Sprinting ahead with plans to be acquired by Dime Bancorp, North American Mortgage has put its loan servicing operation on the market and has begun hashing out strategies for post-merger operations.

The steps, which have the blessing of Dime Mortgage, come as North American closes in on its fall target date to be acquired by the New York bank for $374 million.

"We're putting things in place, including steps to increase support to the field," said Pete Bonnikson, an executive vice president at North American.

Dime operates its own loan servicing center and believes the sale of North American's servicing system could cut about $1 million from acquisition costs.

There are no firm offers on the table, but Cohane Rafferty Securities, which is brokering the sale, hopes to drum up interest through offering documents that will be released this week.

The mortgage unit of New York-based Dime Bancorp has gotten "very deeply" into the acquisition process in recent weeks and is pleased with the caliber of staff at North American, said Richard Mirro, president of Dime Mortgage.

Mr. Bonnikson has been named to oversee retail production after the merger, operating from what will be North American's former headquarters in Santa Rosa, Calif.

North American has also named Patricia Van Tuyl, a 14-year veteran, to a new senior vice president slot created to provide more support to the 140 loan offices that Dime is acquiring.

The position "renews our emphasis on sales and marketing," including support to salespeople in mainstream lending units and fledgling B and C operations which lend to people with less than A-rated credit, Mr. Bonnikson said.

Indeed, Dime is said to be putting a lot of emphasis on nurturing North American's hundreds of salespeople. That's because the efforts of these loan officers fuel the retail franchise that Dime sought when it agreed to buy North American in June. Through its retail operation, North American originated $9.5 billion of loans last year, making it the industry's 12th- largest lender.

To further boost productivity, North American is planning to step up advertising of products and specialty offerings like pre-approvals for people still househunting.

Executives with North American say they are calming pre-merger jitters by making an effort to communicate strategies with the company's 2,800 employees, salespeople, managers, and support staff. "Our employees are curious about how things are developing," Mr. Bonnikson said.

Few have left since the merger was announced two months ago, he added. "Mostly, people are excited about the possibilities of what a bank can bring to an independent mortgage company."

Indeed, Dime comes the deal with capital and the potential to expand the company's product mix. In contrast to North American and other mortgage banks, Dime retains loans in its portfolio and need not confine its lending to products that conform to the standards of loan buyers.

The North American servicing operation consists of computer systems and other equipment, as well as a staff of 150, headed by executive vice president Robert Rosen. The operation is based on the second floor of North American's Santa Rosa headquarters.

Ideally the purchaser of the servicing system would keep the entire operation near North American, say executives involved in the matter.

The equipment and staff service 149,800 loans worth $14.7 billion. Dime would shift most of these loans to its own servicing shop in Albion, N.Y. But to help attract a buyer, a few billion dollars of loans might remain with the North American system.

Cohane Rafferty is touting the shop's ability to service loans for about $60 each, which is about $10 lower than the industry average.

The operation, which uses Alltel technology, might appeal to an East Coast lender looking to expand in the West, or to a B and C lender that wants to acquire its own servicing site, said Hilary Renz, senior vice president at Cohane Rafferty in Harrison, N.Y. u

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