Six months after it was bought by Charter One Bank, the former American Home Funding of Richmond, Va., is about to take a big step toward fulfilling its new parent's goal.

The mortgage company's 120 loan officers are still doing business the old-fashioned way: They fill out paper applications, then hand them off to loan processors who enter the information into a mainframe. But next month the loan officers will begin typing borrowers' applications on laptops, said Richard Powers, chairman of Charter One Mortgage.

The laptops also will connect loan officers to credit bureaus and the Fannie Mae automated underwriting system, which is expected to streamline the process further, he said.

"1998 is an infrastructure year to position us for profit growth in 1999," Mr. Powers said.

He said the Cleveland bank has set two goals for the mortgage company - to deliver "best-in-class" profitability for the core business of originating and servicing home loans, and to deliver higher-yield home equity loans, lines of credit, and subprime loans for the thrift's portfolio. Mr. Powers also supervises mortgage lending at the thrift.

Joel VanRyckeghen, chief operating officer of Charter One Mortgage, said the company is also reengineering the mortgage approval process. For example, loan officers will be rewarded for turning in complete applications the first time, he said. Reprocessing applications can take up as much as half the underwriters' time at mortgage companies, Mr. VanRyckeghen said, and Charter One aims to minimize that repetition.

In the second half of this year, loan officers will attend workshops to sharpen their sales skills to make sure they are targeting the most prolific real estate agents for loans, Mr. VanRyckeghen said. The trainers will use role-playing methods and accompany loan officers to real estate agents' offices.

"These loan officers are fairly independent creatures. There's not a whole lot of structure to how loan officers approach their day," he said.

Because the responsibilities of Charter One Mortgage loan officers soon will include selling home equity loans and other products, "we have to know what our people are doing on a daily basis," Mr. VanRyckeghen said.

Mr. VanRyckeghen joined Charter One Mortgage in February from HomeSide Lending Inc. in Jacksonville, Fla. Last week, Charter One Mortgage hired Pamela F. Dunn, an executive at Associates National Mortgage Corp., to head its mortgage telemarketing operations.

It also hired Norman P. Wagner, a sales vice president at PNC Mortgage Corp., to head Charter One Mortgage's loan production in Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Indiana.

Mr. Powers said each member of his new team "comes from a very rigorous profit-and-loss culture." They know "that we are here to make a profit-and a very significant one," he said.

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