Two large nonbanks have filed applications to become thrift holding companies, and the Office of Thrift Supervision approved on Friday a request by Guardian Life Insurance Co. of America to operate a trust company through a federal charter.

Federated Department Stores Inc., the Cincinnati retailing powerhouse, sought permission March 19 to convert its credit card subsidiary to a savings bank. Federated, which owns Bloomingdale's and Macy's, is the nation's largest department store operator, with annual sales of $17.3 billion.

A Federated spokeswoman said a thrift charter would let the company offer a full range of financial services, including mortgage loans. However, no final decisions on the products FDS Bank would offer have been made, she said.

Federated is the second department store chain to seek a thrift charter. Nordstrom Inc. of Seattle filed an application in November that is still pending.

Separately, Marsh & McLennan Cos., the New York insurance giant, applied March 24 to charter MMC Bank, which would offer residential mortgages, home equity loans, consumer loans, and credit cards. Marsh & McLennan has 50,000 employees and nearly $9 billion of assets.

"The savings bank also would offer a broad range of deposit products, such as checking accounts, savings accounts, certificates of deposit and money market deposit accounts," according to the application.

After three years, MMC Bank might contract with a third party to offer mutual funds, discount brokerage, and insurance products, the application states.

The two new applications bring the number of nonbanks trying to charter thrifts to 47, including 27 insurers, four manufacturers, eight securities firms, two retailers, and six others.

Critics of the thrift charter, including prominent lawmakers on Capitol Hill, have objected to non-financial companies being allowed to offer banking services. Financial modernization bills in the House and Senate would curtail new charters.

While applications for thrifts that deal only in trust powers have been historically uncontroversial, the OTS has been more critical of them recently as some applicants have sought to incorporate much of the trust company functions into the parent.

Regarding the approval for Guardian Trust Co., the OTS said the thrift must inform trust customers that assets may be invested with affiliated companies.

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