Having planted the flag of American-style mortgage banking in Australia, HomeSide Lending has set its sights on Europe.
The Jacksonville, Fla., company, owned by National Australia Bank, will study the European market over the next few months and put together a business plan.
It is all part of a project to become the first global mortgage company.
HomeSide executives have made some preliminary visits to Europe, said Hugh R. Harris, chief executive officer. National Australia has offices in Scotland and Ireland, and the mortgage company is eyeing England, France, Germany, and the Netherlands.
HomeSide has no retail branches. Instead it buys most of its loans from its "preferred partners," U.S. banks that got out of the rapidly consolidating servicing business but wanted to continue to offer home mortgages to their customers. HomeSide's size-it services $136 billion of loans-and advanced technology enable it to service loans at a relatively low cost.
HomeSide wants to form similar partnerships in the United Kingdom and the European Union.
Joe K. Pickett, HomeSide's chairman, spent the past year in Melbourne, where National Australia Bank is headquartered. There he familiarized himself with the Australian market and with the bank, which bought his company in 1997.
Mr. Pickett said that by early 2000 HomeSide will begin to service the U.S. $30 billion of loans the bank made in Australia. It plans to start servicing National Australia's U.K. mortgages after that.
Mr. Pickett returned to Jacksonville last week and ceded his chief executive title to Mr. Harris, who had been president and chief operating officer. Kevin Race, who has taken Mr. Harris' former titles, had been chief financial officer, a position now held by W. Blake Wilson.
Mr. Pickett's relinquishment of the CEO title does not mean he is stepping down or phasing out, a spokeswoman said. Rather, she said, the reshuffling will allow for internal promotions and help HomeSide recruit executives with international experience.
The company has three senior job openings: a director for its Australian operations, a director for Europe, and a global securitization head.
HomeSide had to retrofit its servicing technology to accommodate the peculiarities of Australian loans. For example, whereas a U.S. mortgage has a monthly payment schedule laid out when the loan is first made, Australian mortgage payments are calculated daily, more like a credit card.
That, coupled with no tax deduction for interest payments, encourages Australians to pay down their loan balances faster than scheduled.
Mortgage payments are also calculated daily in the U.K., so HomeSide won't have to reinvent the wheel when it starts to service loans there. "We can leverage the work we've already done (in Australia) in the U.K.," Mr. Race said.
HomeSide has also begun to originate loans in Australia, and expects to produce U.S. $850 million of them there this year.
With margins razor-thin stateside, HomeSide won't be alone in its quest to export the U.S. model overseas.
Earlier this year, Countrywide Credit Industries announced a joint venture with Woolwich PLC, a British bank, to service mortgages in the U.K. and Europe. And Future Mortgage Ltd., an Australian firm, has had preliminary discussions with several U.S. lenders.