Finding new ways to deliver an old product - the mortgage loan - was a big theme in 1995, and perhaps no company exemplified it better than PNC Mortgage.
In February, the PNC Bank Corp. unit teamed with Coldwell Banker Corp. in a joint venture to market mortgages directly to homebuyers in real estate agents' offices. The move gives PNC access to customers in 2,400 Coldwell Banker offices nationwide.
Seven months later, PNC cut its ties with the 200 outside brokers that had formed the backbone of its wholesale program, citing too much time and expense in return for too little profit.
Both strategies are too new to have proved their worth. But they typify the creative approaches mortgage lenders are experimenting with these days.
PNC isn't alone in testing new techniques. In September, for example, Wells Fargo & Co. stopped extending mortgage loans to its customers, handing this task off to Norwest Corp.'s mortgage unit.
Changes like these don't always proceed smoothly. For PNC, the decision to revamp distribution channels was swiftly followed by a shake-up in its executive ranks. In November, the company unexpectedly promoted its president, Saiyid Naqvi, to chief executive, replacing Walter C. Klein Jr.
PNC said Mr. Klein resigned to pursue other opportunities. But industry observers said he was eased out after PNC Bancorp decided its mortgage group didn't need two top executives.
Mr. Naqvi clearly has high hopes for the Coldwell Banker venture, dubbed Home Mortgage Network. In an interview last year, he said he expects the venture to originate about $3 billion of loans annually. PNC Mortgage's originations totaled $2.3 billion in the first six months of 1995.
The decision to scrap the wholesaling effort, meanwhile, got positive reviews from observers.
PNC is better off, because margins are "very thin" on the wholesale side, said James M. Schutz, senior bank analyst at Chicago Corp. The company, he added, already "has a great distribution network" through its own loan officers and PNC bank branches.
Industry observers agree that independent brokers are harder to keep tabs on than in-house sales representatives. Brokers may also lack the kind of loyalty that would compel them to present very good credits to their wholesalers, some observers said.
"It's incumbent upon brokers not to foul the system up by throwing in bad-quality loans," said Walter W. Vail, executive vice president at Graystone Mortgage Corp., Boston.
Still, he said, PNC's decision to drop its broker network probably won't be widely followed.
"For every one that drops out another five get in the wholesale business," Mr. Vail said. "The only way larger institutions will get to smaller guys in communities is through brokers."