Three US banks yesterday turned up the heat in the highly competitive mortgage business, announcing a series of aggressive pricing strategies to lure borrowers from local banks. Bank of America, Citibank and Chase Manhattan announced a range of measures to lower loan criteria and speed the application process. Citibank has been the most aggressive by offering a preferential rate as low as 9 per cent to borrowers who have been referred to the bank from authorised property developers, agents and lawyers. Selected borrowers will not have to meet the minimum $50,000 monthly salary requirement the bank previously demanded. Fellow banks generally offer a 9 per cent interest rate only to civil servants or professionals from a few selected industries. 'The new package is designed to both defend and expand our market share,' Citibank spokesman Daisy Sham said. The bank said yesterday that it would continue to offer Standard incentives such as a waiver on credit card fees during the repayment period and one-year free fire insurance. Bank of America (Asia) will now offer a preferential rate of 9.5 per cent compared to a previous 10.5 per cent for the purchase of rental properties, but only if a stamped rental proof can be produced at the time of application. The bank is also seeking to capture market share from rival banks by offering a rate of 9.25 per cent, down from a previous 9.5 per cent, to borrowers who switch to their mortgages from other banks. The maximum loan-to-value ratio has also been raised to 70 per cent from the previous 65 per cent. Bank of America (Asia) spokesman Brian Leong said the move was to 'strengthen the bank's competi-tiveness'. Chase Manhattan Bank is hoping to increase its market share by improving customer service. It announced yesterday mortgage applications could now be made over the phone and could be approved within 15 minutes. The bank said the service did not only apply to new mortgages but loans on uncompleted flats, mortgage refinancing and mortgages switched from other banks. Chase consumer loans head Alan Tsang said that, for the moment, the bank would retain its mortgage rate at 9.25 per cent for ordinary customers and 9 per cent for professionals of selected industries. 'Chase Manhattan will not initiate and lead a war in reducing rates,' Mr Tsang said. Standard Chartered Bank and Hang Seng Bank said they were not planning any immediate changes in their mortgage policies.