Provident Bank of Maryland, a Baltimore bank that for years has been quiet about its long-term strategy, indicated recently where its future lies: consumer finance.

Provident, a unit of the $1.6 billion Provident Bankshares, this spring formed Provident Financial Services Inc. in what looks to be the bank's boldest move since converting from a thrift to a commercial bank in 1986.

Meeting |Varied Needs'

Provident will be the first Maryland banking company to get into the less-regulated consumer finance business since Baltimore's MNC Financial Inc. got out of the business last year.

"We can offer more flexible terms than a traditional bank," said Tim Brown, a Provident loan officer tapped to be president of Provident Financial.

"It's our intention for the Provident organization to be in a position to meet the many varied needs of individuals throughout our community."

Provident Financial will focus on unsecured credit, fixed-rate home equity loans, and boat loans, as well as on acquiring existing consumer portfolios from other financial institutions.

The company's one office is in its parent bank's headquarters in downtown Baltimore, but it is considering opening a string of storefront offices throughout Maryland - a la the Money Store. Its services will be marketed through direct mall and advertising.

Expanded Mortgage Banking

Such specific strategy is new to Provident. After converting in 1986 and bringing in commercial banker Carl Stearn as chief executive in 1990, Provident concentrated on cleaning up a small portfolio of soured commercial real estate loans and all but dropped out of the lending arena.

Its loan-to-deposit ratio dropped to almost 40% at one point in early 1992.

But in the last year, Provident's total loans inched up again as it expanded its mortgage banking activities and made its first big push in consumer lending.

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