Facing increased competition from federal counterparts, state banking regulators are trying to make it easier for state-chartered trust companies to operate nationwide under a common set of rules.
To date 11 states, including Texas, Washington, and Connecticut, have agreed to uniform rules governing trust operations. A 12th, Virginia, has approved the legislation, and Gov. Jim Gilmore is expected to sign it.
E.J. Face Jr., Virginia's commissioner of financial institutions, said states must act or watch trust activities gravitate to federal banking and thrift charters.
"We needed some legislation because the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency had indicated that national bank trust companies could preempt state law," he said. "Of course, the Office of Thrift Supervision, through the unitary thrift charter, allows trust companies basically anywhere."
Legislation adopting consistent trust rules is pending in 16 more states, according to the Conference of State Bank Supervisors.
"We are talking about it as much as we can," said Ellen Lamb, the group's spokeswoman. The supervisors group drafted the model legislation and has been urging individual states to adopt it.
The issue dates back to 1996, when both the OCC and the OTS issued legal interpretations that their respective trust company charters preempted state laws and allowed nationwide operations.
But it has picked up steam in recent years, as more large insurance companies and securities firms are lining up to establish national trust operations as the baby boomer generation approaches retirement.
Currently, there are 13 applications pending before the OTS for savings banks that would engage only in trust operations. Many of these firms currently hold a state charter.
"There is a trend, particularly among securities firms and insurers who offer consumers trust powers, to go with a federal charter," said Ronald R. Glancz, head of the financial services group at the Venable law firm here.
"For the companies that administer retirement funds, their trust powers are really critical to their operations."
Some states, Mr. Glancz said, have "quirky provisions" that make their charters unattractive.
Virginia's legislature adopted the legislation after a large bank, then Norwest, now Wells Fargo, said it wanted to begin trust operations in the state but did not want to comply with a different set of rules, Mr. Face said. A Wells Fargo spokesman declined to comment.
Mr. Face said the law protects state revenues. "Any time we lose state banks, we lose money," he said. "No question about it."
The other states that have already adopted uniform trust laws are Arkansas, Indiana, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Vermont.