Through a European venture unit, E-Loan last week moved to become a dominant world player, acquiring a German bank and a leading French on-line lending company.
The purchases of Media Kreditbank of Frankfurt, and Aaccredit.com of Mont Pellier, France, give E-Loan Europe two established lenders with valuable servicing infrastructures and licensing already in place.
E-Loan Europe is a joint venture founded in October 1999 by E-Loan and viso - itself a venture between Softbank Corp. of Tokyo and Vivendi of Paris. It has offices in Munich and Paris and has 22 employees. "We are very optimistic about E-Loan Europe and the European market," Chris Larsen, E-Loan's chief executive officer said. He said the joint venture has raised $35 million dollars and will go public separately "as soon as possible." E-Loan owns 50% of the European venture, but Mr. Larsen said E-Loan did not pay any cash for its interests, instead giving its brand and technology.
The two acquisitions are part of a broader global strategy in which the Dublin, Calif., Internet company is trying to conquer territory on five fronts. E-Loan has established joint ventures in Japan, Australia, and the United Kingdom, all of which went on-line in the last three months; in addition to E-Loan Europe and E-Loan New Zealand, which is under development.
Mr. Larsen said his company sees tremendous opportunity in Europe but must move fast to capitalize on it. "We are being very aggressive," he said. "The one who goes public first will establish market leadership.''
The Internet revolution and a changing financial landscape are creating a dynamic marketplace in Europe, he said, noting the effects of a single currency on the continent. "The environment has created tremendous opportunity," he said. Debra Erb, president of Societas International Institution for Real Estate Finance, agreed with Mr. Larsen about the timing of E-Loan's move.
"If they waited too long to do this, the market would have been divided up among other players," she said, noting that Countrywide Credit Industries of Carlsbad, Calif.; GMAC of Detroit; National Australia Bank, which owns HomeSide International of Jacksonville, Fla.; and others have established a presence in Europe.
But she said E-Loan will face resistance from financial institutions in Europe, where a sense of territory is much higher than in the United States.
"There's an incredible amount of fear and concern about competition in mortgage finance in Europe," Ms. Erb said, "and the Internet brings a whole new class of lenders, a new layer of competition that hasn't been there before."
She said Countrywide is in Europe but is deliberately marketing itself not as a lender but as a "functional platform," offering a high level of technology for existing lenders to access. "Countrywide is being careful not to appear to be competing with existing lenders, though everyone assumes that it will be," she said.
Nonetheless, Ms. Erb said, E-Loan's strategy appears to be the best for entering the European market. She said that by purchasing existing lenders to enter the local markets, E-Loan will get the best of both worlds. "They will get the value of well-established local banks that know the rules of their market, and the banks will use the E-Loan platform to deliver services much more efficiently."
An analyst who covers E-Loan was not surprised by the acquisitions but said it is too early to tell what effect the European moves will have on the parent company, which has seen its stock nosedive since its offering eight months ago, from a high of $63 a share on July 6, 1999, to below $9 late last week. "It will take a while before any revenue will come out of E-Loan Europe," he said.
Diane Glossman, a banking analyst for Lehman Brothers, said the international strategy "is a minor portion of the company, but the moves are an important aspect of their [franchise] building in Europe."