Chemical Bank is out to bolster its mortgage business by connecting with corporations, unions, and religious organizations.
The bank's affinity program plans to reach borrowers in the New York metropolitan area by tapping into Chemical's wide array of commercial accounts.
"In a very positive sense, it's a captive audience," said Wesley Wainwright, the senior vice president who heads the affinity program.
Affinity lending, he said, demands extensive effort from the bank and its clients. "To develop a good affinity program requires work," he emphasized.
Indeed, employees are not pushovers. Workers "are skeptical" of a program that's being offered to them through management, Mr. Wainwright said. "We find that a lot of the time."
Mr. Wainwright declined to disclose loan volume for the two-year-old program, which counts a handful of organizations as clients. The client group includes District Council 37, the largest municipal labor union in New York City.
At the moment, Chemical remains a small force in affinity lending. But after its pending merger with Chase Manhattan, Mr. Wainwright said, he hopes to see the program expand. Both banks have relationships with thousands of groups and companies.
Aside from helping people buy homes, the program helps Chemical satisfy Community Reinvestment Act requirements, Mr. Wainwright said.
Clients, whether large or small, need considerable attention as the program goes on. "They require a lot of hand-holding," Mr. Wainwright said. "You spend a lot of time with them."
For its program, Chemical keeps a multilingual staff on hand to answer clients' questions and to mount information campaigns.
Chemical will train clients' employees to present mortgage seminars to their co-workers. The presentations often focus on budgeting, to help employees clean up their credit in order to qualify for loans.
Also, Chemical counsels prospective borrowers, showing them how to use their credit histories to qualify for mortgages.
Chemical gets the word out by working through clients' internal communication programs.
Published profiles that highlight successful borrowers can generate hundreds of calls to register for seminars, Mr. Wainwright said.
He also said the best way to overcome obstacles is to know employees' "needs and values. They should perceive there is a real benefit."
When closing deals with client companies, he said, contracts should be easily understandable, spelling out Chemical's responsibilities and those of the affinity organization that is sponsoring the program.