By Wisniowski, Charles
Mortgage Banking , Vol. 66, No. 12
While he may have just recently been installed as president of the Government National Mortgage Association, Robert M. Couch is no stranger to the government-sponsored enterprise (GSE) more commonly known as Ginnie Mae.
For years as a mortgage banker, Couch got to know Ginnie Mae quite well from the outside. But following his confirmation by the Senate in June, he's now not only on the inside, but he's in the top slot. The job had been vacant since December 2004 when former president Ronald Rosenfeld left to become chairman of the Federal Housing Finance Board.
As Ginnie Mae's president, Couch administers Ginnie's $404 billion mortgage-backed securities (MBS) program and $125 billion real estate mortgage investment conduit (REMIC) program, as well as oversees its mission to make affordable housing a reality for millions of low- and moderate-income households across America by channeling global capital into the nation's housing markets.
Prior to his selection as president of Ginnie Mae, Couch served as president and chief executive officer of New South Federal Savings Bank, Birmingham, Alabama, and as managing director of Collateral Mortgage Ltd., also in Birmingham.
Couch served as Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) chairman from 2003 to 2004, while also serving on MBA's Blue Ribbon Task Force responsible for defining the proper role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the mortgage industry. In addition, he was a member of Fannie Mae's National Advisory Council.
He received both his bachelor of science degree in business administration, with a concentration in accounting, and his law degree from Washington & Lee University, Lexington, Virginia. Following law school, Couch clerked for Lewis F. Powell Jr., associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and John M. Wisdom, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
Mortgage Banking caught up with Couch following his first month on the job as Ginnie Mae's president.
Q: In a town where politics seem to matter at least as much as policy, how has your previous business experience prepared you to run a government agency and to serve at the pleasure of the president? Or, in other words, how did a nice mortgage banker like you end up in a place like this?
A: That's a good question. I would say that my experience with MBA, where I spent a good deal of time in Washington, prepared me better for the political aspects of this job than certainly being the president of a thrift in Alabama did.
It certainly is a change from being a CEO of a bank, but fortunately Ginnie Mae is less of a political animal than most here in Washington. I think I'll do just fine.
Q: As you now find yourself in charge of an agency you once dealt with from the outside, based on your previous experience, what about Ginnie Mae do you most want to "fix"? Or, what about Ginnie's programs and procedures works, and what aspects will you seek to improve, modify or discard?
A: Well, fortunately, Ginnie Mae is a very well-run organization. One of the things that I was able to do during the months while I was waiting on the Senate to vote [on my confirmation] was that I had an opportunity to observe the team at work.
I am fortunate in that it's a great group of folks and it's a well-run organization. As with any organization, there certainly are challenges.
In fact, you guys ran an article, it was probably 18 months ago [see Mortgage Banking, April 2005, p. 32] on the fact that Ginnie Mae's market share has been in a free-fall for some time now. Much of that is due to the fact that FHA's [the Federal Housing Administration's] market share has been in a free-fall.
I'm happy to report, though, that we're beginning to see some stabilization in that and, in fact, some improvement. We have had now for three months in a row a positive net issuance. That's the first time that that has happened since all the way back in 2001. …