WASHINGTON -- The Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council should play a greater role in coordinating Community Reinvestment Act reviews, a top banker said Tuesday.

"I think in general they could play a stronger role, and I'd like to see them play a stronger role." NationsBank senior vice president Catherine P. Bessant said from her new office here. "The concept is excellent."

The council is an umbrella organization for the five federal banking agencies. Its goal is to boost coordination among regulators, although it lacks the authority to implement rules on its own.

One way to strengthen the council's role is to require regulators to detail their CRA examiners to it, Ms. Bessant said.

The council then would send out teams to perform CRA exams, eliminating any biases that particular agencies might impart onto their employees, she said.

"Another good idea might be to have an FFIEC appeals process, Ms. Bessant said.

This would allow a bank unsatisfied with its CRA rating the chance to have an outside body hear its complaint.

She said the outside appellate process would improve the quality of exams because regulators could be questioned before an impartial panel.

It also would cut down on complaints from banks because they would know they had to present evidence to support their charges.

"Having a third party really injects some discipline from any angle," Ms. Bessant said.

She said that over time the council would create a body of precedent that would allow banks to know when they have a chance of changing their rating.

Office of Thrift Supervision deputy assistant director Timothy Burniston, who heads a council committee looking at CRA, said the exam council couldn't comply with Ms. Bessant's suggestions because it lacks the authority to handle examinations.

But, he said the exam council could achieve Ms. Bessant's goal of greater consistency.

"The FFIEC could play a useful role at looking at the results we are getting," he said. The council could compare examinations from different agencies to ensure each bank is treated the same regardless of who the regulator is, he said.

Ms. Bessant said that if her first two proposals are not feasible, then the exam council at least should continue to coordinate training and the creation of examiner guidelines.

That suggestion appears to be a winner. Mr. Buruiston said he expects the council will conduct joint CRA training for examiners from all the agencies once regulators approve new rules late this year.

These efforts should improve consistency, said Office of the Comptroller of the Currency spokeswoman Janis Smith.

"We are getting there," she said. "And I think banks will be able to see the result not in the far future but in the near future."

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