NEW YORK -- The Rock is on a roll.
Prudential Insurance Co. of America, the nation's largest insurer, has suddenly become one of the most active home mortgage lenders.
Prudential Home Mortgage, based in Clayton, Mo., produced $10.8 billion of loans in 1991, up 86 percent from the preceding year. That vaulted it to No. 3 in nationwide rankings, from No. 7 in 1990.
Prudential officials say the engines will continue full blast. Volume this year should be $17 billion to $20 billion, though the refinancing surge has lost momentum, they predict.
As a result, the company is in a close race for first place with Norwest Mortgage -- last year's biggest mortgage originator -- and Countrywide Funding Corp., the hot California mortgage bank.
But Prudential has to steer a careful course in its race to the top, because part of its strategy is to be an ally of other industry players.
For example, a Pittsburgh affiliate of Prudential Home Mortgage offers other lenders fast property appraisals through 10,000 on-call appraisers across the country. A Milwaukee unit is pitching to process loan applications for originators.
Bank of Boston Corp., a major mortgage banker, has opted for the appraisal and processing services.
"They're good, solid, friendly competitors," says Hugh Harris, vice chairman of Bank of Boston Corp.'s mortgage unit. "We don't mind [buying services from the competition] as long as they can provide a valuable service."
For Prudential Insurance, which has $189 billion in assets, the push into mortgages is part of a broad drive into residential real estate. Prudential Real Estate Affiliates, for instance, is the fourth-largest residential brokerage network in the country. The insurer also has a unit that helps corporations relocate executives.