Saiyid T. Naqvi, president and chief executive officer of PNC Mortgage, monitors the productivity of more than 700 loan officers in 34 states from his office in Vernon Hills, Ill.

At any moment, he can see how many leads each officer has generated that day and how many leads they have converted into applications. It is more than just an incentive for the sales force to work hard.

"The point is, we can help them," Mr. Naqvi said. "If you haven't generated any leads for the last three days, what can we do to help?"

Mr. Naqvi's bird's-eye view of his sales force is just one example of the unique technology that PNC Bank Corp.'s home loan unit has developed in the last year to make its loan officers more productive and its back-office workers better prepared for changes in application volume.

As recently as late 1997, "when the refi volume started hitting, we were a little blindsided," Mr. Naqvi said. "Now we have an advance warning that says, 'By the way, be ready to deal with these customers.'" The new system gives PNC Mortgage's three regional processing centers a snapshot of application volume 30 to 60 days in advance.

Such warnings are a big help in an industry where one of the biggest challenges has been handling the rash of phone calls that comes after every interest rate decline.

"The real trick about technology is not just the electronic systems that you come up with but the ability to change the process flow within the organization," Mr. Naqvi said.

To that end, the company has wired its loan officers' laptops to interact with the computers at its regional processing centers-in Chicago, Atlanta, and Pittsburgh, where the parent company is based.

PNC's laptops, like other mortgage banking companies' equipment, let loan officers take customers' applications electronically and keep track of leads. What sets PNC's system apart is that it integrates lead-management, application-taking, and processing.

"The laptops create genuine value as opposed to being (just) a source of entering data into processing systems, which a lot of other companies' laptops basically are," Mr. Naqvi said.

For example, if a customer tells a loan officer on Monday that she plans to bid on a house on Friday, the officer can take her application on his laptop and zap the data to a processing center.

Come Friday, his laptop will remind the officer to call the customer back-and alert him if the processing center needs any additional information. The officer will not need to duplicate his efforts and is free in the meantime to pursue other leads.

"The most valuable resource we have in the field is a loan officer," Mr. Naqvi said. "If I have him doing a function that a clerk can do, that's not very smart. A Xerox salesman sells copiers, he doesn't install them or add the toner."

Thanks to these technological improvements, PNC Mortgage's top 10 loan officers have increased their number of loans by 34% and dollar volume by 85% in the last two years, Mr. Naqvi said.

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