BOSTON -- Mortgage banking firms should hire more women, try to reduce the paper work in applying for a mortgage loan, and become more involved in international markets, officials of a major mortgage finance trade group said this week.

John M. Teutsch Jr., the new president of the Mortgage Bankers Association of America, told the group's 74th annual convention here this week that the mortgage banking industry needs to provide more opportunities for women -- a position highlighted by the fact that the association, for the first time, gave its distinguished service award to a woman: Suzanne C. Samson, a senior vice president and manager at the Weyerhauser Mortgage Co. in Walnut Creek, Calif.

Teutsch also vowed to work on streamlining the mortgage loan process by developing common loan applications and procedures to allow lenders to close loans within 15 days instead of the normal 45-to-60-day wait.

Improving appraisals and simplifying the underwriting process were two key areas in which Teutsch said the MBA and other housing agencies need to improve.

Outgoing MBA President Thomas M. French Jr. voiced concern about the impact of the rising interest rates on mortgage companies and called for continued lobbying of Congress and the administration to adopt a national housing policy.

He also urged the association to broaden its scope by investing in and sharing information in international markets, particularly Asia.

"We need to consider becoming more than just the Mortgage Bankers Association of America, but Mortgage Bankers International," said French, who admitted that he had not discussed the idea with the association's board of governors. "We need to open the doors to more commerce between the financial capitals of the world."

More than 9,000 bankers, builders, bureaucrats and economists from around the country gathered for the convention at Copley Place, one of Boston's key downtown retail and commercial centers, to debate the latest trends in the real estate finance industry.

The participants, each paying at least $310 to register, attended workshops and nearly filled 15 hotels throughout the city. More than 200 exhibitors, each paying $2,300, displayed their computers or were available to discuss their newest type of residential or commercial loan.

The organization, representing more than 2,800 mortgage lenders, held what it said was its largest convention at a time when mortgage rates are rising rapidly and the number of loans and the percentage of young people owning their own homes is declining.

But many mortgage bankers agreed that the record attendance at this year's conference is due to the health of the mortgage industry in the past year -- a period, many said, in which they have been able to generate some the best business they have ever had.

Even though some firms said they may have to lay off workers in their loan processing departments due to the drastic drop in applications, they said they are still better prepared to handle the decline in business than during the recession years of the early 1980s.

"A lot of companies are going to have to trim down some," said Ronnie Wynn, president of Colonial Mortgage Co. in Montgomery, Ala. "At least many of us are going into the downside with bigger companies.