Trust Company of New Jersey is discovering that finally getting into consumer lending isn't such a bad idea.

The Jersey City-based institution reported second-quarter profits of $3.6 million, a whopping increase of 716% over the same period last year, when it earned a mere $446,000.

Much of that increase is due to a 44% growth in its loan portfolio, almost entirely from car and home equity loans. Chairman and chief executive Siggi B. Wilzig admitted that the 45-branch institution had lagged in consumer lending until late last year.

The bank, which is currently operating under a 1994 cease-and-desist order from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., has also seen increased interest in mortgage loans.

"Our bank never had taken advantage of the vast network of almost 250,000 customers," Mr. Wilzig said. "We were very weak on the cross- selling to residential customers."

Mr. Wilzig explained that the bank's loan portfolio was historically dominated by commercial real estate loans, especially for garden apartments, and some small strip malls and office buildings.

But that changed last year, when the $2.4 billion-asset company conducted a marketing survey which revealed that "we have the best" branch network in the state, Mr. Wilzig said.

Seeing new opportunities for growth, the bank started actively soliciting retail loans nine months ago, but it is only now seeing the benefits reflected in profits, Mr. Wilzig said.

Currently, about half of the company's $925 million loan portfolio is in consumer loans, but officials intend to divert another $300 million to $400 million from its $1.1 billion securities portfolio into loans.

The earnings leap is a reversal for Trust Co., which has struggled with nonperforming assets that reached a height of $74 million at the end of 1993. The bank even had to restate its 1993 earnings to reflect an increase in loan loss reserves, turning a profit of $17.1 million into a loss of $3 million.

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