Considering the recent expansion of his role, and Norwest Corp.'s ambitious goals for the huge mortgage unit he heads, Mark Oman exudes remarkable calm.
Mr. Oman-the top executive at Norwest Mortgage since 1989-in March took on a new title, and a mission to expand cross-selling of other bank services to mortgage customers.
At the same time he was promoted to chairman of the unit, from chief executive. But two months later, he found himself in charge of day-to-day operations again when Mark L. Korell abruptly left the company.
Yet Mr. Oman's attitude, perhaps reflecting his background as an accountant, suggests someone who has plenty of time, and is taking a measured approach.
It's too soon to tell, he said, how the cross-selling effort is working. He shrugs off questions about declining volume and competitive challenges to Norwest as the market leader. And he adds that there is no pressure to name someone else to head the mortgage operations.
"I don't feel a need right now to react quickly one way or the other," Mr. Oman said.
Norwest is the largest servicer of loans in the country. With nearly two million loans in portfolio, he has a large customer base to which he can peddle other Norwest products.
The main goal of the cross-selling initiative is to have an average of eight financial services products per Norwest household. The industry average now is about four, but Norwest Mortgage customers choose an average of six products from the bank.
"For Norwest Mortgage customers that are not Norwest Bank customers it makes the most sense to try and sell checking accounts and credit cards," Mr. Oman said.
The task of pitching other Norwest products to consumers is a long way from his original role with Norwest.
He was Norwest Mortgage's chief financial officer before being named president in 1989.
Mr. Oman's bean-counting background is evident from his focus on the mortgage division's profits over loan volume.
The division's net income for the first six months of this year was $69.1 million, 13.1% higher than the first half of 1996. But some analysts say the mortgage unit could report even higher levels of income if it weren't for amortization writedowns on servicing assets.
"Let's just say we tend to be conservative in our accounting," he said.
Norwest's origination volume for the first half of 1997 was 13.9% lower than in the first half of last year. But the $23 billion it originated still ranked Norwest atop mortgage producers.
Part of the decline in originations can be attributed to higher rates in the early part of this year. But Mr. Oman said Norwest would continue to sacrifice originations if other lenders are pricing at levels that make it difficult for Norwest to maintain the profit margins it would like.
"If other people want to price more aggressively than we're comfortable with, we're comfortable watching volume move their way," he said.
Norwest is not alone in reporting lower volume. And this decline in production has not only led to tougher loan pricing, it has also created an increased demand for servicing, he added.
"Volumes in the first part of the year were fairly slow, not bad but not great, and people trying to grow their portfolio are looking at bulk acquisitions to make it happen," Mr. Oman said.
As a result of this demand, lenders are paying high prices for these portfolios. He said that because of Norwest's origination capability, he doesn't feel compelled to make any major servicing acquisitions.
"My sense is prices are probably strong but they're fair," Mr. Oman said. "I think some lenders have a greater challenge because origination capacity isn't as strong as last year. That may be fueling some appetite for servicing at these price levels."
Norwest picked up more than $40 billion in servicing last year when it bought Prudential Home Mortgage. As a result of that acquisition, Norwest also agreed to subservice the $30 billion in jumbo loans that Prudential owned. That instantly made Norwest the largest subservicer on a dollar volume basis.
This year Prudential sold its jumbo portfolio to Citicorp, which in turn sold portions of it to Bank United and Glendale Federal. Norwest will continue to subservice the loans until the acquisitions are finalized, but once they are, Norwest will lose nearly all of its subservicing volume.
Mr. Oman does not seem worried.
"Those were jumbo loans, so there was not a lot of units there. Losing them is not going to have a material impact on us," he said.
And it appears that Norwest is going to fight to remain in the subservicing arena. Norwest has continued to market its subservicing capabilities heavily, including an advertisement that features two boxing gloves.