A U.K. mortgage bank said it will close nearly one-third of its 105 branches by yearend and that the move will let it put more resources into electronic customer service.

Northern Rock PLC plans to give its call center automated loan-decision capability and to add electronic commerce services to its Web site, according to a report from Dow Jones Newswires. Last week the lender began offering on-line mortgage applications.

The electronic distribution initiatives would add 400 jobs, more than making up for the 250 it expects to lose by closing the 29 branches, the bank said.

Adam Applegarth, executive director, said 60% of Northern Rock's mortgage business is initiated by phone.

Barclays PLC, also reported to be closing a significant portion of its branches, did not indicate that expanded electronic commerce initiatives were behind the closings. Barclays said it plans to close more than 10% of its 1,900 branches.

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