WASHINGTON - Eleven banks have joined forces to ask the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to change the way it measures thrift deposits.

The request is significant because if the FDIC agreed, the banks would save approximately $165 million under the government's plan to rebuild the Savings Association Insurance Fund.

That plan would levy a one-time fee of at least 85 basis points on every $100 of domestic deposits insured by the thrift fund. The government classifies deposits that banks buy from thrifts as thrift deposits.

The larger a bank's thrift deposits, the bigger its one-time fee would be. The 11 banks own $70 billion in thrift deposits; industrywide, 771 banks hold $160 billion in thrift deposits.

That means the rescue would cost the industry $1.35 billion, due Jan. 1 if Congress adopts the plan. Thrifts would pay $4.75 billion.

The 11 banks, including Banc One Corp., Barnett Banks Inc., Keycorp, PNC Bank Corp, and Norwest Corp., are arguing that they should not be charged for deposits that run off after an acquisition.

In an Aug. 7 letter to FDIC Chairman Ricki Helfer, the banks called these "phantom" deposits.

The only haircuts the FDIC currently applies are limited to thrifts sold by the Resolution Trust Corp. Banks that did RTC deals were allowed to exclude from their assessment base all brokered deposits, deposits exceeding $80,000, and 20% of the remaining deposits.

The 11 banks asked that this haircut be increased to 25% and applied to all thrift acquisitions.

Bert Ely, an industry consultant in Alexandria, Va., estimates that of the $160 billion in bank-owned thrift deposits, about $110 billion were acquired through RTC-assisted deals. These deposits would get an additional 5% haircut, while $50 billion in deposits would get the full 25%.

Leslie Woolley, deputy to Ms. Helfer, said Friday that the FDIC is studying the request and will act on it promptly.

"They brought up certain points and we're going to take a look at them," she said. "We're going to move on it in a fairly timely basis."

Industry observers, including Mr. Ely, said the banks are facing an uphill battle.

"They're making some legitimate arguments," Mr. Ely said. "But I think politics will override fairness here."

Warren Heller, research director at Veribanc in Wakefield, Mass., said the FDIC is unlikely to tackle an issue related to the thrift fund rescue while Congress is considering the Clinton administration's plan.

"I would think there would be real concern at the agency about the political fallout," Mr. Heller said.

The letter also was signed by Amsouth Bancorp., Southern National Corp., Colonial BancGroup, Crestar Financial Corp., Provident Bancorp, and Regions Financial Corp.

Also interesting is which banks did not sign the letter.

The two banking companies with the most thrift deposits, BankAmerica Corp. and First Union Corp., were not among the 11. The government's plan to fix the thrift fund would cost each bank about $100 million. NationsBank, facing a $43 million bill, also did not sign.

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