Getting lenders to lend a hand

Think about your bank for a minute. Not just the ATM that you hit too many times a week for cheeseburger money, but the institution as a whole.

Not too exciting a thought, right?

Once you finished shopping for free checking, online access, low minimum-balance requirements, or whatever else you find essential, you probably signed up and walked out briskly past the fake ficus tree.

Perhaps because most of us don't place a lot of demands on banks, they evolve pretty slowly.

Sure, there are revolutionaries. The advent of longer banking hours and customer "greeters" earned some coverage last year. In early 2001, Work & Money covered the emergence of such "retail banking."

But more often, customers have had reason to grouse. Many banks have hiked fees for services. Experts attribute that to banks' need to counter losses in their brokerage and investment-banking offshoots.

And demand for service soars. Mortgage lending, one area that drives many Americans into long sit-downs at the bank, has seen great activity as interest rates have slid.

Landing or refinancing a mortgage can be complex, and result in deals that novice borrowers can't handle long term. Foreclosures mount. Are banks doing enough to keep the process straightforward?

Last week, the Mortgage Bankers Association announced a June summit on loan simplification and protection from predatory lenders.

But even some top lenders say there's much more to do. Ronald Rosenfeld, head of mortgage giant Ginnie Mae, told Realty Times that mass-market retailers might deliver more customer-friendly financing.

Meanwhile, facing competition for a shrinking pool of mortgage business - some banks are trying harder. Our lead story explains.

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