Coming out of this refinance boom is going to be more challenging than any other cycle during the past 25 years, according to longtime industry executive Ben Cowen.

"We are entering a new phase in my opinion," the president of BOKF mortgage group said in an interview. "We are all facing a higher level of overhead that you have to cover as a mortgage banking concern."

The Tulsa, Okla.-based banking company's answer to this new fact of life is to keep on growing, but in a controlled way.

BOK Financial Corp. is growing its mortgage lending business via the Internet and correspondent lending — not through brick and mortar.

The correspondent channel focuses exclusively on "very healthy" banks and credit unions. "We can be picky about who we do business with. We are not for everyone," Cowen stressed.

BOKF pledges not to cross-sell any of its bank products to the correspondent's customers, and it will refer refinance opportunities back to the correspondent banks and credit unions. BOKF also services the correspondent loans under a brand-neutral name, FirstLand Mortgage Servicing.

The correspondent channel will fund $1.5 billion this year and up to $2.5 billion in 2014, Cowen expects.

BOKF currently has about 75 correspondents that operate in 30 states. "We are going to leverage this business across the country," Cowen said.

The Southwestern regional bank recently launched its Internet mortgage lending channel that will also extend its reach nationwide. The new Internet lender is based in Kansas City and called HomeDirect Mortgage.

Cowen joined the Oklahoma banking company in December 2008 after working as the national sales leader for LendingTree. He previously was a senior vice president at Wachovia and before that Bank of America.

Three-fourths of Bank of Oklahoma's mortgage originations came from Oklahoma in 2008. Now over 70% of the mortgages come from outside the home state. BOKF originated $1.3 billion in residential loans in the second quarter.

Refinancings have dropped since then and purchase mortgage transactions now make up more than 70% of production volume.

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