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Fifth Third cuts Charlotte staff amid lower refinancing demand

Fifth Third Bank has laid off employees at its corporate center in uptown Charlotte as it responds to declining demand from borrowers to refinance home loans, the bank confirmed Thursday.

The Cincinnati-based bank declined to disclose the number of mortgage staff laid off. All of the terminated local employees worked in the high-rise building at 201 N. Tryon St. that serves as the bank’s North Carolina headquarters.

The laid-off employees worked in mortgage processing and underwriting, spokesman David Morton said. He said he could not confirm when the layoffs occurred.

Lynda Mackey, an underwriter whose last day was in September, said the bank eliminated workers in its wholesale mortgage unit on the building’s 16th floor. That unit closes loans that come from brokers. The number of employees cut were “at least a couple hundred,” she said.

“It was pretty much our whole entire floor,” she said. “They closed down our whole site. The only ones that are left are a couple closers, so there are maybe 10 people left at the most.”

Employees were laid off in phases, starting in the summer, she said.

Fifth Third joins other banks that have announced layoffs in recent months as lenders report fewer applications to refinance because of rising mortgage rates. Although rates remain near historic lows, higher rates have made it less attractive for borrowers to refinance.

“A lot of the consumers that could take advantage of refinancing have done so,” Morton said. He said the mortgage industry has shifted from “a heavy refinance environment to being more of a purchase environment.” Banks have to “make sure we’ve got the right people to support the market demand,” he said.

Fifth Third reported its third-quarter mortgage originations dropped by $1 billion, or 17 percent, compared with a year ago, as fewer borrowers refinanced.

Banks ramped up their mortgage workforces in recent years to handle demand for refinancings as borrowers took advantage of the low interest rates. Those same banks are now scaling back their headcount.

Among the other layoffs banks have announced because of the refinancing decline:

• In August and September, San Francisco-based Wells Fargo said it would cut 434 jobs in the region as it also eliminated thousands of mortgage positions nationwide.

• Bank of America also has cut mortgage-related jobs nationwide, including hundreds in Ohio in August. But only four positions in North Carolina were affected at that time, the bank said. In response to the mortgage slowdown, the bank laid off more than 1,000 loan processors in the third quarter, executives said last month.

• Atlanta-based SunTrust Banks said in October it will eliminate 800 jobs nationwide, but it did not give the Charlotte figure.

• New York-based Citigroup said in August it was laying off 150 workers at its Fort Mill, S.C., operation, 17 percent of the 900 people who work there.

Fifth Third employs roughly 660 in North Carolina, Morton said. He did not have a Charlotte employment figure.

Fifth Third entered North Carolina through its 2008 $1.1 billion purchase of Charlotte-based First Charter Corp. In 2010, it moved its North Carolina headquarters from the University City area to uptown.

It is the fourth-largest bank by deposits in the city of Charlotte.

Roberts: 704-358-5248; Twitter: @DeonERoberts
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