An Internet start-up that lists credit card portfolios for sale is beginning to take off. Begun last July. AssetExchange.com is about to close its first deal, a portfolio worth $21 million, and it is negotiating with one of the top 10 credit card lenders.
The Portland, Ore.-based company, started by a former U.S. Bancorp executive, William Koo, offers a less-expensive alternative to the standard way of selling credit card assets, which requires hiring an investment banker, who may charge more than 3% of the portfolio's value. By contrast, AssetExchange charges a fee of less than 0.5% of a portfolio's value once a deal is consummated.
AssetExchange also plans to sell other kinds of credits on its Web site, such as home, auto, and student loans. One of its biggest challenges, however, lies in attracting sellers. Mr. Koo, who is chief executive officer, said two credit card portfolios for sale are listed on the Web site and another two - including the card company in the top 10 - are expected to list assets in the next few weeks. The company recently began advertising in trade journals.
This month, AssetExchange.com hired a former MBNA Corp. executive, John McMenamin Jr., to be senior vice president in charge of working with buyers and sellers of card portfolios. Mr. McMenamin was a portfolio sales officer at MBNA.
Persuading buyers to sign on with AssetExchange.com has not been difficult. Buyers who hold more than 60% of all the credit card debt in the United States are listed on the Web site, Mr. Koo said. Sellers are typically more discreet about their intentions.
An investment banker who handles some of the largest card portfolio deals - and who did not want to be named - said it can hurt a company's reputation if it backs out after announcing it wants to sell a portfolio. "If you don't sell it, you look silly," he said.
Mr. Koo said sellers are listed anonymously on AssetExchange.com and they control the flow of portfolio information. Still, it is not hard to identify a seller.
"As soon as we list a portfolio, everyone wants to guess who it is," Mr. Koo said.
Unlike investment bankers, AssetExchange.com does not evaluate the portfolios it lists. It simply performs a brokerage service, offering a forum where buyers and sellers can meet.
"To some degree, people are looking to replace Wall Street dealers on some of the more liquid assets," the investment banker said. Liquid assets, he said, are bundled packages of receivables that require less due diligence, such as mortgage portfolios, because they already conform to market standards set by the government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
AssetExchange.com is preparing to sell mortgage securities on-line as well. The company hired William Greenleaf, a former Dynex Commercial Inc. executive, to be senior vice president in charge of its commercial real estate activities. Dynex of Richmond, Va., facilitates commercial real estate portfolio sales over the telephone.
AssetExchange.com is not the only Internet company to target the mortgage markets, but Mr. Koo said his company appears to be the first on-line venture brokering credit card deals of performing assets.