Consumers have trouble differentiating between banks and thrifts, according to a survey by the Wisconsin Bankers Association.

The reason, the group says, is that thrifts have been dumping the tarnished "savings and loan" moniker and opting for "bank" or "savings bank."

"The savings and loans that made the [name] change . . . knew there was a positive perception," contended Harry Argue, executive director of the association.

"You have not seen banks wanting to change their names to savings and loans. The feeling from bankers is, in order for somebody to have this name, there should be the same regulatory requirements," he said.

Variety of Possibilities

Laws on federal savings bank charters vary by state. A 1982 federal law let federal S&Ls become federal savings banks, Mr. Argue said.

Preliminary results of the survey of 1,000 Wisconsin households' perceptions of banks were released at an association conference last week.

Apart from the confusion between banks and thrifts, other responses the association found troubling included:

* 32% of respondents said bankers care more about wealthy customers than about typical customers.

* A bare said 42% banks are concerned about the individual's financial well-being.

"Caring about the individual person or company is the fundamental basis of banking," said Mr. Ronald A. Bero, senior executive vice president of Firstar Corp., Milwaukee, and president of the association.

Nevertheless, banks got some good news, too. For instance, 68% of respondents said banks are the most important type of financial institution. "Clearly they value banks, whether they actually bank at one or just think they do," Mr. Bero said.

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