If regulators approve Great Western Financial Corp.'s application for two commercial bank charters, it will have the advantages of being a thrift and a commercial bank at the same time, industry observers said.
The Chatsworth, Calif.-based company, owner of the nation's second- largest thrift, will be able to act like a bank but without having to pay the higher taxes levied on commercial banks, said Thomas O'Donnell, an analyst at Smith Barney.
Thrifts pay lower taxes because they are required by law to maintain 65% of their assets in housing-related lending.
By establishing new banks in California and Florida, the $42 billion- asset Great Western will also be able to get around some of the restrictions on thrifts.
For example, no more than 35% of thrift assets can be in consumer loans, and commercial loans cannot exceed 10% of a thrift's assets.
Great Western could start up its banks with $20 million of assets in each, Mr. O'Donnell said. However, the thrift company said it does not plan to alter its main business lines.
"We intend to remain focused on consumer activities even if our charter would allow us to do more," said Great Western spokesman Steve Hawkins.
The company's principal subsidiary, Great Western Bank, is a mortgage- oriented savings bank with 1,200 branches in California and Florida. It submitted applications Wednesday to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency for the national bank charters, to the Federal Reserve Board to become a bank holding company, and to the FDIC for federal deposit insurance at the banks.
Some competitors shrugged off the move. BankAmerica Corp. spokesman Peter Magnani said it "doesn't worry us. "We're a formidable competitor and always will be."
Great Western is protesting the likelihood, under an FDIC proposal, that commercial banks' deposit insurance premiums will be lowered substantially, while savings and loans' premiums stay at their higher rate.
Mr. O'Donnell said he expects other thrifts also to file for national bank charters. "There's no real legal prohibition for doing this," he said.
Business lines between thrifts and banks are blurring anyway, the analyst noted.