Countrywide Credit Industries Inc., already the nation's largest wholesale mortgage lender, has announced plans to expand its wholesale division.
Rick Cossano, executive vice president of the wholesale lending division, said at the National Association of Mortgage Brokers' annual convention Monday that Countrywide plans to add 30 wholesale offices to its 60-office system this fiscal year.
"In this day and age of automation, a lot of our competitors are centralizing wholesale operations. We are doing just the opposite," Mr. Cossano said.
A wholesale mortgage operation originates and sells loans through a network of brokers, rather than deal directly with borrowers. Last year about $8.4 billion of the $38 billion of loans originated by Countrywide were wholesale.
The wholesale business is seen as a lower-cost way to originate loans, but it is highly competitive.
Countrywide has hired about 150 new employees for the wholesale division since last fall, said Gregory A. Lumsden, Countrywide's managing director for originations.
Mr. Cossano said the wholesale division this month will begin test marketing home equity loans with a 125% loan-to-value ratio.
Countrywide's wholesale division has been offering subprime and home equity loans since 1995, but the high-LTV loans represent an expansion into a loan type now dominated by speciality lenders, such as Cityscape Financial, of Elmsford, N.Y., and FirstPlus Financial Corp., Dallas.