In response to increased competition for home equity loans originated by mortgage brokers, Altegra Credit Co. has switched gears and launched an aggressive campaign to build a retail network.

The Pittsburgh subsidiary of Integra Financial Corp. has already opened two retail branches. An additional 16 will be opened by the end of 1995. Altegra is also tripling the size of its staff of wholesale representatives to 10.

The market for home equity loans originated by brokers has become congested in recent months as competitors from every walk of banking and nonbank finance have started wholesale home equity lending units.

Altegra is the latest lender to take a step away from wholesale lending, and its fresh competition, in search of profits. Ames Financial Corp., Los Angeles, and United Companies Financial Corp., Baton Rouge, La., are among those pursuing a similar strategy.

"There are so many new competitors in the indirect (wholesale) business; a lot of mortgage companies and banks are making noise," said Robert C. Mercer Jr., Altegra's president. "We are just looking for a third source of business."

Until now, Altegra had bought first and second mortgages made to borrowers with blemished credit histories.

Altegra originated $150 million of loans last year. It generally securitizes about a third of the loans it originates, Mr. Mercer said. It currently services $500 million of loans.

To facilitate its conversion to retail, Altegra has added home equity lines of credit to its product mix, Mr. Mercer said. An aggressive television and newspaper advertising campaign will soon be launched. The campaign's theme will center on Altegra's ability to "give people a second chance," he said.

He said the consumer finance company's best selling point was its relationship with its parent bank, Integra. He said the bank is required to adhere strictly to the wishes of regulators. That forces Altegra to focus on credit quality and provide customers with superior service.

"The experience level (among newer entrants) is going to be substantially lower than what we have" he added.

He expects the new retail operations to produce $60 million of loans this year.

In another move, Integra placed its indirect auto lending unit under Altegra's wing. The unit does business with 900 car dealers, mainly in western Pennsylvania. It brings with it a portfolio of $1 billion of loans.

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The nation's 16th-largest mortgage company, BancBoston Mortgage Corp., Jacksonville, Fla., has appointed a new head of home loan production.

Joel T. VanRyckeghen, formerly a regional vice president at Bank of America, has taken over for Andrew Whetsel, who has moved back to his home state of Tennessee to be nearer to his family. Mr. VanRyckeghen has been given the title of senior vice president.

Mr. Whetsel, who will remain a senior vice president of BancBoston, a subsidiary of Bank of Boston Corp., will concentrate on buying loans originated by mortgage brokers.

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