WASHINGTON -- A community group's protest threatens to derail plans by Boatmen's First National Bank of Oklahoma to spend more than $1 million to acquire and replace 73 primitive cash machines in Git-n-Go convenience stores.

Michael Jennings, the bank's senior vice president in charge of electronic banking, said Boatmen's hoped to have the network up and running within a year so customers could access their accounts 24 hours a day rather than waiting for one of the bank's 44 Sooner State branches to open.

Now that plan has hit a snag.

Consumer Protest to OCC

The Consumer Federation of America filed a protest on Monday with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which must approve Boatmen's ATM acquisition from the Bank of Oklahoma.

The group charges that Boatmen's ATM network is an attempt to grab fees from consumers who live in areas not served by Boatmen's branches.

"It is one thing for a bank to apply to aullment their branch services in a community," said Chris Lewis, the federation's director of banking and housing policy. "But this looks to us as a clear effort to only provide feebased ATM services without entering any of these Oklahoma communities with broader services."

'Minimal Convenience' Grounds

Mr. Lewis said the application for the machines violates the section of Boatmen's national charter, which requires the institution to meet the "minimal conveniences and needs" of the community. He petitioned the OCC to block the deployment until the agency has a chance to investigate its impact on the Oklahoma market.

Mr. Jennings rejected this criticism.

Close to Branches

He said the proposed ATMs will make life easier for the bank's customers because the new machines will dispense cash directly. The old machines give customers a slip of paper that they must present to the cashier to get their money.

The machines also are a natural extension of the bank's current business because they all are located within five miles of an existing branch, said Larry Bayliss, senior vice president at Boatmen Boatmen's Baneshares, St. Louis.

Mr. Jennings also said that the fees banks make from the scrip machines are no different than the fees banks make from regular ATM machines.

Also, the machines are money-losers, he said. "I can guarantee you we will not make a profit off the fees," he said. "We are doing it as an overall effort to provide service to our customers."

Four Complaints

The federation was one of four entities to complain about the ATMs. One of Boatmen's competitors, First National Bank and Trust Co. of MeAlester, Okla.also filed a protest with the OCC Monday. The bank's counsel, Laura N. Pringle of Oklahoma City's Pringle & Pringle, told the OCC in a letter that it must reject Boatmen's application because the bank did not explain how the ATMs would affect its obligations under the Community Reinvestment Act.

Leonora S. Cross, the deputy comptroller for public affairs, says the OCC does not know when it will act on the protests. "It's too early," she said. "We just barely got it."

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