out of the business Bank of America Corp. is adamant about keeping the service on its menu.

"Factoring has a long-standing heritage in our banking organization," said Graham W. Denton, executive vice president of the $614.1 billion-asset company's commercial finance division. "It is a business that historically earns returns that have been better than Bank of America as a whole." Equally important when it comes to returns, he said, is the ability to offer other services to factoring clients.

"Many businesses that have been lured to us because of factoring -- such as retail, textile, and apparel companies -- have become very important Bank of America customers," he said. "We want to keep them."

A lack of growth in factoring, along with stiff competition from commercial finance companies, has led some observers to speculate that Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America might quit the business.

Several major U.S. banking companies have shed their factoring operations recently. Bank of New York Co. agreed in June to sell its asset-based lending and factoring units to General Motors Acceptance Corp., and First Union Corp. sold its factoring unit to CIT Group in April.

Mr. Denton acknowledged that factoring is a mature industry but argued it can provide superior returns if managed properly. "It's not the growth that we'd normally like to see, but the returns are there," he said.

Factoring is offered by Bank of America's asset-based finance division, one of three groups in the company's $10 billion-asset commercial finance unit, which produces roughly $200 million a year of net income, Mr. Denton said.

In August the unit was retooled to unite several separately functioning yet similar operations -- in part because of Bank of America's merger last year with NationsBank Corp.

The second group, called structured and corporate finance, offers hybrid credit products secured partially by assets and partially by cash flow, as well as mezzanine cash-flow financings to highly leveraged companies. Specialized finance, the third division of the commercial finance unit, consists of commercial real estate, golf course and recreation, equipment, and distribution lending.

The variety and complexity of the credit products offered by the unit became a learning experience for Mr. Denton, who was head of commercial lending in the East before taking his current post in January.

"With some of these niche businesses, it took some time to understand exactly what the outcomes are in the marketplace," he said.

The product selection is so varied, Mr. Denton said, that Bank of America employs an "internal marketing" staff to ensure that the company's own bankers are kept up to speed.

"We needed to make sure that our people know all the capabilities we have to offer," he said.

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