Staff members at key ban.king agencies are working on a proposal that would force financial institutions to have their mutual fund sales people pass broker licensing tests or risk the curtailment of their investment programs, a top Federal Reserve official said Monday.

The proposal would require banks' salespeople to pass licensing tests issued by the National Association of Securities Dealers, the standards-setting group for the brokerage industry.

Many banks already insist that their employees carry such credentials, but several hundred smaller institutions do not, said Howard Amer, the Fed assistant director overseeing banks' mutual fund activities.

The agencies want "to cover those bank employees who operate independent of a broker-dealer," Mr. Amer said at the Bank Securities Association's national compliance conference in Washington.

The move is a follow-up to investment sales guidelines issued jointly last year by the federal banking regulators.

A more sweeping requirement for qualification would improve protections for customers and place all bank programs on equal footing with one another and the securities industry as whole, Mr. Amer said.

Agency staff members are speaking with the securities dealers group about opening its qualification procedures to bank employees, Mr. Amer said.

The trade group is generally in favor of the rule change, as long as the bank regulators make passage of the test a condition to allow securities sales by bank employees, industry officials said,

The proposal unnerved some bankers at the conference who hoped the agencies would not use a qualification requirement to rein in bank employees who rou!finely gather customer information to determine what products can best serve the customers.

These employees, typically customer service representatives are not out to push mutual funds, said Peter J. Succoso, senior vice president at Wilmington Trust in Delaware. "They are employing a good business practice, which is to know a bit more about your customer so you can best serve them," he said.

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