Federal regulators moved Tuesday to impose community- reinvestment-like guidelines on banks that branch across state lines.
A proposal issued by all three banking agencies would require that a bank's out-of-state branch maintain a loan-to-deposit ratio that is at least half the average of all banks in the given state.
The agencies are scrambling to get the rule, mandated by the 1994 interstate banking law, in place before June 1 when full-scale branching is permitted in most states.
Some critics expressed concerns about adding to the compliance burdens of the Community Reinvestment Act. Indeed, Donald E. Inscoe, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s associate statistics director, called the proposal "the state-level version" of CRA.
"We have to be careful not to create a whole new CRA on top of CRA," said Steven Zeisel, senior counsel of the Consumer Bankers Association. He pointed out that the CRA already requires banks to meet the credit needs of the communities where they collect deposits.
Also Tuesday, the FDIC, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and Federal Reserve Board issued final rules requiring banks to determine whether customers understand the risks associated with buying government securities.
This rule also ran into opposition. "I don't know what evidence there is from the marketplace that this solves any genuine problem, but it does increase legal liability for banks," said a money-center banker who requested his name not be used.
Reacting to the branching proposal, Ohio Bankers Association executive vice president Michael Van Buskirk said, "This reflects a traditional Washington mentality of micromanagement. I question whether there is any practical need for this."
Needed or not, the rule is coming, and Karen M. Thomas, director of regulatory affairs at the Independent Bankers Association of America, said her group would ask the regulators to increase the minimum loan-to-deposit benchmark to 80% of a state's average.
Under the proposal, if an out-of-state bank's branch is not lending at least half as much as the average home-state bank, the agencies could close the branch or prevent the bank from opening new branches in the state. This scrutiny would begin a year after a branch is opened or acquired by an out- of-state bank.
The 50% threshold, however, is not the only factor regulators will consider. The bank's CRA performance in the state and economic conditions also would be weighed, among other things.
Important details-such as how branch lending would be measured-were not spelled out in the proposal.
While regulators insisted they do not want to add to banks' regulatory burden, they admitted sufficient data might not be available from existing sources.
With just 45 days in the comment period, the agencies are giving the public less time than usual to weigh in.
The final rule on sales practices for banks that deal in government securities are virtually identical to those approved last August by the National Association of Securities Dealers for nonbanks.
Banks must have "reasonable grounds" for believing a recommendation to buy government securities is suitable for a customer. Banks also must make "reasonable efforts" to obtain information on a retail customer's financial situation, tax status, and investment objectives. Bank sales people also must determine whether institutional investors are evaluating investment risk independently.
"On the retail side, this just isn't necessary," said Joel Calvo, president and chief executive officer of PNC Brokerage Corp., Pittsburgh. "The interagency guidelines already have this checklist."
Those guidelines, issued in February 1994, require banks to tell retail customers that investment products are uninsured. If recommendations are made, banks must ensure the products are suitable for the investor.
But Keith Ligon, policy unit chief in supervision for the FDIC, said the rule treats banks and nonbanks equally: "The customer should be able to walk into an institution and know that the seller is complying with the same basic rules."
Mary Griffin, insurance counsel at Consumer's Union, approved of the measure but said it didn't go far enough. "We think that any such rule should include an enforcement mechanism that allows a consumer to recover losses directly from the bank," she said.