Joining a growing number of home lenders, Shawmut Mortgage Co. is embracing technology to streamline its application process.

As part of a reengineering project targeting originations, the West Hartford, Conn., company has equipped its loan officers with laptop computers for processing loans at customer sites.

The company - a subsidiary of $35 billion-asset Shawmut National Corp. - also consolidated 15 loan processing centers in New England into two central processing sites in West Hartford and Framingham, Mass. The remaining processing centers were converted into sales offices.

Through this centralized processing and the elimination of paper, the company expects to significantly reduce its costs while improving customer service, company officials said.

Michael Simeone, vice president and group technology manager at Shawmut Mortgage, said it is still too early to tell how, or if, the merger between Shawmut and Fleet Financial Group - which is expected to be completed in the fourth quarter - will affect the laptop program.

Shawmut Mortgage is running the Uniform loan processing system in its laptops, software developed by Associated Software Consultants Inc., Middleburg Heights, Ohio.

The system - which automates all aspects of mortgage processing - enables loan officers to print forms, get the status of loans, and receive other information via E-mail from the central office.

The company began its laptop program in February, and there are now 85 loan officers using the machines.

Mr. Simeone said that the combination of the processing center consolidation and PC technology has enabled the company to reduce origination costs by 25% to 35%

These savings have come about from the company's elimination of about 40 loan processing positions, and from its ability to take applications and begin processing about three days sooner than previously, said Mr. Simeone.

Having to compete with the likes of Boston-based BayBanks Inc., and Bridgeport, Conn.-based Peoples Bank in its market, Shawmut Mortgage feels it now has "a tremendous competitive advantage," said Mr. Simeone. He added that point of sale processing will help them maintain their No. 1 rating in the New England retail mortgage market - with a servicing portfolio of over $8 billion - a position they've held since 1989.

Mr. Simeone said that electronic processing opens up new marketing opportunities for lenders. Electronic data interchange, or EDI, for example, will enable lenders, credit bureaus, mortgage insurance firms, and other companies to link up in a standard way to handle transactions, he said.

The company plans to incorporate the American National Standards Institute's X12 format - an EDI standard for the exchange of business transactions - into its laptop software by the third or fourth quarter.

The format was developed and approved by the Mortgage Bankers Association and Mortgage Insurance Companies of America in 1993.

The company is also considering the use of Freddie Mac's automated underwriting system, Mr. Simeone said.

In addition, national networks like Compuserve will provide opportunities for Shawmut Mortgage and other lenders to promote their products, he said.

He predicts that companies will use electronic networks to provide prequalifications, rate sheets, and mini-applications that consumers can fill out and send to lenders via E-mail.

The company will continue to consider the use of new technologies as they become available, Mr. Simeone said.

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