses in action and can only be legally assigned AFTER an express notice has been given to the borrower disposition of the legal title is prevented by law. So rather than being an example of fraud as promoted by various consumer “help” forums and blogs, it is a clear example of compliance with the law.

    As I am sure you will understand inlight of the above information the assumptions you have made with regard to the effect on securitisation on the contractual relationship between you and your lender are misplaced. It should be also clearly noted that all of the documentation relating to the securitisation of mortgages in the UK confirm that the sale is equitable subject to notification to the borrower and that it is only certain individuals (posters on consumer “help” forums” that insist it is otherwise. However, when put to strict proof to substaniate their arguments they fall at the first hurdle.

    The various debates and at times childish arguments I have followed on various sites with regard to securitisation, were original ignited by a submission to the Tresury Select Committee by Carmel B Butler. However, in her submission, one would presume for the sake of convenience made to reference to court cases that had previously specificially judged the issues she identified. Of course there were the two paragon v pender cases in 2003 and 2005, being a high court case and a court of appeal case. Both resulting in important judgements that for the sake of completness should have been included within her submissions. Nevertheless, the debates with regard to securitisation continue.

    I must wonder if these debates would still continue if the success of Ms Butler’s arguments were as well documented on consumer “help” forums as the arguments themselves.

    In, Basinghall Finance PLC v Butler [2009] EWCA Civ 1262 (mortgages, assignment, securitisation, privity, Consumer Credit) and previous cases at County Court and High Court these arguments Ms Bulter’s arguments met with little success and furthermore an application to appeal was dismissed.

  16. VirginOne,

    Thank you for a most comprehensive summary of the issues, and a great reply to Frankmann’s question.


    I should point out that I am not a lawyer, and in no way qualified to address the legal validity of what VirginOne has written. If you need legal advice, you will, of course, need to find a suitably qualified lawyer who can give you advice specific to your own situation.

    Finally, for the avoidance of doubt, I should note that the user who has identified him/herself as “VirginOne”, does not appear to have an email address at Virgin Money, or a law firm. I am, of course, respecting the confidentiality of the email address, but I think I have an obligation to make sure that no-one accidentally believes this is advice from Virgin Money.



  17. VirginOne,

    Please could you mail me (mark AT yourpropertyexpert DOT com)?

    The email I have for you is coming up with an error.

    I would like to use your comment in my newsletter, but want your permission first!


  18. uksecuritisation said

    I am virginone

    I chose that username as I had earlier been watching a television show on the channel virgin one. For the avoidance of doubt I am not employed by Virgin Money or for that matter Royal Bank of Scotland, MBNA or any other virgin branded financial product and/or service. Please accept my sincere apologies for any confusion caused by my previous selection of username.

    I would like to add that my post only relates to securitisation within the UK. Securitisation in the states is subject to slightly different legal and accounting requirements and even though the basic principles are the same, the differences should be recognised at all times.

  19. […] Re: Securitization is 'designed to fail' Hi Mr J Strap, or are you also "Virgin One". If you are not "VirginOne", then it appears that you, Mr Strap are guilty of plagerism. See Mr J Strap's post also posted here under the name "VirginOne" What is Mortgage Securitisation anyway, and does it matter? It did to Northern Rock Negotiation, Neg… […]

  20. VirginOne said

    Mr Strap is by no means guilty of plagerism.

    Can one be guilty of plagerism for the reproduction of ones own post ?

  21. VirginOne said

    Which ever user name I select I cause trouble. I use virginone and people think I work for RBS, I use uksecuritsation and I cause problems for a close personal friend of mine. I have given my reasons for selecting virginone and the very simple and unexciting reason I selected uksecuritsation was to emphasis my original post was applicable to uk securitisation only, didn’t want to cause more confusion but hey-ho. I am sorry my good friend for the trouble I have caused you and for what has happened

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  27. Peter L.Griffiths said

    So far as the UK is concerned, all these building society problems started with well meaning legislation such as the Building Societies Act 1986 followed by numerous other Acts of Parliament culminating firstly in the collapse of Northern Rock in 2007, and then in the collapse of the World banking system generally in 2008. Some people need to learn that if it aint broke don’t fix it.

  28. Peter L. Griffiths said

    Further to my comment of 26 December 2011, it appears that the worst enemy of building societies is excessive funds which seem only capable of being spent on bonuses for the staff or loans to defaulting debtors. The Americans seemed to recognise this problem in 1933 when they passed the Glass-Steagall Act prohibiting banks from issuing securities to raise funds. In Great Britain we had the mutualisation relationship which again restricted the way funds were raised. In the 1980s, British politicians thought that building societies were in need of improved access to funding. .It is a pity that none of them had studied the history of building societies throughout the world. Such a study would have revealed what works with building societies and what does not work.

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