The on-line mortgage aggregator market is more crowded than ever. The prevailing sentiment among the largest banks: If you can't beat 'em, hurry up and get on their Web sites.

E-Loan, a Palo Alto-based Internet mortgage broker, logged its 1,000th on-line application in October and averages 885,000 hits per month, less than four months after the site was launched. Bank of America, NationsBank and Countrywide are among the big lenders on E-Loan's site. Intuit followed last month with its QuickenMortgage site. Among the charter lenders are Chase Manhattan Mortgage and PNC Mortgage.

E-Loan says its site is one of the busiest and most useful Web mortgage sites because of the financial advice, loan performance predictions and analysis available. The site allows would-be borrowers to fill out applications on-line and then quotes the best rate and loan type available for that borrower from the 15 banks live on the site. Applications are submitted electronically, with back-up materials, loan documents and commitments submitted by mail. E-Loan CEO Janina Pawlowski says that by taking the loan agent out of the process, E-Loan can save consumers an average of $2,000 per loan. The cost to the borrower is built into the loan and averages about $500.

E-Loan's rates are so low that Citibank asked the company to stop advertising its participation because it caused internal friction at the bank (it did not withdraw from the site, however). "We don't want to shake things up to the point where lenders say 'We don't want to work with you,' so we're trying to be a little bit sensitive to what they're going through also," Pawlowski says.

But do banks balk at competing on rate or worry about brand identity in this commoditized market? PNC Mortgage officials say they aren't worried about the bank's brand identity being overlooked on the Quicken site. To the contrary, it's hoping to ride the coattails of Quicken's popularity, says Joe Healan, vp of strategic business development, PNC Mortgage. "It gives us a way to get our name and product in front of a million Quicken subscribers."

-sausner tfn.com

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