Top Fannie Mae officials have stepped up their drive to reassure lenders that new loan-processing technology will not cut mortgage banks out of the system.

In speeches, press conferences, and presentations to lenders at a convention of the Mortgage Bankers Association, executives of the Federal National Mortgage Association, or Fannie Mae, tried to drive home one point: Their agency's new technology is being developed to help lenders, not hurt them.

In an address to the convention, Fannie Mae chairman James A. Johnson told lenders that the agency is "inextricably linked" to mortgage banks.

"We see mortgage lenders as our firm foundation," he said, "and the success of our mission depends on the success of yours."

Mr. Johnson told lenders that Fannie Mae's technology to automate loan applications and approvals is "customer-driven." The new systems have been tested by lenders and are intended to bolster their profitability.

Fannie Mae's broad technology plans have stirred the industry's fears.

Rival Freddie Mac, formally the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., is taking a more limited approach, restricting its automation system to underwriting.

Freddie Mac executives rarely miss an opportunity to make that contrast clear.

Last Thursday, Fannie Mae vice chairman Frank Raines went on the offensive, taking on Freddie Mac's underwriting system.

At a lunch for reporters, Mr. Raines said that Freddie Mac's underwriting technology is intended to force lenders to sell their loans to Freddie Mac.

That's because only Freddie Mac understands why it chooses to accept a loan through its credit-scoring system, Mr. Raines said.

By contrast, he said, decisions made on Fannie Mae's technology are easily understandable because the system is rule-based, simply automating Fannie's existing rulebook.

So a loan approved on the Fannie system could just as easily be sold to Freddie, he said.

Later in the day, two senior marketing and technology executives at Fannie Mae tried to use humor to defuse lender fears.

An interactive computer impersonated celebrities like Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand, and cartoon characters Beavis and Butt-head, voicing fears about the new technology.

One by one, the executives tried to debunk the fears.

After speeches by Mr. Johnson and Freddie Mac's chairman, Leland Brendsel, one lender wanted to know whether the two agencies plan to cooperate on their lending technologies rather than giving lenders different systems to deal with.

The answer, it appears, was "no."

Mr. Brendsel said that Freddie Mac would be unwilling to delegate the crucial underwriting decision to Fannie Mae.

Mr. Johnson implied that such cooperation would take some of the flexibility out of the current system.

Another lender asked how the use of the new underwriting systems would affect loan pricing.

Mr. Brendsel said Freddie's underwriting system would more clearly delineate the risks of different kinds of loans and that the agency would price accordingly.

Mr. Johnson said Fannie Mae would be slow to take that route.

He said that he felt strongly about basing loan prices on the overall performance of a lender, rather than on individual loans.

In addition, he said, he is reluctant to use the technology to make loans more expensive for those who are on "the edge of affordability."

Separately, Mr. Brendsel said Freddie Mac has seen a fourfold increase in poor-quality loans since 1993.

"This must be curtailed," he said.

Freddie Mac would introduce more specific guidelines this summer to help lenders assess loan quality and reduce risky loans, he said.

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