Up to this point, PremierWest Bank residential lending clients have seen their mortgages passed to four or five companies for monthly servicing.

Up to this point, PremierWest Bank residential lending clients have seen their mortgages passed to four or five companies for monthly servicing.

Likewise, those companies had the option to resell the mortgages, meaning local customers didn't know who they might be dealing with down the road.

Under the terms of a new strategic partnerships signed by PremierWest Bancorp, the bank's parent company, and PHH Mortgage, 100 percent of the home loans handled by the Medford-based bank will be sold to and serviced by the Mount Laurel, N.J., mortgage firm.

"We did everything in-house previously and then sold off the loans," said Jim Ford, president of PremierWest Bancorp and PremierWest Bank. "In the next 60 days we expect to see this partnership much more visible through our marketing of products we can't offer today."

PremierWest wrote up more than $78 million worth of residential loans in 2006 and Ford anticipates that number will balloon.

"We'll be up and running in August and I expect us to do at least 50 percent more volume once we're going full clip," Ford said.

Although PremierWest will still have loan representatives in its branches, customers will be able to access PHH's 24-hour telephone and online service to contact loan officers or get online approvals. All of the activity will continue to carry the PremierWest brand.

"That's something a bank our size can't do that PHH does," Ford said.

PHH Mortgage began doing similar operations for multi-national financial institutions in the 1980s and early 1990s, said Ford, who was involved with First Interstate Bank when it partnered with PHH years ago.

"They're the behind-the-scenes providers for some rally big names (in the financial community)," Ford said. "Effectively, we're throwing all of our eggs in their basket. We could've done the same thing with Countrywide or Wells Fargo, but those folks compete with us day to day and mortgages are all they do. We get the benefit of this big, huge machine and get to put our face on it."

PHH Mortgage handled $41 billion in mortgage lending in 2006.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or at business@mailtribune.com