Hoping to mean more to its customers than mortgages, Countrywide Credit Industries is venturing once again into mutual funds and credit card lending.
It's the second attempt in each field by the nation's second-largest mortgage bank.
A 1994 attempt to sell mutual funds to its borrowers fizzled mainly because Countrywide acted as a broker for other managers instead of selling its own funds. An earlier attempt to market a credit card through a partnership with Bank of New York failed as well.
Having learned some lessons, the Pasadena, Calif., mortgage bank is once again trying to broaden its business beyond the cyclical and marginally profitable area of originating and servicing home loans.
Countrywide announced last month that it was buying Lesh-ner Financial Inc., a Cincinnati-based investment broker with $1.1 billion of mutual funds under management. This month, First USA, one of the nation's largest credit card issuers, said it would begin marketing a Countrywide Visa card.
Stanford L. Kurland, Countrywide's chief operating officer, said the acquisition of Leshner would enable Countrywide to have more control over the funds it decides to sell because it would own and manage them.
In hopes of luring more borrowers, Mr. Kurland said Countrywide would offer funds with lower investment requirements than other brokers, perhaps just $500 and additional investments of $100.
Other consumer banking products, such as money market accounts with check-writing privileges, would be offered through Leshner, according to Mr. Kurland.
Countrywide's credit card agreement with First USA will not be affected by Banc One's impending acquisition, he said. Applications for the Countrywide Visa are being sent to its more than 1 million customers and will be made available to future customers who apply for mortgages.
But Countrywide faces an uphill climb in its cross-selling efforts, experts said.
"The fact is very few financial services companies, not just mortgage banking companies, are very good at direct retailing," said David Partridge, director of Towers Perrin, a Valhalla, N.Y.-based financial services consulting firm.
Still, Mr. Partridge said Countrywide has made a "very astute choice of a partner" for its credit card push. He said the attempt could be a success this time around because First USA is one of the best direct marketers in financial services.
But Mr. Partridge is skeptical of Countrywide's mutual fund effort.
"Do you want to pick on Mr. Schwab or the folks at Fidelity?" he asked, referring to two of the nation's leading mutual fund providers.