Summit Mortgage president Gerald L. Facciani has almost a million reasons to step up lending through bank branches.
The actual tally is 945,000-the number of New Jersey households that bank with Summit Bancorp but do not have mortgages with it.
Mr. Facciani sees plenty of opportunity to lend to these branch customers-a mixture of Summit's own depositor base and accounts acquired through last year's merger with UJB Financial. Another 200,000 accounts will be added later this year when Princeton-based Summit completes its purchase of Collective Bancorp for $869 million.
"There is a gold mine of opportunity within our bank," Mr. Facciani said. "The new Summit Bank" will continue to deploy mortgage loan officers in traditional ways but is now "developing a very strong internal sales culture" to build business through branches.
The move to capture more mortgage business through existing customers comes as $23 billion-asset Summit battles to retain its position as the biggest bank in New Jersey. Smaller players in the state have been consolidating into more formidable institutions, while out-of-state giants like First Union Corp. have been making inroads.
In 1996, Summit originated about $1 billion of mortgages-less than one- third to bank customers-and was servicing about $5 billion. To increase volume, the mortgage unit this month was made part of the retail bank, allowing it to work more closely with Summit's 370 branches.
Loan officers, in addition to seeking referrals from accountants, attorneys, and realtors, now regularly spend time at Summit bank units. The salespeople's goal is to familiarize branch managers and employees with home-lending opportunities and the various mortgage products Summit has available.
The strategy has merit, said William O. Adcock, chairman of Synergistics, a mortgage research firm in Atlanta.
"Often, banks and their mortgage companies don't work together," Mr. Adcock said. "It's a missed opportunity to make more loans."
Summit branch personnel are not going to push anything down their customers throats, said Mary Riether, senior vice president, who oversees production for Summit Mortgage. "We have to earn their trust."
Realtors "won't refer loans if they're not happy with our service. Why should the branch people act any differently?" Ms. Riether said.
To foster relationships, Summit mortgage bankers host contests for branch staff and regularly seek their criticism. "We ask them to treat us as if they didn't have to use us, and tell us what we're not doing well," Ms. Riether said.
The sessions have led to improvements in the flow of communication between the mortgage unit and branches, and realignment of certain performance goals, she said.
In tandem with urging loan officers to work closely with branches, Summit is using data bases to drum up mortgage business.
For instance, bank customers who do not own homes are sent information about first mortgage opportunities. Depositors with children receive solicitations for home equity lines. And customers whose mortgage is with another bank are sent refinancing information when rates dip.
And when borrowers call about paying off their loans, the bank connects them with mortgage personnel who describe refinance opportunities available through Summit.
"We want to make sure we capture all opportunities as they present themselves," Mr. Facciani said.