When it comes to banking technology, Lockheed Martin Corp. is a stealth provider.
The Bethesda, Md., company, widely known as one of the top defense contractors, also takes on high-tech assignments for industry clients who prefer to keep the details under wraps. Lockheed's experience with high- security government contracts makes it a desirable "top secret" partner.
Even so, Lockheed's name is slowly making its way into some bankers' conversations - if not into their marketing materials.
"Given the nature and the sensitivity of our projects, it is sometimes frustrating" not to be able to trumpet some of the private-sector work, said Raymond P. Delaney, 50, general manager of Lockheed Martin Information Systems and Technologies in Valley Forge, Pa.
Nonetheless, the company's business with banks and its reputation within the financial services industry are growing, he said.
Lockheed specializes in a type of object-oriented computing that is becoming increasingly prevalent among major banks.
In object programming, software is reduced to reusable or interchangeable units of computer code - known as "objects"- that can be combined easily to create new systems or modify existing ones. The method speeds software development and makes it easier to implement changes.
Because there are relatively few storehouses of object-oriented technology and expertise, Lockheed has made its way onto the list of providers that banks call.
"It's word of mouth," said Mr. Delaney.
Lockheed does not reveal its client list. Industry observers say Chase Manhattan Corp. and Citicorp, among others, are on it. But the aircraft manufacturer's reputation in the financial services industry is based largely on its work with the Federal National Mortgage Association, where it helped develop an automated loan-origination system.
Fannie Mae is working to reduce the average cost of loan closings to $1,500 from $2,500.
As part of this effort, Fannie three years ago looked to Lockheed to help it create object-oriented software for lenders. Known as Desktop Originator, the software would integrate with other services, such as its Desktop Underwriter and Home Loan Counselor, to automate most of the paper- based loan origination process.
Mr. Delaney said Fannie Mae's commitment to object technology was a "gamble," a bold move at a time when "there were not a lot of companies that literally wanted to bet their business" on it.
Daniel Packer, Fannie Mae's director of systems development, said the agency ran the risk that it "wouldn't use it exactly right." Nevertheless, Fannie executives decided that the potential value of object technology outweighed the risk.
Because the technology was a departure from the standard run of banking systems at the time, Fannie found it didn't have people with the necessary expertise to create object-oriented systems.
As it looked outside the conventional realm of bank technology providers, it came on Lockheed.
According to Mr. Delaney, Lockheed made "some pretty specific comments on improvements that could be made" to Fannie's proposed systems.
With Lockheed's advisers working with Fannie's engineers, the two companies gradually hammered out Desktop Originator and released the software early last year.
The system, which is used by about 60 lenders, is a client/server application that provides real-time product information.
Fannie officials said it gives lenders the information required for every loan package and provides easy access to the many combinations of points, terms, and rates available.
The software is fully integrated with Fannie's other products.
"We not only wanted our products to be working together fully integrated, but we also wanted to have much more emphasis on integrating with third-party origination systems," said Michael Williams, a senior vice president with Fannie Mae.
Desktop Originator operates with other software products on Mornet Plus, the housing agency's high-speed data network. Fannie declined to divulge the volume handled by its software services.
Barbara Smiley, a mortgage technology consultant with Tower Group in Wellesley, Mass., said Fannie was smart to build the origination package on object-oriented programming.
Although it is increasingly used on Wall Street and by large banks, object technology still represents "a major mind-set and cultural change for the developers," she said.
Joseph Filoseta, a mortgage technology consultant based in San Diego, said he knows of no "commercial strength" mortgage systems using object technology, although "there are several under development."
He said a mortgage origination program that Fleet Financial Group is creating with Andersen Consulting will be object-based, as will a PNC Bank Corp. project with Broadway & Seymour Inc.
Tower Group expects object-oriented computing to take a firm hold in the banking industry this year, and Lockheed intends to be one of the main sources.