Wells Fargo & Co. is near completing a key part of a 2-year-old effort to redesign its consumer lending operation.

The San Francisco-based bank reports that its transportation lending department - one of the nation's largest auto lenders - will soon be able to give credit decisions as quickly as 10 minutes after receiving a loan application. The system Wells currently uses takes more than an hour to deliver a decision.

The auto lending system is a hybrid of off-the-shelf software and programs written by Wells staff.

Known for its affection for home-grown systems, Wells Fargo has become increasingly open to using software available to the industry at large. Bank executives said the reengineering of the consumer lending area is evidence of this.

"A key consideration in the reengineering process is to use off-the- shelf software packages where those packages make the most sense," said Charles Walker, vice president of operations for the transportation lending department.

The reengineering effort involves consolidating nine data base units into two, building a unit-wide client/server computer platform, and automating the bank's credit and transportation lending departments, bank executives said.

The bulk of the work has been aimed at standardizing software systems and upgrading hardware, said Mr. Walker, who was hired in late 1993 from Tandem Computers Inc., Cupertino, Calif., to formulate a strategy for the transportation department.

Using technology from Oracle Corp. - a leading provider of relational data base and other technology - Wells has constructed a secure data- sharing system that members of the entire consumer lending area can use.

"We wanted that system to be open so it could act as an umbrella across all the areas," said Mr. Walker.

Technical experts also have built a workflow system that routes information more efficiently to the various subdivisions within consumer lending.

In the transportation area, Wells is using software from Credit Management Solutions Inc. of Columbia, Md.

The software, CreditRevue, is designed to eliminate paper shuffling and to standardize the bank's 13-state auto lending system.

Another Credit Management software product, CrossSell, lets the bank create targeted mailings to promote its credit services.

The use of CreditRevue is the latest step toward speeding the delivery of auto loan approvals, said Mr. Walker.

CreditRevue takes application data supplied in a customer meeting with a loan officer and transmits it to a credit bureau for scoring.

Using a combination of the bank's internal data and the information from the credit bureau, the software delivers in about 10 minutes a recommendation to approve or deny the loan.

A software program developed by Wells chooses the form appropriate to the state in which the applicant resides and then transmits it on-line or via facsimile to the originating loan officer.

Even though Wells Fargo's auto lending staff has shrunk from 54 in 1993 to around 40, the unit expects productivity to rise with the new system, said James DeFrancesco, president of Credit Management Solutions.

"They will have a homogeneous system that is scalable to service multiple areas," said Mr. DeFrancesco.

"In other banks with systems like this we have seen productivity gains of 200% to 300%," he said.

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