Turning up the pressure on insurance companies trying to enter the banking business, a community group has requested a six-month moratorium on granting federal thrift charters to insurers.
The Greenlining Institute last week asked the Office of Thrift Supervision to sit on applications for thrift charters by insurance companies until at least February while federal regulators investigate whether the companies discriminate against minorities and the poor. Applications are pending from five insurers, but the institute's request would apply to any later application as well.
"Redlining insurance companies with long histories of discrimination, subtle bias, and no inner-city strategies should not be given a federal stamp of approval to compete with thrifts and banks, many of whom have adopted the spirit of" the Community Reinvestment Act, according to an Aug. 21 letter the San Francisco-based activist group sent to the heads of OTS and the Treasury Department.
An OTS spokesman declined to comment on the letter.
Contacted for their reaction, insurance industry groups objected to the Greenlining Institute's request and denied the imputation of bias.
"The industry does not redline," said Daniel Zielinski, a spokesman for the American Insurance Association, which represents 300 large property and casualty insurance companies.
"Every state has anti-redlining laws on the books, and the insurance commissioners vigorously enforce them," he said. "Those actions are few and far between."
The industry formed the Urban Insurance Partners Foundation last year to educate low- and moderate-income homebuyers on insurance options and to work with community groups, added Charles M. Chamness, a spokesman for the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies.
The institute's letter was prompted by the latter association's announcement last week that it plans to charter a federal thrift so its members may lend to policyholders.
"It alarmed us considerably," said John C. Gamboa, executive director of the Greenlining Institute. "It showed a growing trend."
This month the institute and four other community groups protested State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.'s application for a thrift charter.
Mr. Gamboa said the institute wants the government to study insurance industry office locations, sales practices, and hiring patterns and to require insurance companies to submit community reinvestment plans before receiving thrift charters.
Travelers Group completed its application Tuesday, the OTS spokesman said, giving the agency until late October to decide on it. The four other insurance concerns are still adding details to their applications. Once they are complete, the OTS has 60 days to decide on them.