CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- When the government released its annual Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data last month, few people were as eager to see it as Thomas S. Popik.

Mr. Popik, 34, is the president of Geosegment Systems, the latest -- and smallest -- of an enterprising group of software companies that make HMDA data work for banks.

A lanky graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Business School, he is crunching his first HMDA numbers this year.

Working from what he calls "a virtual office" -- three closet-sized rooms located halfway between his alma maters -- Mr. Popik and four employees have been plucking the data from the government's magnetic tapes, tailoring it for client banks' markets, and putting it on disks for personal computers.

It is a mind-boggling task, involving data from 15 million mortgage applications. And Geosegment faces stiff competition: Centrax Group in Dallas and Austin-based Sheshunoff Information Services have been selling similar products to bankers for three years.

Mr. Popik professes to be unfazed.

"Having competitors might be a good thing," he says. "It helps the market grow."

Geosegment's main product, introduced in May and dubbed HMDA Pro, helps banks evaluate their own lending records and size up the competition in their markets.

That includes a look at rivals' total lending volume and breakdowns of customers by race and income level.

To get the software, banks pay $1,295 for the first metropolitan area, then $495 for each additional region.

Some big banks end up paying about $10,000, Mr. Popik said.

He refused to say how many lenders he serves but did allow that the clients include some of the biggest banks and mortgage companies in the country.

HMDA Pro takes just a few minutes to handle queries, and bankers can choose from hundreds of reports.

For example, a banker can ask for the percentages of white and minority loans made by each of the top 15 banks in a city, the number of black denials in a census tract, or the total number of homeowners in a county.

A banker might use the product to figure out where low- to moderate-income areas are in his region and compare the bank's lending in those areas with others'.

Or a banker planning to open a branch in a new city can find out what bank has the greatest market share there.

"HMDA Pro allows us to compare Shawmut to our competitors by racial group and low- to moderate-income category," said Sue Nowak, assistant vice president at Shawmut Bank.

Ms. Nowak uses the product to demonstrate the bank's minority lending commitment to both regulators and her own senior management.

Mr. Popik, for his part, says many banks have failed to appreciate the full value of the HMDA data. Other industries would be thrilled to have this kind of information about their customers and competitors, he said.

"Consumer packaged-goods companies would kill for this level of customer information, and most of the banking industry is just letting it sit on the shelf," Mr. Popik said.

Customers will get updates every year when the new HMDA data -- both preliminary and official -- come out. It takes the company about two weeks to turn the data around, Mr. Popik said.

With an education in technology and finance, Mr. Popik figured he was a natural to develop computer software for the financial industry. The only question: What, exactly, should the software do?

HMDA Pro, which took two years to develop, was initially planned as a marketing tool that would help banks target potential borrowers and evaluate competition.

With more nonbanks stealing customers away from banks, the rivalry is tougher than ever.

"The days are gone when you could just open a branch and do good business," Mr. Popik said. "Banks can't just lend, they have to compete."

But with the increased emphasis on fair lending, the product has turned out to be a compliance tool as well.

Banks should make the best of the rules, Mr. Popik said. As much as banks may dislike toughened fair-lending standards, the requirements could make banks more money, Mr. Popik said.

"I think we have to be careful to make sure that fair lending doesn't become quota lending," he said.

"But we also have to recognize that serving a minority market can be profitable."

Regis Quirin, product manager for minority lending at Chase Manhattan Bank, said he uses HMDA Pro to analyze the bank's lending record.

"The program has been incredibly useful to us in gauging the impact of proposed changes in fair-lending regulations," Mr. Quirin said.

Geosegment's clients include both banks with fair-lending problems and those that want to plan ahead, Mr. Popik said.

"The quickest sales we've made have been to banks in trouble," he said.

Meanwhile, many customers are using the product to check out expansion possibilities, now that interstate branching has become law.

The product can help a banker look at loan volume and demographics in an area, and then set goals for a new branch manager.

"Without the market base information this provides ... you just don't have an idea of where you would fit in the marketplace," Mr. Popik said.

Community groups have also been interested in HMDA Pro, Mr. Popik said, and one has bought the software.

"They are trying to see where the loans are being made and who the major lenders are so they can work with banks to set realistic minority lending targets," he said.

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