The on-line mortgage company E-Loan Inc. is going international.
The Dublin, Calif., company has joined with Group Arnault of Paris to start E-Loan Europe. E-Loan Inc. owns 85% of the new venture.
The U.S. company also has a joint venture agreement with Softbank Corp., Japan's No. 1 software distributor, to market on-line mortgages in Japan and Korea. E-Loan Inc. has a minority interest of 40% in that venture, which will be capitalized with 500 million yen, or about $4 million.
A spokeswoman for E-Loan Inc. said it could not discuss the deals because it in a regulatory silent period for its initial public offering. But Chris Larsen, its chief executive officer, said in a written statement that the Group Arnault deal is part of an effort to secure brand recognition among Europeans seeking home financing.
Making mortgages abroad is often a tricky business, especially when laws and social mores are very different. But some feel that the Internet may be just the means to cross borders.
Debra Erb, the senior director of the Mortgage Bankers Association's international division, said the time has come for American mortgage companies to delve into overseas markets, "because there's been really none of it done so far."
Ms. Erb said that E-Loan has been talking to Stater, a subsidiary of the Netherlands depository bank Bouwfunds Nederlansa, to gain knowledge of the European mortgage market. Stater provides originations and servicing for third parties.
"I think it would be difficult for E-Loan to take on the role of a full- fledged mortgage bank in Europe, because there is a lending and homeownership mentality that is very different than in the U.S.," Ms. Erb said. "It would definitely present new opportunities, but you don't do away with regulatory and social issues when you deal with foreign markets."
Ms. Erb said E-Loan's biggest challenge in its international expansion is to figure out European and Japanese consumer preferences and to present itself as an alternate communications venue, not a direct competitor.
"European banks are extremely protective of their own turf," she said. When Countrywide Home Loans allied with Woolwich PLC., she said, "Countrywide had to deal with being perceived as a big American company coming in to take over the market," Ms. Erb said. "E-Loan has to convince banks that they need to be able to distribute their products over the Internet and it's easier to go through them than establish their own platforms."
Group Arnault is the private holding company of French businessman Bernard Arnault. E-Loan Europe's funding will come from Forum Holdings, the investment subsidiary of Group Arnault.
The company controls LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the luxury goods group whose brands include Dom Perignon, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Kenzo and Guerlain perfumes and cosmetics, and Christian Lacroix.