Most community bankers oppose mergers with other types of financial services firms and are dead set against banks being owned by commercial enterprises, according to a survey scheduled for release today.

The Chicago consulting firm Grant Thornton LLP sent questionnaires to more than 5,000 community bank presidents last fall.

Of the 600 who responded-with average assets of $155 million-63% said they opposed cross-ownership of banks and brokerage and insurance companies.

Moreover, 68% objected to nonfinancial companies' owning banks, up from 54% from a year earlier.

"All the lobbying that's going on in Washington has put that issue front and center," said Diane M. Casey, national director of financial services at Grant Thornton and administrator of the annual study. "It's obviously had an effect on community bankers."

The survey report, titled "The New Age of Community Banking," explores a range of issues affecting community bankers, from financial modernization efforts in Washington to investments in technology to automated teller machine surcharges.

Results show that most bankers, 66%, believe there will be "substantially fewer" community banks in the next five years. That is up from 57% just one year earlier.

Yet most bankers said merger mania would not affect them, with 81% citing "independence" as a key component in their future success.

Funding has emerged as a major concern among community bankers. In last year's survey, 65% reported an increase in core deposits for 1996.

This year only 60% reported deposit gains, while nearly two-thirds said they expected funding to be tougher in the next five years as customers shift their money into stocks, mutual funds, and other investments.

For Joe Williams, president and chief executive officer of $90 million- asset American Heritage Bank in El Reno, Okla., it is already a concern.

"Our deposit base is primarily older customers who are risk-averse and who have memories of the Depression," said Mr. Williams, who is also vice chairman of the American Bankers Association's Community Bank-ers Council.

When those people die their money is not staying in the bank, he said, "it's being wired to some mutual fund back East."

To make up for potential deposit losses, more than 75% of the banks said they planned to try and increase fee income.

One potential source of income is automated teller machines. Some 57% said they planned to charge noncustomers for using their ATMs, up from 45% last year and only 32% two years earlier.

"It seems to me that consumers don't mind paying a small fee to have access to their money," said Mr. Williams, whose bank surcharges noncustomers.

In other notable findings:

More than 90% of the banks said "employing technology" was the most important factor in their success.

But only 45% have developed strategic technology plans and only 44% have tested their systems for potential year-2000 problems.

Nearly 80% said they would offer home computer banking within the next five years, though only 9% do so today.

Some 91% said they supported legislation that would make it more difficult for individuals to declare bankruptcy, and 88% said they supported limiting the common bond of credit unions.

Opposition to banks affiliating with other financial services companies was greatest among banks with assets under $50 million. More than 75% of the smallest banks view such mergers as a threat to the industry, versus 59% of those with assets above $100 million.

That is no surprise, said Grant Thornton's Ms. Casey. As she put it, "The larger you get, the more you start looking into other lines of business."

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