January 01, 2007

Acquisitions are a major part of San Francisco-based Bank of the West's growth strategy -- it has completed more than 10 in the past 30 years. While the bank's purchase of Omaha-based Commercial Federal Bank ($10.1 billion in assets) boosted its asset size, to $56.4 billion, the acquisition of Commercial Federal's mortgage operation was a more important driver of the deal, suggests Jacqi Hrabik, Bank of the West's VP of mortgage services. Before the deal, she relates, Bank of the West had a small mortgage lending operation with fewer than 10 people.

Per its acquisition strategy, Bank of the West conducted a systems assessment of Commercial Federal's IT infrastructure. "With an eye toward what works best for the bank, we decide what to keep and when it's right to use something else," a bank spokesman says.

Bank of the West then decided to migrate to Commercial Federal's mortgage applications for loan production and life-of-loan management -- Brookfield, Wis.-based Fiserv's UniFi PRO mortgage-processing platform, which is based on a service-oriented architecture (SOA); and MortgageServ, an online, real-time solution for servicing of mortgage and home-equity products. According to Hrabik, the Fiserv solutions were more scalable than other solutions the bank considered. She declines to name the systems Bank of the West used prior to the acquisition.

When Commercial Federal's branches were rebranded on Dec. 2, 2005, the combined organization began rolling out the Fiserv solutions to its existing Bank of the West branches. The rollout involved "no significant investment," according to Hrabik, who notes that Commercial Federal already maintained licenses for the Fiserv software. No additional software or hardware was purchased, she adds.

A team from UniFi PRO Outsource Services provided support and customized the Fiserv solutions for Bank of the West's mortgage operations and products, Hrabik relates. For example, the bank configured some of its own rules into UniFi PRO's standard loan-application workflow. "Streamlined workflow is a key component to retaining customers and maintaining the profitability of our portfolio loans," Hrabik says, noting that implementation and training took several months.

Now, Bank of the West leverages its branch network to produce mortgage loans that anchor customer relationships. "We aim to grow our loan portfolio by offering competitive products and responsive customer service," Hrabik explains. "Since UniFi PRO is so configurable, we use it to support specific product nuances and processing requirements." Bank of the West has increased its number of loan officers from 60 people to 130 people across the organization since the deployment.

"Fiserv's products allow you to take [the mortgage loan] process from start to finish," Hrabik continues, noting that MortgageServ "is integrated to numerous third-party vendors for lifecycle loan management." Although she doesn't have exact figures, Hrabik says the bank has been able to "significantly reduce mortgage servicing expenses" with the application.

Further, "We've definitely been increasing our production volume," which reached $73 million in November, Hrabik says. And perhaps most important, the bank's loan officers appreciate the Fiserv applications' ease of use, she adds. * --Nancy Feig

Mortgage Automation

** Institution: Bank of the West (San Francisco).

** Assets: $56.4 billion.

** Business Challenge: Grow mortgage lending operations and adopt new systems through acquisition of Commercial Federal Bank (Omaha).

** Solution: Fiserv's (Brookfield, Wis.) UniFi PRO mortgage processing solution and MortgageServ servicing application.

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