First Fidelity Bancorp., the New Jersey-based holding company that has been on an acquisition binge, announced a commitment of $500 million to community investment programs over the next three years.

A spokeswoman for the company said the program "at least doubles" previous commitments.

Hands-On Approach

The programs, which cover both retail and wholesale products and services, are being closely monitored by First Fidelity's chairman and chief executive, Anthony P. Terracciano, the company said.

"The way we reached the $500 million is that Tony went to each of the line managers and asked them to identify programs and products and the levels of business they can generate over the next three years," said Paul Levine, a spokesman. "He challenge those numbers and added more dollars."

Mr. Levine said managers were told that their participation in the program would be considered in their annual performance reviews. "Clearly, the line managers are being asked to manage these targets," Mr. Levine said.

The company's principal holdings include Fidelity Bank of Philadelphia, First Fidelity Bank of South Jersey, Merchants Bank in Allentown, Pa., and Merchants Bank North, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

The programs are aimed at increasing mortgage applications from lower-income communities, making more loans to public-sector and nonprofit borrowers, increasing loans to small business in urban areas, and offering secured credit cards and discount savings accounts to low- and moderate-income customers.

"This is the first time that we're doing this on a uniform basis across the corporation as well as across lines of business," said Barbara Nate, a company spokeswoman.

Not Targeted at Compliance

First Fidelity, New Jersey's largest bank company, with $28.9 billion of assets, said the new commitments were not specifically aimed at bolstering Community Reinvestment Act ratings.

Regulators have been evaluating CRA compliance in determining whether to allow banks to grow through acquisitions or assumption of new powers.

First Fidelity, which has acquired nine banks with government assistance since September 1990, was given a satisfactory rating for CRA compliance from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Ms. Nate said, and the company aspires to an outstanding rating.

But she and others said there was no connection between the expansion and the commitment.

Acting from Strength

"We are now strong enough where we can reach out and help many urban communities in our marketplace," Mr. Levine said.

"Anything that we do to improve the communities in which we operate will make us healthier," added Ms. Nate. "Our chairman described the program as enlightened self-interest."

Among the features of the program, which will be effective from 1993 to 1995:

* A mortgage help desk designed to provide professional assistance via telephone to low-and moderate-income home-buyers about government programs for which they may qualify, and to walk applicants through the application process.

* Loans to public-sector borrowers such as hospitals, public finance underwritings in Pennsylvania and New Jersey; Small Business Administration lending; and lending through the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.

* An urban banker program staffed by 42 retail specialists from the branch system, who will market the bank's services to lower-income communities.

* Offers of two new products to lower-income customers - a secured Visa credit card and a discount savings account.

The card requires a minimum deposit into a dedicated statement savings account of $445. Borrowing power is 90% of the balance of the account. The savings products is offered without fees to customers who maintain a balance of $200. The fee for falling below the minimum is $2 a month. An account can be opened with just $25.

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