BMO Harris Bank is eliminating most mortgage loan officers who meet customers face to face and now directs people who want to buy a house or refinance to its centralized mortgage call center.

The Chicago-based bank, still one of the largest in Wisconsin by virtue of its 2011 acquisition of M&I Bank, said the move — and a new online mortgage application platform coming soon — reflects changing customer behavior trends and actually offers time and ease benefits for mortgage applicants.

“Things evolve, and we have to change with the times and with our customers’ wants and needs,” said BMO Harris spokesman Patrick O’Herlihy.

BMO Harris is not saying how many people have lost their jobs in the move. But a document sent to a laid-off employee shows the switch to call center mortgage applications is eliminating almost 170 positions in the bank’s eight-state market territory.

Overall in the banking industry, visits to branches — including consumers coming in for mortgage applications — are declining, said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for the personal finance website That means fewer mortgage loan officers are needed in branches, he said.

Read more in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.