Two months after spearheading an ambitious foray into subprime mortgage lending, the head of H&R Block Inc.'s finance division is jumping ship.
William Anderson will be leaving the tax-preparation giant to head Bank Rate Monitor, a Palm Beach-based financial publishing organization.
"When opportunity knocks, you have to take it," Mr. Anderson said. He cited the challenge of running his own company as the main reason for the move.
Peers and market observers said they were shocked by the turnabout, which comes just six weeks after H&R Block announced it was paying a premium price to acquire its way into the volatile industry of subprime mortgage lending. On April 16, H&R Block announced it was buying Fleet Finance's Option One for $190 million.
Mr. Anderson was the architect of H&R Block's new plan to offer subprime mortgage loans through its 8,500 branch offices, said R. Harold Owens, president and CEO of World Acceptance Corp., a Greenville, S.C.-based finance company. "If it hadn't been for him, H&R Block would never have gotten into the mortgage business."
Option One is projecting $1.5 billion in originations this year, in part because of originations from H&R Block retail offices.
When Mr. Anderson goes he may take H&R Block's hopes of success in the home-loan market with him, analysts say. "I'm concerned about what's going to happen," said Tom Kmiotek, an analyst with Duff & Phelps, Chicago.
Mr. Anderson was the second key official to leave H&R Block in the past month. Chief financial officer George T. Robson left on May 14 to join Dendrite International Inc.
H&R Block insists that it's prepared to go forward with its plans.
"Bill was certainly an important player, but we have the infrastructure to move ahead," said Frank Salizzoni, president and chief executive officer of the Kansas City, Mo., firm. "If Bill was here, it would certainly make it easier, but I think we have the horses to do it."
Mr. Anderson's departure "was a surprise-and it wasn't a surprise," Mr. Salizzoni said. "He wants to be his own CEO."
H&R Block has not named a successor to Mr. Anderson, although a spokeswoman noted the search was being conducted both within and outside the company. Picking a suitable successor is crucial, analysts say.
"Unless they get the right person to run the division, they're going to screw it up," Mr. Kmiotek said.
For his part, Mr. Anderson is looking forward to working with the banking industry by providing content for banks' Web sites. "Financial services providers will be seeking ways to get traffic on their sites," he said.
Mr. Anderson will replace Bank Rate Monitor president and chief executive William Ryan, who is leaving to pursue his own interests, the company said.