When customers call Transworld Mortgage Corp., they hear a recorded twang that one might expect in Houston, where the company is headquartered.
But their calls may be answered in a servicing center more than 7,000 miles away - in Nanjing, China.
It's part of a trend: The mortgage industry is going global.
Countrywide Credit Industries, for instance, recently embarked on a joint venture with Woolwich PLC in the United Kingdom. HomeSide Lending plans to service loans for its Australian parent. And Principal Residential Mortgage is hoping to share its technology and know-how with a Chilean lender that its parent recently acquired.
Transworld, which services $2 billion of home loans, has been contracting out certain servicing functions, such as escrows, to an affiliated company in Nanjing for three years, said Pierre Yu, director of business development.
In the past year, it has routed some overflow call volume to English- speaking employees in Nanjing, largely because of lower labor costs, he said.
However, other costs of running an overseas servicing center are "tremendous," Mr. Yu said. For example, international phone calls cost two to three times more than domestic calls.
Rent is higher in Nanjing, a major metropolitan center, than in Houston, he said. Also, flying employees to Houston and housing them during training is expensive. "If we can make it work, it will have a long-term benefit," Mr. Yu said.
Despite the economic problems in Asia, Transworld sees enormous potential in China, he said. Though the Nanjing center now services only U.S. loans, Transworld envisions lending in China or outsourcing its systems to local lenders - as Countrywide is doing in Europe.