Banc One Mortgage Corp. has hired a chief operating officer as part of a broad strategy to use both internal growth and acquisitions as routes to expansion.

The unit of Columbus, Ohio-based Banc One Corp. named Albert V. Will, 39, to oversee day-to-day operations. He had been an executive vice president with Residential Services Corporation of America, a unit of Prudential Insurance Company of America.

In Mr. Will, Banc One gets an executive from one of the nation's largest mortgage companies who has experience in origination, servicing, and the secondary market.

The appointment frees up Jeffrey P. Gaia, president of Banc One Mortgage, to scout the M&A market. "The general consensus in the industry is that size will become increasingly important," Mr. Gaia said.

While declining to name any potential targets, Mr. Gaia did indicate that the market was inviting. Companies, he said, are displaying "more realistic price expectations" than they did a year ago.

Mr. Will's former employer, Residential Services, is the largest mortgage operation ever to go on the block. Banc One looked at the enterprise, which includes Prudential Home Mortgage and Lender's Service, and passed.

"Everybody looked at Prudential" during a due diligence period this spring, Mr. Gaia said.

He said Banc One was still heavily involved in its revamping, which included a shift in focus from wholesale toward retail lending.

While growing through acquisitions, Banc One Mortgage is also ramping up new systems and services to grow within its 11-state base, Mr. Gaia said.

The approach is sound, because core markets are often much more familiar with a mortgage bank's operations, said Mary Bruce Batte, president of Mortgage Dynamics, a consulting firm in McLean, Va.

"There are also lots of opportunities for institutions to grow in the markets they're in," she said.

Mr. Will, chosen after a six-month search, is seen as a key component of the mortgage company's plans to grow on the home front. Banc One seriously considered 15 candidates, and chose Mr. Will from six finalists because of his broad experience.

"Al brings to the table a balanced perspective of various elements of the business," Mr. Gaia said. "That's extremely important to us."

Mr. Will has spent the past six years in various senior positions with Residential Services, whose offerings range from originations to appraisals. He was also on Wall Street in the mid-1980s, as a vice president with CS First Boston's Mortgage Finance Group.

Mr. Will said he was not leaving Residential Services because of the company's uncertain future. He is, however, looking for a charged environment at a company that's eager to grow.

He said Banc One's "enthusiasm and team play" were key draws, reminding him of the spirit at Residential Services years ago. "Their business plan and culture are things I can fit in very well with."

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