Norwest Team Arms for Cross-Selling Blitz

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president of Norwest Mortgage Corp., is girding for battle. He's a hand-picked general in a cross-selling campaign against nonbank rivals being waged by Norwest Corp.'s chief executive, Richard M. Kovacevich. "The war we are in will be won on the field of revenue," Mr. Kovacevich believes. "And the most effective way to gain revenue and profits is to cross-sell to customers." Norwest Mortgage, which had $24.9 billion of originations last year and already accounts for about 10% of the parent company's earnings, is seen as key to expanding customer relationships within various Norwest units. At the same time, the mortgage unit is charting a course of expanding its originations and servicing by improving systems and by making some strategic hires. Last month, industry veteran Mark L. Korell came aboard as a group president. Mr. Kovacevich wants Norwest Corp.'s bank, credit card, and consumer finance units to tap into the 1.2 million customers served by the Des Moines-based mortgage company. Executives at the sister companies recently received marching orders to step up their communication and cooperation with one another. And Norwest is offering breaks on fees and rates to entice customers to access products and services from the various units. Norwest Mortgage will also have a chance to build new business by receiving customer information from its sister units. Executives believe the familiar Norwest name will serve as a beacon to these prospective borrowers. "We have a tremendous potential customer base because of the name recognition," said Mr. Oman, who joined Norwest Corp. in 1979 and has headed its mortgage unit since 1989. In theory, cross-selling to a somewhat captive audience of customers makes sense. In practice, few financial institutions have made the grade, bogged down by turf scrapes among units, incompatible systems, and general apathy toward relationship-building programs. All in all, banks are "notoriously bad" at cross-selling, said analyst Moshe A. Orenbuch of Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., New York, in a recent research overview. But, Mr. Orenbuch added, Norwest has a shot at breaking ground, since it understands its mortgage and finance customers "better than virtually any other banking company." The insights will allow the company to cultivate customers inclined to commit to other products, Mr. Orenbuch said. Norwest is already reaping some rewards from cross-selling efforts that link various products. But the banking company will have to really mine its customer base, with products like mortgages and consumer loans, to come up with significant fee income, analysts said. Mr. Kovacevich bluntly assesses progress so far. Norwest mortgage and its sisters in the Norwest organization have done a "fair" job of leveraging customer relationships, he said. Part of the problem may be bringing into the corral far-flung mortgage, credit card, consumer finance, and banking units. Mr. Oman believes it will take ongoing communication to foster referrals and follow-up among the banking company's various units. "The key to success is how well the group works together as a team," Mr. Oman said. Mr. Oman certainly fosters a team-oriented, egalitarian approach at Norwest Mortgage. In some ways, the Iowa native is a corporate Everyman. His working quarters consist of a cubicle whose somewhat larger size is the only differentiating factor between it and other employees' work spaces. Mr. Oman can also get downright wacky to heighten team spirit. To entertain brokers at national sales meetings, he and other top executives are not above donning leather biker gear or cowboy shirts whose fringes light up. And rather than hide his light, Mr. Oman displays framed photos of these adventures so that headquarters staff can enjoy them. The antics go against stereotypes of bankers and accountants - both positions Mr. Oman has held. But his approach does mesh well at Norwest Mortgage, which, after almost going under, now successfully marches to its own beat. Mr. Oman was one of a key cadre of officers brought in to rebuild the mortgage unit after a 1984 hedging debacle had industry observers predicting its demise. By 1989, a thriving organization had risen from the wreckage and Mr. Oman was named to chart its future. He set about restoring origination and servicing abilities through a spate of acquisitions and a series of branch-office openings. Today, Norwest is among a handful of mortgage companies that can claim $100 billion of servicing. The company also has a retail network that will produce about $12 billion of loans this year, much more than any of its competitors. Norwest Mortgage is also a recognized force in the industry. As testament to its station, rivals take seriously recent talk that Norwest will put up $630 million to acquire $42 billion of servicing and origination capabilities from Prudential Insurance Company of America's huge home mortgage unit. Mr. Oman and other executives at the mortgage company's headquarters continue to be tight-lipped about the industry rumblings. But even without the Prudential business, Norwest Mortgage is positioning to excel. In September, the company brought in Mr. Korell as president of a new unit - lender and investor services - that corrals crucial wholesale, servicing, and secondary marketing units. Mr. Korell, who will also help the company scout acquisitions, has spent nearly 20 years in the mortgage industry, most recently as president of General Motors Acceptance Corp.'s mortgage unit. He has taken a practiced eye to Norwest Mortgage and believes it will remain an industry leader. He feels that the company, although already big, is still nimble enough to be a pacesetter. The mobility is crucial, Mr. Korell said. In the fast-paced mortgage industry, "if you stand still, you get run over." Norwest is driven, he said, by its "commitment to win and be great." Indeed, Mr. Oman wants nothing less than terrific things from the company and its salespeople. "Our goal is to provide super customer value and be really good at what we do," he said.

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