A direct hit.

Author:Bergsman, Steve
Position:Cover Report: E-Commerce

Charter One Direct is the origination Web site of Richmond, Virginia-based mortgage player Charter One Mortgage Corporation. What's surprising is it's managed to command a coveted sixth spot in the Gomez rankings for top online lenders. Here's why.

COMPANIES OFFERING A MORTGAGE WEB SITE CAN GET A SENSE OF HOW WELL THEY ARE DOING competitively by checking in with Gomez Inc., Waltham, Massachusetts, which twice a year rates mortgage lending sites and publishes a scorecard.

* The idea is to track online mortgage providers nationwide on factors such as ease of use, customer confidence, on-site resources and relationship services. More than 100 companies are reviewed by Gomez, but notoriety comes with a top-15 listing.

* "Just to make the 15 is a considerable accomplishment," says Shalin Patel, an analyst with Gomez, a provider of benchmarking and consulting services to financial service firms with an Internet presence.

* As rated by Gomez, the top four Internet mortgage providers (Countrywide Home Loans Inc., IndyMac Bank, E-LOAN Inc. and E*TRADE Group Inc.) seem to have a considerable hold on their rankings. But two companies moved up considerably to occupy the other two top-six slots--Quicken Loans Inc. and Charter One Direct. The latter, in fact, has jumped from position 15 to eight and in the 2002 third-quarter scorecard moved up again to six.

* Charter One Direct (www.charteronedirect.com) is the mortgage origination Web site of Richmond, Virginia-based Charter One Mortgage Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Charter One Bank NA. The bank is part of parent company Charter One Financial Inc., Cleveland. Charter One Bank now ranks as the 21st largest bank in the United States, with 459 branches in just six Midwest and Northeastern states (Ohio, Michigan, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts and Vermont). Total assets reached $40 billion by the third quarter of 2002, according to the company.

Charter One Financial got into the online mortgage business at about the same time it made a major acquisition in mortgage banking. In 1997, Charter One Financial acquired Rochester Community Savings Bank, Rochester, New York, which had previously bought American Home Funding, and that unit became Charter One Financial's mortgage banking operation, Charter One Mortgage.

A year later, Charter One Mortgage joined the Internet revolution, putting up an information-only Web site for current mortgage customers. By December, the Web site had become sophisticated enough to begin offering basic account information online to existing customers--such as interest rate, next payment due date, unpaid principal balance and escrow account balance information. This site has since become www.charteronemortgage.com, and today is directed more toward the servicing side of the business.

It wasn't until 2000 that Charter One Direct was unveiled. Charteronedirect.com certainly never claimed to be first in getting to the Internet. Its online development process followed a path more of seeing what else was on the Web and determining if it could be improved upon.

As Pamela Dunn, a vice president with Charter One Mortgage, admits, "We looked first at what else was out there." What Dunn discovered was just one lender doing disclosure and fee payment online, and none doing rate locks online. "This was the real frontier," she says.

Charter One Mortgage wanted its new Web site to be customer-driven. "We wanted the customer to be in charge, to be able to easily move across the site," says Dunn. "We wanted customers to be able to get their credit, get online approval, then also be able to pay, look at disclosures, lock and give us appraisal information. They can do all of the upfront things and know where they stand because they get back online approval."

Charter One Mortgage


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