In a bold strategic shift, Impac Mortgage Holdings Inc. (IMH) announced this morning that it is planning to sell its active "brick and mortar" retail lending branches and lay off 180 employees in an effort to centralize lending operations and focus instead on its online lending operation.

Starting in January 2014, Impac will close 23 retail branches and one fulfillment center as part of the realignment. All total the company says these actions will mean a monthly net savings of about $700,000.

Impac’s stock has ranged from $4.60 to $15.50 over the past 52 weeks. It opened Wednesday at $6.83.

Impac Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Joe Tomkinson said the changes will improve the profitability of Impac’s lending segment and streamline mortgage operations. He said the move allows the company to focus on the lending channels and mortgage products, which will improve long-term lending profitability.

"One of the things I am proud of is our management team’s ability to be forward-thinking, innovative and nimble, especially in a challenging mortgage market like we are currently experiencing," Tomkinson said.

He underscored that part of the impetus for this strategic shift are the significant regulatory and compliance changes the industry faces going into 2014 – presumably the slew of new regulations mandated by the Consumer Finance Protection Board regarding qualified mortgages (QM) which go into effect Jan. 10, 2014 – which will add onerous complexities to the already challenging mortgage market.

"Consolidating our retail lending channel will allow us to have better control, be more efficient, and provide our customers better customer service," he said. "We believe the more centralized operational focus will create more synergies and scalable opportunities for our mortgage operations."

Impac provides mortgage and real estate services including mortgage lending and servicing, portfolio loss mitigation and real estate services as well as the management of the securitized long-term mortgage portfolio which includes the residual interest in securitizations.