Some observers are raising serious questions about the partnership announced Wednesday between Intuit's QuickenMortgage and mortgage.com.
QuickenMortgage has agreed to refer subprime loan applicants to its on- line rival, saying it prefers to focus on A-quality borrowers which make up 80% of its business, rather than build up a specialty lender network.
"We can't be everything to everyone and we need partners to accommodate growth," said Alison Berkley Wagonfeld, director of marketing at QuickenMortgage. "The on-line lending industry is growing and there is going to be specialization."
The new relationship could have a "gigantic" unintended impact, however, warned Jeff Lebowitz, a principle at SSP-RES Research.
QuickenMortgage, based in Mountain View, Calif., and mortgage.com, of Plantation, Fla., match applications to their own networks of lenders.
Their deal may put QuickenMortgage at a disadvantage, Mr. Lebowitz said. It may "dissuade new lenders from signing up with Quicken," he said.
As the on-line lending world takes shape, QuickenMortgage should be ready to accept as many lenders as possible into its network, Mr. Lebowitz said.
Though specialization is important in the traditional mortgage process, things will be different on the Web, agreed Stuart A. McFarland, a mortgage industry veteran who is president and chief executive officer of Pedestal Capital Inc. of New York.
"A lot of people that have grown up under the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac umbrella have been trained to think of niche specialization where the agencies wouldn't take the loan," Mr. McFarland said. "Technology has leveled that field. You can private label almost anything on-line and with a link, you can offer just about everything."
Mr. McFarland said companies that do not recognize the lenders' demand to be on one-stop platforms are putting themselves in a tenuous position. "The mortgage loan origination highway is going to be littered with road kill before it's all over."
Ms. Wagonfeld said the new arrangement was not a big departure for QuickenMortgage, noting that it already had a relationship with Mortgage.com, formerly known as First Mortgage Network.
"Mortgage.com has been processing some of our A-paper loans," Ms. Wagonfeld said. "They handle our participating lenders that were not set up to handle Internet loans or did not have a dedicated call center for Web lending."
Ms. Wagonfeld said QuickenMortgage was not ready to explain on-line to subprime borrowers why their interest rates and monthly payments were higher than other customers'.
"One of the symptoms of the subprime borrowers is that they often think in terms of monthly payments, not rates," Ms. Wagonfeld said. "If you need a home equity loan for something like home improvements, you would come to us. If it was for something subprime, like debt consolidation, you would be passed along."
Mr. Lebowitz said the future may belong to companies like mortgage.com that "open up to lenders of all sizes and shapes.
"You are going to get a greater diversity and democratization," he said, "which is what technology is all about."