In a new wrinkle on minority lending, Norwest Mortgage will market home loans through a fledgling affinity company that caters to black churchgoers.
The Des Moines lender and the affinity group - Revelation Corporation of America - plan to set up a mortgage company that will offer home loans to a broad sector of the black community.
Norwest expects to begin the program this fall in Revelation's home base of Memphis, pending approvals from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Reserve Board. Norwest also plans to expand the program nationwide through its extensive network of branch offices.
Revelation, whose formation was announced earlier this year, plans to offer nearly 20 million members of five leading black denominations an array of products and services at a discount.
Norwest is sold on the notion of participating in what Revelation executives label "a black AARP" for its potential buying power.
"We think this is a great concept," said Peter Wissinger, Norwest's managing director of retail operations. "We believe it has very high potential."
The arrangement will allow Norwest, already the industry's leading mortgage lender, to further its extensive efforts on behalf of minorities, said president Mark Oman.
"Combining what we bring to the table with a unique distribution channel that has credibility with African-Americans was an opportunity we couldn't pass up," he said.
Still, Revelation is not without controversy. Critics in the black community belittle the start-up's decision to offer its services to the congregation of conservative Jerry Falwell. Some black leaders also say Revelation should have cut a deals with a black-owned company.John Lowery, Revelation's white executive vice president and 30% owner, dismisses the gibes. He said Mr. Falwell's following represents an income opportunity for Revelation, and that large, black-owned service providers are hard to come by. He added that the five black denominations that own the other 70% of Revelation have approved the moves.
Under an agreement with Revelation, Norwest will handle day-to-day management of the new mortgage company while a board made up of Norwest and Revelation representatives provides oversight.
Norwest executives would not talk about how much the company is spending on the start-up or how profits will be divvied up.
But Mr. Lowery said there will be a "50-50" split between his company and Norwest.
He also said that Norwest nosed out Citicorp Mortgage to get the Revelation contract. "We were very impressed with (Norwest's) sophisticated marketing system," he said.
As envisioned by Revelation, pastors at 43,000 churches will serve as point men, making the company's information available.
Congregants interested in mortgages can call a toll-free number to contact the Revelation-Norwest mortgage company.
Norwest executives declined to say what kind of volume they expect the venture to produce. But they are very optimistic. "We expect this to be a for-profit venture," Mr. Wissinger said.