MetLife Bank last week hired mortgage veteran Jess Lederman to head its fledgling correspondent lending division, the last piece in the company's plan to become a top five player in the industry.

"We plan on building a major correspondent lending business," said Lederman in a brief interview. "Pretty soon the best loan brokers will be converting to bankers, and we'll be taking advantage of that."

In particular, the Bridgewater, N.J., bank, a unit of the big insurer MetLife Inc., said it plans to meld its young warehouse division with Lederman's group, offering lines of credit to nonbanks and then buying a good chunk of their loan production.

Warehouse officials close to MetLife said the bank hopes to amass upward of $3 billion in commitments by yearend.

According to National Mortgage News, MetLife ranks 14th nationwide among all originators. With the addition of warehouse and correspondent lines, it hopes to crack the top 10 funders this year, and the top five within three years, said advisers to the institution.

Four years ago, MetLife was not even in the business. In the spring of 2008, as the mortgage business was beginning to crumble, the bank bought a large chunk of the lending platform of the Memphis regional banking company First Horizon National Corp. By staying out of the business during the boom years, Lederman said, his new employer avoided many of the legacy issues affecting other players today.

A few years back, Lederman headed correspondent lending at Ohio Savings. Before that, he was best known in the industry for working on securitizations at Bear Stearns & Co. He also has worked at Countrywide Financial Corp.; Great Western, a mortgage affiliate of Frontier Bank in Park City, Utah; and Kinecta Federal Credit Union in California.

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