Friday, September 14, 2007

Tom Brown: Thoughts on FMD

FRANCHISE PLAYER: For years, the bears’ big complaint about First Marblehead has been that that the company doesn’t contribute anything of material value the student-loan origination process. It doesn’t lend (the bank partners do); it doesn’t service (third-party servicers do); it doesn’t guarantee (TERI does), and on and on. Eventually, therefore, Marblehead will be disintermediated by its partners and its business will disappear. Simple! To back up this line of thinking, critics pointed in instructive contrast to Sallie Mae, which originates a substantial portion of its business directly, without involvement of partners, and thus has its own solid, standalone franchise.

I happen to think that objection is nonsense, of course. Marblehead has considerable underwriting and product development expertise its competitors and partners can’t duplicate. If the company weren’t part of the lending process, its partners wouldn’t be able to originate student loans nearly as profitably as they do.

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