After suffering huge losses through its low-documentation mortgage program in the early 1990s, Dime Savings Bank is ready to be a player in the mortgage business again.
Earlier this year, the $10 billion thrift merged with Anchor Savings Bank. Now the new Dime has $20 billion in assets and is buying mortgage banks, expanding its servicing portfolio, and segmenting its customers to sell them more home loans.
Leading the charge is Jenne K. Britell, a former Citicorp executive and one of the few women at the helm of a mortgage unit.
"I think that women tend to not be given the opportunity to prove themselves," Ms. Britell said. "There are a lot of women, and then you have the ceiling. It's a very male world."
Like most mortgage originators, Dime wants to be bigger. This fall, the thrift purchased mortgage companies in Virginia and Atlanta, doubling its production over last year to $3 billion.
The acquisitions give Dime a place to expand outside its slow-growing New York home base.
For a thrift to make it big in the mortgage market, "it's critical for it to be a player outside its local market," said Ms. Britell.
"You have a purchase market in places like Georgia and Virginia all year, in contrast to the much more seasonal market here," she said. That means there is a plentiful market for mortgages all year round.
Dime needs these loans to replace some of the $9 billion in mortgage securities in the combined Dime-Anchor portfolio.
"We simply would perform a great deal better" by replacing these securities with whole ARMs, said Dime's chairman, Jim Large. Whole loans carry higher yields than securitized mortgages because they do not involve guarantee fees.
By going into markets with heavy concentrations of large corporations, such as northern Virginia and metropolitan Atlanta, Dime expects to write a lot of adjustable loans.
Corporate executives who are being relocated like the hybrid 3/1, 5/1, 7/1 adjustables that the thrift wants for its portfolio, according to Ms. Britell. Rates on these loans are fixed for the first three, five or seven years. Many executives figure they will have moved up to their next job by the time the loans adjust, she said.
The Middle Atlantic purchases will also help Dime to trim the risk of its mortgage portfolio.
"It means if there's an economic downturn, not all our eggs are in one basket," said Mr. Large.
Ms. Britell promises that more acquisitions will follow in markets where the demand for adjustables is strong.
"We're going to look at more acquisitions where it makes sense," she said, "where the demographics make sense for our ARM portfolio growth, where there's a population that we understand from our market segmentation and product and program opportunities," and where Dime and the potential acquisition targets have similar cultures.
Like commercial banks, Dime is also expanding its servicing portfolio, collecting principal and interest payments for itself and other investors. Mr. Large said that Dime values the fee income produced by the servicing side of the mortgage business.
Currently, Dime services $15 billion of mortgages. In the next two to four years, Ms. Britell said, the thrift aims to service $25 billion of mortgages.
To sell more home loans to its customers, Dime is using a sophisticated market segmentation strategy. It is subdividing its borrowers into small groups and tailoring the advertising and products it sells to match each group, according to Howard Kravitz, director of market information and planning at Dime.
The thrift is using the strategy to sell everything from mutual funds and checking accounts to its bread-and-butter adjustable-rate mortgages.
Among the segments are professionals such as lawyers and accountants, union members, and those relocating corporate executives.
The thrift also offers a private mortgage banking service that caters to the very rich, and competes with bankers such as J.P. Morgan for customers. And at the other end of the scale are its affordable-loan products.
Ms. Britell, who earned her mortgage spurs at Citicorp, is that rarity in the upper reaches of mortgage banking: a woman. Among the positions she held at Citicorp: senior vice president of its mortgage unit, Citicorp Mortgage Inc., in 1987 and in 1988.
She left to run the residential and commercial real estate businesses at Republic National Bank through 1990.
What's it like to be a top female mortgage banking executive? Ms. Britell said she no longer finds her gender a problem, though it has been in the past. "I'm older and wiser now," she commented.
But the relative rarity of women in mortgage banking and other financial services is definitely a problem, she said.
Male executives are usually more reluctant to take risks with women, such as giving them responsibility to run new areas of business, she said. That means few women make it to the top.
Before becoming a banker, Ms. Britell was a reporter for The New York Times.
She holds a doctorate in American history from Columbia University and a master's in education from Harvard.
From 1990 to 1993, Ms. Britell ran her own business, Home Power Inc., which advised international investors on the acquisition and management of financial institutions and mortgage banking subsidiaries.
In 1992, she established the Polish-American Mortgage Bank in Warsaw, Poland. The institution was the first private organization to finance residential construction and mortgages.
Ms. Britell describes herself as a "reader junkie." She reads spy thrillers and mystery novels. Her favorites are books by Dick Francis and Colin Forbes.
She has two daughters, 28 and 26. She said she expects the work world will be more friendly to women in high places as her daughters get older. Meanwhile, she takes pride in hiring women for the Dime team.