WASHINGTON - While welcoming the government's plan to ease rules barring a bank from offering discounts to its best customers, the industry is asking for more leeway.
In comment letters on the Federal Reserve's anti-tying proposal, the primary complaint is that banks must include every deposit when deciding whether a customer qualifies for a discount.
This strips institutions of the ability to adapt to a changing market, bankers said.
"A bank should have the flexibility to structure its package of products and services" to better meet customers needs, Chemical Bank senior vice president Jay N. Soloway wrote.
Banks should be able to qualify customers for discounts by requiring different minimum balances on varying accounts, PNC Bank argued.
For example, someone could qualify if they held $20,000 in deposit balances or $7,500 in credit card balances.
Bankers want to adjust the minimum-balances by account type because institutions make more money from certain types of accounts. The most profitable accounts, such as credit cards, could carry lower qualifying balances.
Keycorp proposed its own variation - allow banks to weigh accounts. For example, a savings account could count for five times the value of a brokerage account.
That would allow a customer with a $5,000 savings account deposit to qualify for the same discount that a customer with a $25,000 securities investment can get, Keycorp executive vice president Bruce E. Tofte wrote.
Technological problems also limit the number of accounts some banks can combine for an average minimum balance, First Hawaiian Bank executive vice president N.W. "Red" Pope wrote.
"This and similar difficulties could limit the usefulness" of the proposal, Mr. Pope wrote. "In the end, consumers pay the price by having fewer banking options."
The Fed could dispose of all of these questions if it dispensed with its incremental approach and simply allowed banks to discount any product provided a customer maintains a checking or savings account, First Fidelity Bancorp senior counsel Charles L. Terribile wrote.
"Such an action would eliminate the need to consider exemption in a piecemeal fashion," Mr. Terribile wrote.
While the bankers did criticize the proposal, they also praised the Fed's intention of leveling the playing field between banks and other providers of financial services.
"If all financial organizations are given the same ability to compete, the marketplace should be the winner," wrote Richard Wetherbee, president of Bank of Middleton in Tennessee. "This is a good proposal, and our bank and bank holding company support its adoption."
Thomas Capouch, president of First and Farmers Bank of Portland, N.D., said the plan will give consumers more services at discounted prices while helping the bank develop stronger ties to its customers.
"We recommend adoption of the proposal," wrote Richard A. Larson, chairman of West Bend Savings Bank of West Bend, Wis. "Even as a small entity, it would be helpful to us and our customers."
Given the Fed's quick response to prior anti-tying proposals, the governors are expected to act on this measure shortly.
The Fed's anti-tying rules generally prevent a bank from requiring a person to purchase one product and receive a discount on another. The Fed always has exempted traditional products, such as checking and savings accounts.
But, the central bank has added other exemptions. In December 1993, the Fed allowed First Union to give brokerage fee discounts to people who maintain minimum checking and savings account balances. The governors expanded the exemption to all banks in July.
Then last month, the Fed loosened another restriction, ruling that banks can offer price breaks to customers who purchase multiple products from nonbank subsidiaries.
The current proposal was released in October and would extend to all banks an exemption Fleet Financial Group won last year.
Not every group supported the proposal. The Independent Bankers Association of America urged the Fed to grant exemptions on a case-by-case basis, rather than through the proposed rule.
IBAA president John Shivers added that each applicant should prove that a tying arrangement will not unduly effect the market.
Also, Ann M. Kappler, an attorney representing several insurance industry groups, wrote that she was worried that banks would inappropriately apply the exemption to insurance sales.
"There is always an issue of bank coercion whenever the purchase of insurance is required to obtain a loan," Ms. Kappler warned.