COLUMBIA, S.C. - Saying that Fleet Mortgage Group has turned itself around over the last three years, Standard & Poor's gave the company a "strong" servicer ranking, the highest possible.

"The company has successfully realigned its mortgage servicing division during the past few years through the introduction of several key senior personnel, who have effected changes designed to streamline and to improve various departments," S&P wrote in a report.

The FleetBoston Financial unit commissioned the ranking from the New York rating agency about a year ago because at the time it planned to start a private-label securitization program, said Robert A. Rosen, executive vice president of servicing. He said the securitization plans are on the back burner.

When Mr. Rosen was put in charge of servicing in late 1997, the Columbia operation was notorious for its high costs, antiquated technology, and poor service.

Since then, Mr. Rosen said, Fleet has slashed its cost of servicing to less than $50 per loan per year, from more than $80, and cut the average time it takes for a customer's call to be answered to 10 to 20 seconds, from four to six minutes. And after their calls are answered, he said, customers no longer get busy signals or hang up in frustration; three years ago 90% of callers got busy signals and 20% to 30% would hang up.

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