Despite a modest display of anger when the policy was proposed, small banks are complying with a government rule that they file quarterly call reports electronically rather than on paper.
Every one of the 9,684 banks supervised by the Federal Reserve Board, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. filed its first-quarter report electronically, according to James Dudine, the FDIC's assistant director for information services.
Moreover, Mr. Dudine said, all but 86 of the banks used software to create the reports themselves. The 86 submitted paper versions to a third party, which then keypunched them into a computer.
Just six months earlier, nearly 900 banks relied on an outside company to convert their paper reports. "Community banks are becoming more technologically advanced," said Elizabeth A. Aaron, regulatory policy representative at the Independent Bankers Association of America.
The changeover from paper to electronic reports began for most banks with the third quarter 1997 filing. Banks with assets below $50 million began filing electronically in the fourth quarter.
When the banking agencies proposed in November 1996 to phase out paper call reports, some low-tech small banks were upset, as a comment letter demonstrated.
"Who authorized this?" wrote Randall E. Streifel, executive vice president of Liberty State Bank in Powers Lake, N.D. "Was it Congress or some retiring government employee wanting to start a call report software business?"
Regulators countered that the change would benefit both banks and the government. Error-checking software programs would eliminate many mistakes, the agencies argued, which would reduce the need for follow-up questions. Most bank trade groups agreed.
Today, even Liberty State Bank is content with the change.
The bank still gathers its call report data manually, according to the assistant cashier who prepares it. But "then we key it into the PC and file it electronically," using recently purchased software, she said. "It works real well."