Chase Home Finance will soon roll out one of the first mortgage servicing Web sites.
Like other mortgage lenders, Chase already has a Web site for its mortgage production business, which helps prospective borrowers shop for loans.
The upcoming site will let customers already serviced by Chase gain access to information about their accounts at the click of a mouse.
"If you have a mortgage with us, you can go to the Internet and get a lot of information without having to call somebody," said Thomas Jacob, chief executive officer of the Chase Manhattan Corp. subsidiary.
Though more than half of mortgage lenders now have Web sites, only about 5% of those lenders let customers inquire about their balances, said Jeff Lebowitz, principal at SSP Associates, Silver Spring, Md.
"This is a very early stage in developing Web sites that will allow customers to access data on their accounts," he said. "Clearly this puts Chase out in front."
Countrywide Home Loans is one of the few lenders that already has a servicing Web site. HomeSide Lending has one in the works.
Chase's servicing site will be up and running within 60 days, said Stephen Rotella, the mortgage unit's chief operating officer.
The benefits of a Web site are less tangible in servicing than in the front end of the business, Mr. Lebowitz said.
"Those benefits come when customers who take advantage become happier with the servicer. They're soft benefits."
But if those happier customers refinance, they might then choose to do so with their current servicer, some suggested.
"It may help in the area of so-called portfolio defense," said George Bicher, analyst at BT Alex. Brown. "To the extent that you're making things easier for people, it doesn't hurt."
However, Mr. Bicher said, "I still think people are very price- sensitive." Customer service "may not be viewed as all that important. In the mortgage area, people are more focused on front-end issues than back- end issues."
Countrywide sees its servicing site as a way to protect its servicing portfolio from runoff, said Cameron King, an executive vice president at the Calabasas, Calif.-based lender.
When Countrywide customers check their balances on the Web, they are shown a graph that compares their mortgage rates with prevailing market rates, alerting them when there's a refinancing opportunity, Mr. King said.
Mr. Rotella said that by letting customers get answers to basic, commonly asked questions on the Net, Chase can free up its telephone employees to spend more time handling complex inquiries.