Could big banks be exiting the mortgage space?

The steady decline in mortgage originations at big banks is leading some analysts to predict that the institutions may exit the space altogether

Big banks are fleeing the mortgage market – and the exodus might not stop anytime soon.

Banks’ share of the residential mortgage market is steadily declining, according to a MarketWatch report. In 2007, banks originated 74% of all mortgages. But that share was down to 52% in 2014, the most recent time for which data was available, according to MarketWatch.

Big banks dealt with a lot of bad publicity – and reams of new regulation – in the wake of the financial crisis. They’re now facing a regulatory environment strict enough that many are hesitant to lend, even to customers with good credit, according to MarketWatch. To put it bluntly, residential mortgages just aren’t worth the trouble for many banks.

“We can’t make money in the business,” BankUnited CEO John Kanas told investors during a January earnings call. “We realized that this was the lowest-margin, most volatile business we had, and we decided we should exit.”

Last year, banks lent 28.6% of all mortgages among the top 10 originators, according to the MarketWatch report. That’s not much more than half their share in 2012. The nation’s largest lender, Wells Fargo, originated just $47 billion in mortgages in the fourth quarter of 2015 – about a third of its origination volume of $125 billion during the same period in 2012.

The continued decline of mortgage origination at big banks leads some analysts to predict that many banks will get out of the mortgage business altogether, MarketWatch reported. Chris Whalen, an analyst with Kroll Bond Rating Agency, said in a speech earlier this month that he expects the four largest commercial banks will either “downsize or exit entirely from the business of originating and servicing residential mortgages.”

“The fact is that the cost of capital and compliance has convinced many bankers that making home loans to American families is not worth the risk,” Whalen said.