In the popularity contest between state and federal bank charters, the states are scoring key victories.

Last year, 43 banks scrapped their national charters for state ones, while 28 converted from state to national charters. What's more, 75 of 102 start-up banks opted for state charters in 1995.

These shifts accounted for a slowing of the decline in the number of state-chartered banks last year to 3.9%, down from 4.5% the previous year. The number of national banks shrank by 7.1% last year.

State banking officials claim that, on average, state examination fees are about half as much as those for federally chartered banks. And proximity to the regulator is always a big draw, especially for start-ups.

The data were released by the Conference of State Bank Supervisors at its annual meeting last week in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

State banks also produced a larger increase in net income last year than national banks - 13.5% compared with 9.4%.

But regulators at the two-day meeting were more impressed with the like- mindedness of federal and state authorities than they were with any differences between the charters.

"The spirit of cooperation was quite nice," said Bill C. Houston, Tennessee's commissioner of financial institutions. "I was really very impressed by it."

Mr. Houston and others stressed not only cooperation between states on regulatory matters in the new interstate branching environment, but between state and federal authorities as well.

"There was clearly a growing sense of cohesion between state and federal regulators," said Patrick M. McQueen, Michigan's commissioner of financial institutions.

Mr. McQueen said this was evidenced simply by the increased presence of federal regulators at the meeting, compared with previous years. Of the 18 speakers at the two-day event, seven were current or former federal regulators, including Ricki Helfer, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp,, and Richard Spillenkothen, director of supervision with the Federal Reserve System.

The federal presence was important because state and federal regulators will have to cooperate more in order to reduce duplication as the country moves toward interstate banking and branching, attendees said.

To date, 33 states have voted to allow interstate branching on or before June 1, 1997, the automatic implementation date of the law if states have not taken action by then.

"There has always been a lot of cooperation between regulators, but it's taken on a new character after Riegle-Neal," said Ellen Lamb, a spokeswoman for the bank supervisors conference, referring to the federal interstate branching law. "The process now is one of building on a relationship that they already had."

As for cooperation between states, at least seven western states signed a pact last week to clarify regulatory duties for multistate banks. This follows the Mid-Atlantic regional pact signed last December. Four other states have since joined the Mid-Atlantic agreement, and Tennessee appears likely to sign on in the coming weeks.

Mr. McQueen, the Michigan commissioner, said a midwestern pact could perhaps be formulated within the month. He also intends to travel to California and Florida in hopes of forming alliances with regulators in those states - possibly a precursor to a seamless nation-wide regulatory system.

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