Great Western Financial Corp. is gearing up to become a player in the small-business niche.

Starting next quarter, the $44 billion-asset Chatsworth, Calif., thrift - the nation's second largest - plans to aggressively market an expanded range of products to current small-business customers and prospects.

Thrift officials said the small-business push fits in with its overall strategy of finding alternate revenue streams to its traditional mortgage lending.

"My mission is to bring benefit to the bottom line of Great Western and bring better products and services to the small-business segment," said Daniel Morefield, senior vice president and director of business banking. Hired in April, Mr. Morefield was senior vice president and manager of business banking for First Interstate Bank.

He had been offered a position with Wells Fargo & Co. after it acquired First Interstate, but he turned it down to go with Great Western, he said.

Great Western began flirting with small-business banking five years ago and now has 96,000 small-business depositors, said savings bank spokesman Ian Campbell. But the range of the thrift's products for that market remains extremely limited. For example, the only credit product is an overdraft line of credit, Mr. Campbell said.

"They are knocking on our door saying there's a whole lot of business they want to give us, but we don't have the products to offer them," Mr. Campbell said. "This is phase two."

In the third and fourth quarters of 1996, the bank is to begin introducing credit, deposit, and investment products for small businesses, officials said.

The Florida and California markets that Great Western will be competing in are home to some fierce small-business lenders - BankAmerica Corp., Wells, Union Bank of California, Barnett Banks, and a host of community banks - but Mr. Morefield said he isn't intimidated.

"We have a history and culture of outstanding service and that's key," he said.

Also, the thrift hopes to capitalize on marketplace confusion created by consolidation - including the Wells-First Interstate merger, Mr. Morefield said.

"We expect to get a significant benefit from that merger," Mr. Morefield said.

Mr. Morefield said the thrift's primary challenge will be to create competitive products from scratch.

"Clearly, we're building the airplane as it's going down the runway," he said.

He added that the lack of small-business tradition at the thrift can be an advantage.

"We don't have to clone products," he said. "We have the ability to uniquely craft products."

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