Washington Mutual Inc. is teaming up with Keystroke Financial Inc. to offer home loans on the Internet.
Wamu is expected to announce today that it has purchased an equity stake in Keystroke, a Seattle firm that matches borrowers and lenders on-line. The giant thrift will use Keystroke's technology to take applications on its own Web site, and will be added to the roster of lenders on Keystroke's site.
The agreement allows Wamu to get into Internet origi-nations-a potentially explosive distribution channel-quickly "rather than spending months or years developing the technology," said Craig S. Davis, executive vice president of mortgage banking at Wamu.
"We're not going to have to reinvent the wheel," he said.
Wamu chose Keystroke because its technology enables borrowers to go through the mortgage process with "minimal intervention off-line," Mr. Davis said.
And by taking applications at its own Web site, Wamu can keep its identity prominent. The site will be ready to take mortgage applications within 120 days, Mr. Davis said. Within two to five years the Internet could account for 20% to 25% of Wamu's originations, Mr. Davis said.
Washington Mutual's emphasis on portfolio lending will give it a strategic advantage over other lenders on the Web, said Kerry K. Killinger, Wamu's president, chairman and chief executive officer.
This emphasis enables Wamu to offer loans that other lenders, which tailor loans to the secondary market, cannot. For example, Wamu might offer loans with flexible payment schedules for entrepreneurs and others with irregular cash flows; as well as loans for first-time homebuyers who do not have credit scores but can prove their creditworthiness through other means, Mr. Davis said.
The new Internet channel will complement Wamu's other channels, not divert business from them, Mr. Davis said. The thrift also originates loans through its retail branches, known as "financial centers," its mortgage- only branches, known as "home loan centers," and through its wholesale channel.
"People choose to do business on the Internet regardless," and if Wamu did not equip itself to compete on the Web it would lose that business, Mr. Davis said. "With this multiple distribution strategy, we end up doing more business."
Keystroke runs an aggregator site, which takes applications from borrowers and matches them up with lenders. Keystroke also processes loans for the 200 lenders on its site.
An unusually high percentage of applications taken through the site- about 85%-wind up being closed, said Max Clough, Keystroke's president.
Keystroke also licenses the technology on its site for residential and commercial mortgage lenders to use on their own sites. Other residential lenders using Keystroke's technology include Continental Bank of Seattle, Seattle Mortgage, and Bank United, Houston. Central Park Capital, an Atlanta conduit affiliated with Goldman Sachs, and Tacoma-based NWLLC are among the commercial real estate lenders that have licensed the technology.
Wamu officials would not say how big a stake they had bought in Keystroke, except that it was a minority stake and involved a combination of preferred stock and warrants.