Bank of America (BAC) doubled its staff to assist financially distressed homeowners, opened two regional customer assistance centers and plans to open four more. The banking giant named Rebecca Mairone national mortgage outreach executive to lead the initiative, which also includes more community-based events and increased collaboration with nonprofit housing counselors. "Providing customers with face-to-face counseling and on-site decision making is a key element in continually improving the process for customers experiencing financial hardship," said Terry Laughlin, BofA executive vice president. "Rebecca's deep knowledge of default servicing and modification programs makes her a natural choice to lead this effort." The bank said it has expanded staff in its default servicing operations by three-fold since January 2009 and there are now about 30,000 employees dedicated to this area. BofA has completed more than 800,000 mortgage modifications since the start of the housing crisis. In February, the bank opened customer assistance centers in Chicago and Seattle and plans to open centers near Los Angeles, Orlando, San Francisco, and Washington within the next two months. BofA said it has meet with some of its 2,000 nonprofit housing partners 26 times already in 2011 with commitments to participate in at least 15 more events this year. The bank said customers that visit one of the centers will have one point of contact throughout the process and the entire modification review will take place on site. BofA also plans to launch new technology in the second quarter aimed at assisting the owner of a distressed property. "The exceptional severity and length of this economic crisis leaves us with much more work to do," Mairone said. "By establishing a presence in the community, we've had greater success reaching customers who have not been responsive to more traditional contact methods." Write to Jason Philyaw.