Fleet Financial Group is shuttering its last retail mortgage unit in the South, closing the final chapter of a five-year saga.

The Boston banking company said it no longer needs its DeKalb, Ga., loan processing unit because its retail mortgage business is now consolidated in the Northeast.

The action means the loss of about 200 jobs, according to the Atlanta Business Journal, which reported the news this week.

The processing center is the bank's last Georgia operation and all that remains of Fleet Finance, its Atlanta-based consumer finance company.

Now the company's only retail originations are conventional loans made through its bank branches in the Northeast. Many other large regional banking companies have been striving for nationwide retail platforms and adding on subprime units.

Fleet Finance was subject to a series of investigations concerning alleged fair-lending violations, and it ultimately was sold. Fleet no longer makes subprime loans.

In 1993 Fleet Finance Inc. promised cash to borrowers who had been charged too much, commitments to community investment, and debt forgiveness to some Georgia borrowers, totaling $100 million, after an investigation by the state attorney general. The unit had been buying loans with exorbitant interest rates from companies that were pushing them in lower-income neighborhoods, the investigation found.

The company was also investigated by the Department of Justice in 1995 for allegedly charging minorities higher loan origination fees and interest rates.

Fleet sold most of the assets of its finance company to Associates First Capital Corp. of Dallas in July 1996 but retained the DeKalb processing unit. The unit was used to process loans originated by the company's prime mortgage unit, Fleet Mortgage, said a spokesman for Fleet Financial Group.

Fleet also consolidated its prime mortgage retail branch network in 1996, selling or closing about 30 of its 75 branches. Long Island Bancorp was among the acquirers, buying branches in Horsham, Pa., and Raleigh, N.C.

The Boston company is in a contraction mode, but analysts said this strategy makes sense for Fleet.

Earnings in its mortgage operations will be down this year, said Katrina Blecher, an analyst at Gruntal Securities. But she said that Fleet realized the best thing for it would be to get out of the South, where its name had been tainted by news reports of the investigations.

Fleet's mortgage operations benefit from its retail branch presence in New England, Ms. Blecher noted, because the company does not need to maintain separate mortgage offices.

But Fleet still has a huge wholesale and correspondent originations presence-it is the fifth-largest mortgage originator nationwide.

The company has no plan to move Columbia, S.C.-based Fleet Mortgage to the Northeast, the spokesman said, though Fleet no longer originates loans in the South.

The Georgia office's processing functions will be moved to Providence, R.I., in 60 to 90 days, the Fleet spokesman said.

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