Acquisition broadens Amerix services

Columbia company adds mortgage group to mix

Small business

April 02, 2001|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Amerix Corp. is moving in a new direction.

The Howard County company that serves credit counseling agencies is purchasing Artisan Mortgage Group of Hunt Valley in an effort to begin offering more services to the highly leveraged buyers who call their center for help.

The move, to be completed this month, will add 55 workers to the Columbia company's office of 625 and move the business into a new range of services offered to customers in addition to agencies. The company also is hoping to add debt relief, financial management and income enhancement services to its repertoire.

"The reason Amerix is in existence is to help highly leveraged customers find a way to get back on course [financially]," said Bernardo Dancel, president and chief executive officer of 4-year-old Amerix. "We've been doing a lot of research to find the services we think would best help these customers. This acquisition is the first step toward providing these services that would help."

Amerix's core business is advertising, customer service, billing and collections work it does for Genus Credit Management and a few other large, nonprofit credit counseling agencies. The company takes overflow calls to the nonprofits in those agencies' names and assesses whether callers would be candidates for debt management programs that help consumers by reducing credit card interest rates and setting up rigid payment schedules to the creditors.

The company has more than 275,000 active accounts for which it sends out 1.2 million client payments to creditors each month, according to company executives. Workers in their call center answer as many as 150,000 calls each month, the executives said, and about 40,000 of them are first-time calls.

But of those thousands of first-time callers, only about 25 percent are eligible for the credit counseling agencies' main product - debt management programs. The rest of the callers get free advice from the nonprofits, such as information on budgeting or tips on how to save money.

"If they're not a candidate for debt management, there's not a lot we can actively do to help them other than refer them to other places," said Mike Croxson, chief operating officer for Amerix. "The beauty of the product is, whether they choose to go on debt management or not, if they're a homeowner, they're a candidate for our mortgage services."

While Dancel insists he is only trying to help, University of Baltimore consumer law professor Charles Shafer cautions that the company's new mortgage services could be misleading if people believe they're calling a nonprofit.

"Rather than a nonprofit, they may be ending up calling someone who is loaning them money," Shafer said. "Partly it would depend upon what their ads say, the extent to which they are being misled."

The advertisements ask people with problems paying bills to call Amerix, which works with nonprofits, Croxson said.

For customers who do not qualify for debt management, "the call would be transferred to the loan officer" with Artisan, Croxson said.

The 3-year-old Artisan, owned by Tomas Gordon, specializes in dealing with clients who are deep in debt or have credit problems. The group of mortgage lenders searches for specialized programs to meet their clients' needs - usually offered by other lenders, Gordon said - with interest rates that are lower than those of credit cards but not as high as direct lenders'.

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